Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Dream of a Common Language

A few years ago I was at a family gathering. My nephews were 6 and 9 at the time, and they were off in the corner playing some color version of Pokemon on their Gameboys. There was a younger, distant cousin who had never met the boys before, but he was drawn to them and stood close by listening intently to the patter of their conversation as each not only played his own game, but also gave a running overview of the action to his brother, in addition to receiving and offering strategic advice in turn.

Impressed, the little boy ran off to find his mother. "Mommy," he asked, "what language do those kids speak?"

"They speak English, Honey," she told him, but he did not look convinced.

"What language do we speak?" he asked her.

"We speak English, too," she told him.

"It doesn't seem like English to me," he said.

Last week, one of my students turned in a writing piece called, War of Epic Rune and I. It had a pretty gripping lead: The first time we fought, he was a cheap shooter. As I read on, though, I discovered that I was not the intended audience of this piece. I couldn't have been, because I had no idea what was going on.

He used dds-ags glitch. He killed me. I stocked up on my pk stuff! I went into the wilderness, I attacked him! 26, 25, he ate healed 22. I hit two more 27's, and I took out my dds. I specialed him (it's a 2 time attack). Before I attacked I switched to ags (You can only attack 1 time with it because it's so high damaging!) Then my dds spec came. I had age on, so then I hit- bang bang! 60 23! He died! Then I was standing there healed myself. He came back with with pk-ing stuff and said, "Glitcher,"and attacked me. I said back, "You too...." Then we fought. I had two HP (heart points hit points). Until I died I was going to eat, but Epic had like 15 HP, so I didn't and attacked. I hit 18! I won again !

I felt a little dazed sitting there at my desk trying to fathom this incomprehensible narrative. It was disorienting to know most of the vocabulary but have no clue about the rest. I tried to use context, but I didn't have nearly enough background information to be successful. I laughed because it was ridiculously hard. I also understood then that many of my students probably have this experience regularly. I couldn't have asked for a better simulation of what a struggling reader goes through when confronted with a text that is too difficult.

It doesn't seem like English to me,
I thought, and I photocopied War of Epic Rune and I and tucked it into my writers notebook so that I can remember what that feels like.


  1. Well, a pk is player-killer. They're the characters in online games that kill the other players for fun, usually looked down on by the community. The only thing is that player killers don't really exist in most online games any more; they mostly have rules about exactly who you can kill. It sounds like an account of a game the author was making up, so he used the language pretty loosely, but I cold be wrong.

  2. Thanks, Nem. What language do you speak, anyway?

  3. Ah, you made me smile after another incredibly long day of Fighting the Workmen Wars.

    One of my fav YouTube videos is:

    where more language is mangled. I put it up on the class blog for my students and we talk about it.

    Get pitted!