Imagine the world without words.
Verbal conversations would cease to exist; crowded classrooms, malls and parties would be coated in unbroken silence. Written books would not exist. Advertisements would consist solely of pictures. On game days, Neyland Stadium would be eerily quiet, except for the occasional crunch of hitting helmets and the referee's shrill whistle. All songs on the radio would be instrumental. Life as we know it would cease to exist without the miraculous human ability to speak.
Words create a major part of our everyday lives – men and women use anywhere from 7,000 to 20,0000 words per day, depending on gender and various factors.
The power of words cannot be underestimated, yet as an English major, the academic relevance and appreciation of the art of apropos words and rhetoric is often overlooked.
In college, small talk with a new acquaintance almost requires that one ask about another's major. Though exceptions always exist, a student's intellectual interests often reveal insights into one's personality and future pursuits.
For many years, I did not want to be an English major in order to avoid the many stigmas that come with pursuing a rather ambiguous, humanistic major. I am asked nearly every single time if I want to become a teacher with my English degree. The question in itself is innocent enough but vaguely implies that the only true use of studying English can be found standing in front of a middle school classroom.
The assumption holds a grain of truth; humanities majors sometimes seem frivolous within the scope of scientific and technological endeavors, upon which the political and economic landscape can benefit. American school systems received an enormous push to emphasize mathematic and scientific areas of knowledge during the Cold War era, in order to further increase knowledge in a way that could protect U.S. citizens from potential USSR threats. The National Defense Education Acts of 1958 specifically sanctioned scholarships for mathematics, engineering and science in the interest of our future national safety.
Naturally, this area of knowledge indeed holds immeasurable importance in the future of America and beyond; the increasing relevance of technology and science cannot be easily contested.
However, to imagine that life can only be viewed and shaped within a scientific approach is to overlook an entire area of knowledge – less tangible and notoriously irreducible – but no less important. Humanities highlight the innate knowledge of the human experience; understanding different aspects of life that cannot be easily condensed or quantified is vital to personal development and larger cultural ideals.
Literature, specifically, allows one to view the nuances of the written language and how it shares human knowledge in powerful ways. The difference in one's word choice for a single sentence can create an enormously different effect; as Mark Twain once observed, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
Although some people truly appreciate the humanities and literary pursuits, a large majority of students do not consider certain aspects of the humanities to possess much relevance or significance in the modern academic or professional landscape – and to a degree, they are right.
I do not consider my understanding of the unreliable narrator or the metaphoric time shifts in William Faulkner's Sound and the Fury to directly apply to my future career or honestly to any conversation with someone outside an English classroom. However, observing masterful harnessing of words in order to portray an aspect of life to a broader audience is an intricate form of art.
Literature, language and many other humanistic pursuits uphold communication of knowledge to be equally important to pure knowledge itself. Brilliance of the mind is most effective when communicated in a meaningful way; the strong ability to use words in academics and other areas of life is not a trivial dalliance but rather vitally important to all areas of life.
Language shapes who we are, and defines our most complex mode of communication. Literature artistically arranges words in order to communicate a greater meaning; our everyday interactions do the same.
I like English. And if you can read this page, I have a feeling you probably like it too.
Sarah Hagaman is a sophomore in English. She can be reached at email@example.com.