26 Letters

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There’s a lot of power in those 26 simple symbols. That small set of letters is our entire tool kit for communicating with one another in the English language. Every word we write or speak is formed from nothing more than these few building blocks arranged in various ways: letters into words, words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs. Endless combinations to express innumerable thoughts and ideas. The U.S. Constitution. War and Peace. The Bible. Your grandmother’s love letters. The owner’s manual for your car. The script of the latest blockbuster movie. It’s really remarkable when you stop to think about it.

Kindle keyboard (1024x683)With these 26 letters we can convey our feelings upon witnessing something wondrous like the birth of a baby, or something horrific like a car crash. We can give names to each other as well as to every species of plant and animal on the planet. We can tell bedtime stories to our children.

We need no more than these 26 letters to explain why the leaves turn those brilliant colors in the fall, where birds go when they migrate, or how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. These same letters can be combined to form something as important as your birth certificate or as mundane as a grocery list.

We educate, entertain, compliment, insult, soothe, incite, encourage, and irritate each other with words made from this very small group of symbols. Think about some historic inspirational speeches: Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address,” or John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address (“Ask not what your country can do for you…”). Combinations of these twenty-six letters, that’s all.

There’s such power in language, whether it’s written or spoken. Because of our mastery of language, our species has been able to dominate the world. We’ve done good things with this power. And we’ve done bad things. I often wonder what the other animals would say to us if they could use our language. I’m sure they would teach us some valuable lessons.

I believe we have an obligation to use this powerful gift to make the world a better place for all of us, not just those like ourselves. I’m saddened when I see words used to tear down or belittle other people. So much potential is wasted by those words, so much unnecessary hurt inflicted. On the other hand, when I hear language used to uplift and encourage people, my heart smiles with hope. I push aside my doubts about the future, cast off the weight of my fears, and am inspired to try harder to be a part of the solution.

If you ask me, these 26 letters have the power to save us all.

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4 Responses to 26 Letters

  1. I love this post, Kim! Words can heal and words can harm. Those 26 symbols have an immense amount of power.

    And I see from your comment reply above that the Grand Rapids Airport is shooting Snowy Owls. How can that be?

  2. Littlesundog says:

    You said it well, Kim. We can do so much better with what we create. And yet, I am even more intrigued at how animals and nature choose to communicate… and I believe they do – with us. They utilize sight, smell and sound. They relay signals and messages with body language and audible noises. They rely on instinct. Sometimes our English language seems inept on that level. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to intuitively express to others and be able to read people and have understanding without uttering a word?

    • Yes, I agree, animals use their other senses much more effectively than we do. I think our use of verbal and written language is part of the reason we have lost much of our ability to perceive communication via our other senses.
      P.S. Sorry I haven’t gotten to read your new blog post yet. I’ve been tied up since Friday with a petition I started on Change.org to get the Grand Rapids airport to stop shooting Snowy Owls. It’s taking up a lot of time but it’s going to work, I just know it.

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