June 18, 2009

ORWELLS INSIGHT (via Lou Gots):

The Language of Confusion: 60 years later, Orwell's dystopian vision is more prophetic than ever (Rabbi Yonason Goldson, 6/17/09, http://www.JewishWorldReview.com)

In his essay "The Principles of Newspeak," the appendix to his classic novel, 1984 (published 60 years ago this month), George Orwell describes how the leaders of his totalitarian future have contrived to assure their hold on power by replacing English with Newspeak, a language containing no vocabulary for concepts contrary to the platform of the state-run Party. By controlling language, the Party controls its people's very thoughts.

Intuition suggests that language is a product of thought: if we think clearly, automatically we will speak clearly. Orwell demonstrates the opposite, that thought is a product of language. Because we formulate our thoughts in words and sentences, incompetent use of language guarantees muddled thinking. If there are no words for rebellion, uprising, or discontent people will find it difficult to formulate and articulate the concept of overthrowing even the most corrupt and oppressive government.

Students of Orwell will shudder when applying this simple axiom to the corruption of modern language. Advertisers and politicians have known for years that the best way to manipulate public perception is by arranging words in unconventional combinations. Car dealers know that potential customers will feel better buying cars that are "pre-owned" rather than "used." A certain former president knew that the American people would not respond to the gravity of his presidential peccadilloes if distracted by pondering what the meaning of "is" is.

But linguistic confusion became institutionalized with the rise of political correctness. By dodging frantically out of the rain of potentially offensive terms, we soak ourselves in a torrent of euphemisms for simple words the thought-police deem pejorative. When illegal aliens become "undocumented workers," we lose all sense of the danger posed by the porous condition of our borders. When terrorists become "insurgents," we more readily accommodate the moral equivalence that blurs the line between aggressors and defenders. When abortion becomes "reproductive freedom," the horror over the indiscriminate murder of innocents vanishes altogether.

Similarly, when marriage is bereft by judicial fiat of the definition that has served for thousands of years, the foundations of the family structure erode like sand castles before the approaching tide. And as it becomes taboo to make any direct reference to race, class, ability or performance without fear of hurting one group's collective feelings or another group's collective self-esteem, the words that form our thoughts and understanding end up so fully shorn of their dictionary definitions that they cease to mean much of anything at all. In short, nothing makes sense.

In truth, for advertisers, politicians, special interest groups, and the politically correct, the real purpose of language is no longer to convey meaning - it is to obscure meaning, to appeal to emotions while bypassing the intellect. Their motive is obvious: it is far easier to evoke a strong emotional response than it is to present a logically developed argument. But by allowing meaning to be drained from our language and our words, we have not only denuded them of their clarity, but also of their depth.

Even worse, we are no longer allowing confusion to reign free but legislating it into the public square. Earlier this year, London decided to remove apostrophes from its street signs. King's Heath will now become Kings Heath. What's the reason? Apostrophes are too confusing.


Of course, because of the nature of our society English is the most demotic of languages too, so change from below is far more extensive than that from above.


Posted by Orrin Judd at June 18, 2009 5:45 AM
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