Friday, February 08, 2008

I Am Mentally Ill

See this calm and relatively-normal-looking (?) image? the appearance of normalcy is misleading. I am mentally ill.
What other explanation can there be? Why else would a retired person wake up at 2:00 AM and be unable to go back to sleep? Was something hurting me? No. Was I worrying about the health of some family member? No. Was I trying to make a difficult decision? No. Was I worrying about the future of our great nation or the outcome of the upcoming presidential election? No. I was not even fixated on the massive amount of housecleaning and organizing that needs doing here in my daily domain.

My mind, that overactive ferret running around and around on its exercise wheel, refused to let me sleep. In spite of all my admonitions and efforts to stop the wheel, it continued rotating. It replayed and analyzed again and again several recent word-formation-related communications and planned a lesson on the value of good Language Arts instruction. I rest my case; I am resigned to the diagnosis - definitely some form of mental illness.

If you, like students sometimes complain, think that there is no practical use for the grammar instruction given in public schools; if you think that it doesn't matter whether you can identify a noun or verb; if you think that studying word stems, prefixes, and suffixes is "busy work", my ferret mind begs to differ with you. Here is one example - the one that looped endlessly through my mind last night.

My mother had her decennial colonoscopy Tuesday. Among the doctor's post-examination comments was this: "She has a very healthy colon with a moderate amount of diverticulosis." I had never studied this medical concept; but I knew what he was talking about because I understand how our language is structured. Here are the language arts skills involved in understanding that communication.

1. Listening. Yes, listening is one of the four "language arts." Good language arts teachers teach all four of the arts - two for dispensing language (writing and speaking) and two for receiving language (reading and listening.) Because of good language arts skills and understandings, I heard the word "diverticulosis." Many people would have heard the more commonly heard word "diverticulitis." There is significant difference.

2. An undertanding of root words and affixes. The words "diverticulum, diverticulosis, and diverticulitis" all start with the word "divert" (to turn away). The word divert is composed of the root word "-vert" which means "turn" and the prefix "di-" meaning "away."

3. An understanding of root words and affixes II. I knew that the word diverticulum comes from the same base as the word divert (to turn away); therefore, in a medical context it must mean a place where contour of a hollow organ is diverted from its usual form.

4. An understanding of root words and affixes III. Because of good understanding of how affixes determine word meaning, I knew that the suffix "-osis" is a medical suffix that indicates the "condition or existence of." So I knew that diverticulosis meant that a diverticulum, or several, exists in her colon. (The suffix "-itis", on the other hand, means "inflamation of." Her diverticula were NOT inflamed.) Total aside: I know how plurals of Latin-based nouns are formed - diverticulum/diverticula.

So I knew, without conscious analysis and without effort, that my mother has some stretched out areas in her colon, but that they are minor and are not inflamed or infected. The value of good language understanding is that this kind of effortless communication (of language received through listening or reading) occurs many times every day and makes like easier.

I am quite aware that this is over-analysis; but it illustrates how gaining a good understanding of language arts, especially when that understanding becomes part of a person early in life, helps one interpret more easily and accurately what he/she hears and reads. My point is that, since language exists for the purpose of communication, one becomes a much better communicator through an understanding of our language structure.

Okay, now that I have that down in writing, perhaps my ferret-brain will let me sleep tonight!

6 comments:

janice said...

What a fascinating blog entry! I am always so amazed at your insights. This one, in particular, was so interesting to me! Thanks!

Jane said...

I agree with Janice. That was very interesting. You helped me understand completely what your mom's diagnosis means.
I don't think you are mentally ill at all......if you are, I wish I had a touch of the same illness!!!
I hope you slept better last night.

Lyn said...

I guess that's why ignorance is bliss. I never would have understood that and would have gone right to sleep not knowing any better! :-)
Your language skills amaze me. I hope you get a good night's sleep tonight. You need it!

Terrell said...

It is good to know that, at least in terms of mental illness, I am not so alone on my limb.

I'll adapt part of your wonderful lesson for my students. What you write illustrates why I love to teach the otherwise-pretty-doggone-useless word "pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" to my fourth grade charges every year. It's the "longest word in Webster's Third" but really very simple when you break it into roots and affixes. Most folks are familiar with all the parts except "-coni-".

Norma said...

When I wake up at 2 a.m. I don't analyze words. I just do some old fashioned worrying. Very interesting--as you know, I share your love of words.

Bill said...

I found some information about diverticulitis. Check it out!