Politics and the English Language

Analysis

The English language is a rather volatile subject; constantly and incessantly changing and shifting, as adequately supplied in the essay, ‘Politics and the English Language,’ by George Orwell. In his essay, Orwell comments on the degrading nature of modern English and accuses politics for deteriorating the dialects of English used now-a-days.

The way we act and speak is generally constructed by a consensus in our society, so naturally, our language keeps changing with the change in the general consensus. To emphasize this, Orwell states that the decline of language is ultimately associated with political and economic causes.

Consensus in a society is made by people, and these people are highly swayed by the laws that they abide by, i.e. the politics they follow. Orwell exemplifies his statement on the role of politics in the decline of English language by providing five passages that believes are corrupted by the use of modern English.

In the first passage by Professor Herald Laski, Orwell tells the readers about the counterproductive effect of using, “superfluous” and, “jargon” words. Professor Laski’s passage uses, as said by Orwell, “five negatives in fifty words.” This usage fails to create a clear picture of what Professor Laski was trying to say.

Furthermore, in the second passage Orwell accuses Professor Lancelot Hogben for misusing the word, ‘egregious,’ and says that Professor Hogben simply did not put in the effort of looking that word in the dictionary.

While stating these mistakes, Orwell’s voice is not that of mockery or condescendence, but of an understanding cultivated by making similar mistakes.

George Orwell does not simply state these mistakes but also provides legitimate explanations for why these mistakes were made. He says that this was due to the excessive use of worn-out idioms, pretentious words, passive voice and unneeded metaphors that accompany modern English.

The author of this essay condemns vagueness in written and spoken prose. He says that in order to convey the genuine image of what is in the writer’s mind, the writers must first paint a picture of the object in his mind and then deliver it to his audience by using everyday English words. Precision, according to Orwell, is an important element that should be regularly incorporated into our writing.

As stated in the essay, politics tend to bend the actual intentions of the speaker, i.e. using political speech to convey messages more often than not confuses the reader or the listener and leads to digressive remarks and actions. Euphemisms are quite popular in political speeches and debates (both written and spoken). As Orwell says, “[Thus] political language has to consist largely of euphemisms, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.”

Even though euphemisms may seem essential to generate assent within the public and justify the actions that may otherwise seem inhumane and decadent, they wrongly inform the public of the actual intentions of the speaker.

An opponent may say that the use of such words makes an orator, like Mark Antony way from Julius Caesar; but Orwell would firmly disagree. An orator would be a person who can shape the opinions of the public by using simple dictions, not someone who depends on ambiguity to gain support.

Orwell dismisses the notion that language grows naturally, and instead says that the growth of language depends largely on its use by the common people. He believes that the decadence that is created by modern English can be eliminated by a few concerned individuals who incorporate his abovementioned rules in their daily lives.

Orwell appears to be an anarchist of political English; reproaching abstract speeches and the influence of politics in our daily lives. Politics, according to Orwell, has successfully permeated all of our social walls, including our tongues and pens. These nuances have to be changed through personal effort.

Perversion of the English language can be stopped by embracing its Saxon roots and speaking and writing with an everyday ease.

Argument

In “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell condemns the influence of politics on modern-day English language by saying that the abstract vagueness introduced in today’s diction perverts the English language. I firmly disagree with his stance.

As stated by Orwell, using superfluous or “jargon” words will deteriorate the meaning of the written (or spoken) word; but these so called “jargon,” words are the words that add to the imagery and voice of the writer.

Every writer who reads this would agree that people have different styles of writing. Writing is an art and art cannot be dictated. Each word used by a writer is like a unique stroke added to a painting to give it more character.

Orwell would like to argue that most writers use unnecessary words just to seem more knowledgeable, and he would perhaps say that these “pretentious” words are used so that the writer would not have to go through any trouble any trouble of coming up with a concise statement. But these are mere insinuations and Orwell does not provide adequate examples or facts to support his argument.

What would literature be without Shakespeare? This man wrote volumes filled with what Orwell would have deemed as “unneeded” vocabulary. But Shakespeare’s vocabulary played a great role in shaping the English that we use today and, inevitably, the English that Orwell proposes we use.

While I would agree that politics and economic circumstances within a society play a great deal in shaping the language that we use today (and the language that used by the writers of the past), this does not necessarily mean that their influence is bad.

Euphemism, for example, are used for public good; these euphemisms are used in politics by the people who have been chosen to represent our society and our country’s peoples. These representatives are accountable to the people and responsible for any action (good or bad) that they decide to take. Thus, we must trust them to make the correct decision and to do so without rousing agitation from the public. Euphemisms do exactly that! Without the use of these soft cover-ups, Russia would have never been able to persuade its people to fight against the German Nazi; and who knows, maybe Nazism would have still been thriving!

Language cannot be redefined or reconstructed to fit the confined definition proposed and supported by George Orwell and other few individuals like him.

Language is free speech, it is art and it is a platform through which we can express ourselves. Language is not deteriorating, au contraire, it is expanding to accommodate the likes of every individual.

 

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2 thoughts on “Politics and the English Language

  1. Thanks Paakhi – I saved this post for when I had more time to read it properly 🙂 You may find the work of Harry T Dyer interesting, and it’s easily accessible via his TEDx talk here https://youtu.be/ZteEZbAtsNI – I’m on the far left of the screen in the audience! He calls out this apparently continual need that’s felt to say language is deteriorating and it surprised me to hear now not-new this phenomenon is. In an interview I did with him just last week he goes into more depth. That footage will go public via the TEDx event email list and my youtube in a few weeks. You might enjoy it!

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