Politics and the English Language

Abstract

The purpose of this research paper is to establish the extent to which English has diminished in expressing meaning, particularly as used by writers. Orwell maintains that English is on the downhill trend and unfortunately, nothing can be done to salvage the situation. This research will establish the veracity of Orwell’s assertion that English is inadequate as a means of expression through writing.

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Orwell has identified a few passages to help build his case. The passages exhibit the confusion and vague meaning evident in modern writing. He also highlights some symptoms that characterize the fall of English from grace. These symptoms include over-reliance on foreign languages in word derivation, pretentious diction, use of dying metaphors, and verbal false limbs.

Introduction

In his essay, Politics and the English Language, George Orwell tears into the suitability of the English language as a medium of communication especially through writing. Orwell maintains that English as a language has been on the inevitable decline in terms of communicating meaning over the years; the worst being that nothing can be done about it. He seems to be insinuating that English cannot be redeemed. He attributes the redundancy of the language to political and economic factors (Orwell, par 2).

Orwell goes a step further to expose the shortfalls of the English language by identifying five exhibits that point to the extent of slovenliness of the English language. These are extracts from significantly consequential sources that are usually used to influence decision-making in society. These extracts, according to Orwell, can hardly make sense. The passages are shrouded in mental vices that are currently afflicting many an individual.

Orwell dwells on the symptoms marking the gradually degenerating language. He singles them out as dying metaphors, operators or verbal false limbs, and pretentious diction. He also mentions over-reliance on foreign languages particularly Greek or Latin when creating a new vocabulary to deliberately mislead the audience. There is also a tendency of modern writers to deliberately resort to superfluous expressions. The bottom line here is the inability of the English language to effectively communicate meaning.

Background

That English is becoming hopelessly ineffective as a means of written communication cannot be gainsaid. Orwell attributes this to a decadent civilization coupled with political and economic implications. The worst-hit are the writers who use English as their preferred vehicle of carrying their ideas across to their readers. It is clear from the five passages that the process of expressing meaning in English has become a complete flop.

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More often than not, writers phrase their observations so vaguely that discussion on the same becomes almost impossible (Crystal, “the language of age” p. 400). It is possible that to avoid being critiqued, writers take refuge in extraneous language forms that detract from any attempts at analysis. To illustrate this point, Orwell paraphrases a common verse from the Bible into modern English. The result is a linguistic disaster: the verse becomes difficult to grasp when translated into modern English. This is a sure pointer to the fact that English is fast losing ground as a language of communication.

English as a global lingua franca requires intelligibility and the setting and maintenance of standards (Crystal, “English as a global language” p. 54). However, the increasing usage of English has given rise to less predictable contexts within which it is learned and used (Graddol, p. 3). Some words have no standard meaning and this is made deliberately so. Orwell cites the word “democracy”. A government would consider it a compliment when labeled democratic; consequently, defenders of all sorts of regimes will try to justify their style of rule by claiming they are exercising democracy (Orwell, par. 7). Therefore, an attempt to peg a specific meaning to the word “democracy” will receive resistance from numerous quarters.

The purpose of speaking, or writing for that matter, is to communicate. Communication, therefore, is very important in people’s lives. Communication means everything to everybody (Luckmann, p. 68). However, as Orwell points out in his essay, Politics and the English Language, modern users of the English language seem to be trampling upon the essence of communication. They do so through pretentious diction where they tailor their language specifically to suit their own selfish needs. Writers would attempt to veil a grossly biased statement by using certain terms to lend scientific impartiality to them (Orwell, par. 5). This kind of writing is deliberately misleading since it conceals the intended meaning and instead, offers a corrupted one.

Findings

This research paper unearthed various findings that corroborate Orwell’s view that English is on the decline. First, writers are increasingly using language to corrupt or subvert meaning. This is because it is full of pretentious diction. This is often employed in politics. The undesirable process of international politics is often made to appear deceptively noble through the use of certain expressions like inevitable, historic, age-old, and many others (Orwell, par. 6). Oppressive international policies may be termed inevitable to justify their existence and to put off further questions on the same (Chomsky, p. 67).

The research has also established that although the future of English is bound to be a complex one, it will diminish in global importance (Graddol, p. 3). Graddol further posits that English may even be replaced by other languages, such as Spanish and Chinese, due to its growing inability to communicate effectively especially in writing. This situation will be brought about by some weaknesses in the English language, which Orwell has pointed out in his essay. One of these weaknesses is the use of dying metaphors. Most writers are unable to create new metaphors that would evoke visual images to spur critical thinking. This confines them to the over-use of old metaphors, some of which have lost their original meaning or have just become redundant. Some metaphors have even been twisted out of their original contexts. An example has toed the line, which is now being turned to tow the line (Orwell, par. 4).

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It has also been established that there has been an attempt to “fix and ascertain” the English language (Graddol, p. 6). The weaknesses in the language must have become so significant for such an attempt to be made. However, the attempt failed and English consequently has to adapt itself to new circumstances and people. In doing so, English has had to borrow from other languages to enrich its vocabulary. However, as Orwell finds out, this has been a cause for further inability. Foreign words and expressions abound are commonly being used by what Orwell considers as bad writers. There is no need to use such terms as cul de sac, Deus ex machina, and others because they only give an air of culture to the writing, but do not add any significant semantic value (Orwell, par. 6).

The English language has not been able to adapt fully to new contexts and situations as is expected. This is evident in the inability of most writers to pick new words and phrases to express meaning. As a result, most of them resort to the use of operators or verbal false limbs. This saves them the trouble of identifying appropriate nouns and verbs. It also helps them achieve symmetry in their writing, but at the expense of meaning (Orwell, par. 5). Simple conjunctions are replaced with rather complex ones that consist of two to four parts as a means of achieving the desired length of syllables.

The paper also discovered that most linguists are reluctant to adopt varieties of language that are capable of description through foregrounding, stylistic deviance, figurative language, and rhythmical patterns (Crystal, “the language of age” p. 399). Consequently, most writings do not point to any discoverable object, a fact alluded to by Orwell in his essay, Politics and the English Language. Lack of description in any piece of writing portends a serious setback to the semantic value of the text. Such texts are vague and as such, cannot easily connect to the intended readers.

It is also difficult to subject sound patterns, lexicon, or grammar to micro-analytic scrutiny to define an author’s linguistic identity or clarify an individual’s stylistic effects (Crystal, “the language of age” p. 400). Orwell attributes this to the fact that modern writers simply pick words for the sake of their meaning and fabricate images to make their meaning clearer (Orwell, par. 8). This randomness in writing makes it difficult to establish an author’s linguistic identity and an analysis of the stylistic features employed becomes a daunting task.

Recommendations

This research paper has corroborated, to some extent, the veracity of Orwell’s assertion that English is on the decline as evidenced in modern writing. He ties this to a decadent culture and political and economic nexus. However, this does not sound like the death knell for modern writing. Writers can still maintain relevance in their writing by implementing the following recommendations.

First, writers should take into consideration that they are not writing for themselves. Hence, they should ensure that their texts simply communicate to others. They should, therefore, make their language simple. They should avoid difficult expressions or foreign terms as much as possible. English vocabulary is broad enough to take into account all linguistic considerations.

Second, sufficient research should be conducted on English pedagogy to broaden its spectrum. This will address the issue of having to recycle worn-out metaphors. New metaphors should be created to fit the current context while old ones have to be phased out completely. Writers should stick to those subjects they can adequately handle to avoid the need to look for new terms to express the subject matter.

Conclusion

Although the English language is generally on the decline, as expressed by Orwell, it should not be allowed to collapse altogether. It is, therefore, important that the weaknesses elucidated in this research paper be comprehensively addressed. The purpose of writing is communication, so, all attempts should be made to ensure that modern writers keep this in mind. It may also be crucial to remember that English still has enough vocabulary to express any situation in writing.

Works Cited

Chomsky, Noam. Language and Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2004. Print.

Crystal, David. English as a Global Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Print.

The Language of Age. Jankowsky, K. (ed), Scientific and Humanistic Dimensions of Language. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 1985, 399-408. Print.

Orwell, George. “Politics and the English Language,” 1946. Web.

Graddol, David. The Future of English? A guide to Forecasting the Popularity of the English Language in the 21st Century. 2nd ed. UK: The British Council. 2000. Web.

Luckmann, Thomas. On the Communicative Adjustment of Perspectives, Dialogue, and Communicative Genres. In A. H. Wold (ed), Language thought, and communication: A volume honoring Ragnar Rommetveit. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Print.

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