Grendel's Attitude Toward Language
In “Grendel,” Grendel’s language evolves and becomes more and more sophisticated as he gains knowledge and contact with the human world. In the beginning of the novel, Grendel spends his time observing the humans and he manages to pick up on their linguistic techniques, skills and structure of the human language, turning it into his everyday speech. The next evolution of Grendel’s language comes from when he is introduced to the Shaper—he develops a respect for the poetic nature of the human language. Grendel sees the Shaper molding his listeners with his flowery words. Grendel also finds linguistic style in Unferth, who uses words to persuade the Thanes and his followers.
Because of Grendel’s encounters with the humans, the reader comes to know that Grendel can speak the human’s language even though he is never actually witnessed him talking to humans. While observing the humans, Grendel learns of about the power of language, especially from the Shaper. Grendel realizes that the power that the Shaper has is to tell lies and change history through his fancy words. Even with his observations about the Shaper and Unferth, Grendel does not acknowledge his own style and advance in language. The reader becomes aware of Grendel’s linguistic developments only through the change in writing style and syntax as he continues his story. At the same time, the reader realizes that even though he despises the Shaper at times, he is jealous of the Shaper’s linguistic skills and he envies his power and influence. He also starts to show off his style in chapter six when he refers to himself in poetic third person names like “Ruiner of Meadhalls, Wrecker of Kings!”
Towards the end of the novel, Grendel’s use of language becomes more advanced. An example of this is when Grendel writes an entire chapter, chapter 8, in the form of a play. Setting a chapter up like a play demonstrates his linguistic skills because Grendel had to set up characters’ speeches and monologues. In addition, Grendel starts to write in poetry. The ultimate display of Grendel’s improvement of language, however, is when he speaks with Unferth, who actually is able to converse with Grendel. This proves that Grendel has evolved so that he could communicate with the humans which is important to Grendel because one thing that he lacked was the ability to communicate, but now he is longer isolated from the world.