In preparation for the upcoming Advanced Placement exam in English Literature, I shared a short story from the New Yorker Magazine titled A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease by Jonathan Safran-Foer. The story is only three pages and contains numerous graphics instead of the traditional alphabet. Safran-Foer proposes these graphics could be used as a new way of punctuating dialogue “to denote unspoken aspects and meanings in conversations within a family,” especially when there so many different ways to interpret a word or phrase. He gives the example, “I love you more than anyone else could ever love you” which could be read as either possessive or as a statement of deep fidelity.
After rereading the story and writing short responses, the students came to the conclusion that language sometimes fails to express what is really being said. In the discussion that followed, my students brought up the ways they also use graphics to communicate meaning. They talked about emoticons, Instagram photos, and texts.
“Isn’t this the way language started?” one student observed. “Looks like we are heading back to cave paintings!” I think they may be right!