Essay 2000 (Really 2002)
Bill Long 8/2/06
Further Ruminations on Where to Go from Here
I think, too, that I will spend at least this fall focusing on more legal writing. This will be my valedictory semester as a law professor, and so I want to try to work through some issues in jurisprudence and insurance law to help students and to be "up to date" in these fields. And, indeed, I will always have an interest now in the way the courts do things, whether it is in areas of insturance or employment law or in the intersection of relgion and law. But, there is more.
My friend Tony tells the story of Anglican divine Lancelot Andrewes who decided in mid-career that he would learn a new language every year. He was said to have known fifteen languages with some degree of fluency by the time he died in his early 70s, thus leading 19th century church historian Thomas Fuller to suggest that Andrews could have been the "Interpreter General" at Babel. I was checking out the web site of Wycliffe Bible Translators last night because they are the ones who probably know more about more languages than any group in the world (including universities). They say that there are 6,912 known languages in the world, and their commitment is to have someone working on the rest of the languages which do not have the Bible translated into them by the year 2025. Though I don't think my theology and Wycliffe's mesh very well, I admire greatly the effort to learn, reduce to writing and translate the Scriptures into all the world's languages.*
[The utterly cool pie chart on the Wycliffe site shows the availability of the Bible in various languages. Of the 6,912 languages in the world only 422, according to them, have the entire Bible in their language; 1,640 have translations in progress; 1,079 have only the New Testament and 879 have at least one book. Finally, they say that 2,529 have no translation at all. This number doesn't add up to 6,912 but it is in the ballpark. Now you can see their "pitch"--the fields are "white for harvest," to use Jesus' phrase. However, it takes more than a decade to master a language that hasn't been reduced to writing and to try to translate a book of the Bible into that language. I have the utmost respect for the work they are trying to do; and I would love to know if the CIA in fact has tried to infiltrate them for "information" on various culture groups around the world.]
So, languages. Andrewes knew 15; I have only studied 11, and I don't know them fluently. But my goal is to work on that. My plan is to have the five European languages at about 50% efficiency by the end of 2007. At present I can get along in 4 of them, but will need to work on speaking French (I chose Spanish and Latin in HS) as well as improving my Italian from week to week. This means that the ancient languages (Greek, Hebrew, Latin) will only receive minimal attention in the next year, and it means, too, that I will have to leave the "exotic" languages for the future.
I have hundreds of essays on words. They were initially prompted by my participation, beginning in 2004, in senior spelling bees. But they have rather taken on a life of their own, where dictionary words "stimulate" interest in other words and phenomena and lead me into all kinds of interesting directions. I long to return to my words, but I don't think I will have much time to do so before January 2007. I really like it when I go to parties and people mention to me the most obscure word they know from their field (or which they have read). In most cases I know the word, can spell it and can tell them the meaning/origin of the term. But I always learn something new from people. For example, at an Italian-language party the other night, my teacher's husband wanted to know if I knew "boustrophedon." Surely I did, and I explained to him the origin of the term in oxen going back and forth over a field. But then he told me something I didn't know--and that was that in surveying townships, beginning in the late 18th century, America decided to adopt a method of "boustrophedon" to number the sections in the townships. I knew the sections were numbered from 1-36 in a 6 x 6 square (with 16 and 36 reserved for school lands) beginning from upper right, proceeding to upper left, and then moving to the second row upper left. Thus, section 7 is under section 6, section 8 under section 5 and so forth. But I didn't know that it surveyors lingo this was referred to as "boustrophedon." He told me that 99% of surveyors don't know the term--but now I know another realm in which it is used.
Thus, the words essays will be written in conjunction with preparation for the 2007 Senior Spelling Bee, but I will probably wander far afield as I write them.
Observations from Today
Then, I want to continue to write occasional essays on current issues in our culture. After this essay, for example, I want to write something on "Teaching 9/11," after reading a piece in the NY Times about a man whose teaching on this is running him into controversy. Or, an essay on "Mel Gibson and the Jews" sounds like it may be relevant, too. I don't know what these essays will be ahead of time, but often something happens "out there" on which I think I have something to say. These essays approximates a "blog" when I comment on current events, though those comments are only about 10% of what I write.
Shakespeare and Memorization
I should also mention this. I want to continue to write on and study Shakespeare's work and memorize some of the beauties of his language. Among English-language writers I don't just want to focus on him, but he is a good one in which to immerse myself. But this leads me back to one of the important tasks of middle age, and that is memorizing large swaths of material, mostly in poetry. Here my goal is probably too ambitious, but I realized after memorizing the 350 lines or so of Othello 5.2 that the incredible richness of language was revealed to me in greater depth when I did this. It takes some effort, of course, but most valuable things in life require some output. But I have a long-term goal in this area, too, which one of my friends said is so impractical that it stimulates me to want to do it more...and that is to do some multi-lingual memorization of classic texts in about 8 languages so that the flow and rhythm of each of these languages can be deeply stiched to my soul.
My thinking is to memorize Othello 5.2 and some scenes from Macbeth (English), Job 3 (Hebrew), The Iliad 1 (Greek), The Aeneid 2 (Latin), some Psalms from the Luther Bible (still to be determined), selections from Pascal (French) and Cervantes (Spanish), and Cantos I and VII from the Inferno (Italian). This would take a lot of work and would be a multi-year project, but it would fulfill my longing to have intimate knowledge of these various languages.
Conclusion--Time for Love?
And, I will leave this essay with a big question mark. I have been divorced since 2001 I have several people I am proud to call my friends, men and women alike. They provide some of my best ideas on which to write. But whether and to what extent I will be swept away, or even mildly entertained, by love in the future, well, who knows? Any advice?
Copyright © 2004-2008 William R. Long