Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Phrase-Envy: Linguistic Ability and the Genetic Code
I have lately been musing on studies by behavioral geneticists and the rather clichéd debate between nature versus nurture. Our genetic assemblage provides a certain disposition to words, a facility with language; however, much of this can be instilled by a nurturing book-centered environment. Parents prioritize literature when their children are very young, read to them constantly, demonstrate their own inclination for books, are actively engaged in promoting an environment where reading and writing are greatly esteemed. This, in turn, encourages a child to make the best of their genetic predispositions - enabling them to reach the highest potential as prescribed by their genetic code. The nature versus nurture debate, I believe, is a rather tired old-fashioned diametric. Molecular interactions are exquisitely complicated, and while the presence of a 'depression gene' for example might trigger a depressive episode in the individual carrying it, it might only do so in conjunction with early childhood trauma. So, sans childhood trauma, that 'depression gene' carrier might be no more or less prone to depression than another for whom that particular genetic combination is different. While our genes determine an available spectrum, it is our own particular environment and choices we make in regard to it, that influence where on the spectrum we fall at any given time.
So my point here, albeit much belabored, is that regardless of whether we have an intuitive, instinctive facility for language, I believe that the ability to learn, to study, to acquire that literary ease, is a possibility for us all. To read these eloquent authors with a thoughtful studied perspective, to deliberately break apart their sentence structure, to examine the rhythm and flow of their syntax; to ponder deeply the particular combination of words that evokes such dramatic response in us the reader. We can enhance and improve our own linguistic expression, and that when assailed by phrase-envy, console ourselves with the understanding that producing a powerful phrase is also within our reach.
Each of us is a unique product of hereditary predispositions infused with specific cultural, parental and economic influences; our perspective is utterly distinct. For the creative writer this produces a voice, a style, an exclusive literary vision. So the imperative is to find that voice, trust in it, and then engage in a deliberate exercise to refine it as much as we are able. And your creative output will be unlike any other - and is it not that distinct, thought-provoking perspective that is most revitalizing in the literary endeavor? It is doubtful that any other than Thomas Hardy himself could have penned Mayor of Casterbridge, or Dostoyevsky The Idiot. These writers are a particular product of their own cultural and chronological milieu, as are we of ours. So for all of us rendered mute by phrase-inferiority fears we must remember that our voice too is a distinct one imbued with literary possibilities.