English language. Let there be constructive argumentation and passion behind our claims. The state of a language is in many ways indicative of the people who use it. The character of people can be reflective of or demonstrated in the ways in which they use their language. This paper will be a discussion of the state of the English language in the context of the short piece "Politics and the English Language" composed by the astute and curious writer, George Orwell. This writer expresses a unique opinion as to what the specific problem with English is, how such a problem manifests, purport as to the affects of linguistic issues in society, and in some cases, propose solutions to such a problem. In the very least, the author exudes an air that the problem(s) with English is fixable. Therefore, the paper serves to examine the problems that Orwell speaks of and engages the reader in such a way as to inform and incite further thought-work and healthy debate.
George Orwell, in an assembly of essays in All Art is Propaganda, writes of numerous problems with the English language in his essay "Politics and the English Language." In this piece, he begins with several literary excerpts that demonstrate his negative sentiments regarding the English language. In the next several sections, Orwell specifically identifies the problems with the language use, offering specific examples of words or phrases that demonstrate the point he makes. There is, in fact, a wealth of examples in his piece of words and phrases that demonstrate where English has gone wrong, or as he writes, "that the English language is in a bad way." (Orwell, "Politics and the English Language, Page 270) Orwell arguments contrast popular sentiments in reference to language in that "language is a natural growth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes." (Orwell, Page 270) He argues that language is a social construct, such as race or class. In fact, other theorists such as feminists and author's such as Michel Foucault vehemently argue and provide concrete evidence for the fully intentional, institutionalized, and systemic manipulation of language as part of the political agendas of power. Some problems of which Orwell writes include "dying metaphors," "pretentious diction," which is quite rampant, and "meaningless words." (Orwell, Page 272 -- 277) He names these errors with language, and really, with those who use English, as a way to awaken users, to rejuvenate and invigorate writing and language to fulfill some utopian ideal of which language is truly capable.
Orwell characterizes the English language and its use in multiple ways. He calls the current state of English "inflated" (Orwell, Page 282) and there exists a Marxist element to his statements as he speaks of "a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink." (Orwell, Page 282) Marx argued that the alienation of people from their labor contributed to the deterioration of society in the same way Orwell describes the gap between what we say and what we mean in our modern use of language. Orwell further details the politics of the English language by comparing the political climate of the English-speaking world to those of countries with dictatorships:
"All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find -- this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify -- that the German, Russian, and Italian languages have all deteriorate in the last ten to fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship." (Orwell, Page 282)
While published in 2008, this piece was composed in 1945, at the close of World War II. Just as the physical landscape was heavily damaged by war and political messes, so does language, too, suffer dilapidated at the hands of political warfare.
Orwell is very much interested and concerned that writers are unoriginal and boring. He wants the reader to break out of stagnant convention and rekindle the spirit of composition. Orwell urges:
"As I have tried to show, modern writing at its worst does not consist in picking out words for the sake of their meaning and inventing images in order to make the meaning clearer. It consists in gumming together long strips of words which have already been set in order by someone else, and making the results presentable by sheer humbug. The attraction of this way of writing is that it is easy." (Orwell, Page 278)
For Orwell, true writing, real writing takes effort. Modern writing has become simplified and empty. In the Orwellian definition, modern writing is not writing at all -- it certainly does not function as he believes writing can and should. Modern writing lacks originality and attracts the lazy writer or invites laziness into the modern writing practice.
Orwell continues this train of thought by urging writers to be much more conscientious and commit to the level of scrutiny of their own writing in the same manner he demonstrates throughout the piece. He contends that writers must push themselves while composing and that includes asking questions of themselves:
"A scrupulous writer, in every sentences he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: What am I trying to say? What words will express it? What image or idiom will make it clearer? Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: Could I put it more shortly? Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?" (Orwell, Page 279 -- 280)
With these questions, Orwell compares the art of writing with the art of painting. Writing is painting with words when done properly and when undertaken with the proper amount of attention, effort, and care. Clarity and precision are critical elements that contribute to successful and beautiful writing for Orwell. He concludes that in the modern moment, writers are drawn to an overblown, meaningless, redundant excuse for writing and composition.
Before offering solutions to the poor state of the English language, Orwell tells us what the consequences are or implications of bad language has on thinking, society, and the human species:
"But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought. A bad usage can spread by tradition and imitation, even among people who should know and do know better. The debased language that I have been discussing is in some ways very convenient." (Orwell, Page 282)
He states earlier on the same page as this quotation, that the poor state of language can be attributed to political crimes and assorted political messes. He claims that this kind of poor language is a product of political and moral corruption and/or degradation. In this statement, he alerts us that the corruption is two-way and has the potential to spread, like a viral infection. If English users and speakers do not identify and combat the corruption of usage, the language and the culture will diminish greatly, if not more so than it has since Orwell's time: "This invasion of one's mind by ready-made phrases…can only be prevented if one is constantly on guard against them, and every such phrase anaesthetizes a portion of one's brain." (Orwell, Page 283) From these kinds of quotations, readers may detect evidence of themes and messages in other seminal Orwellian works such as Animal Farm & 1984.
George Orwell takes time to show the reader what kinds of problems exist within language and what language we can use to articulate problems. Orwell is profoundly well read and provides numerous literary examples to help ask his questions or demonstrate his points. In spite of his many well articulate phrases against…