The death of language

By in Culture

ALEX MACPHERSON
Arts Writer

The English language, in all of its incomprehensible vastness and sublime beauty, is in grave danger.

A sinister mix of technological advancement and collective laziness threatens to reduce our primary means of communication to a smattering of common phrases and meaningless expressions.

Responsible, at least in part, for the ongoing perversion of our language is George Orwell.

Once established as a novelist of some repute, Orwell began dispensing advice for aspiring writers at a furious pace. One of his axioms — and the one most often cited by disputatious editors — concerned the proper use of our language: never use a long word when a short one will suffice.

  This maxim, it seems, has been passionately embraced by the North American population. Equally obsessed with advancing technology and constantly communicating, we have inadvertently precipitated a sickness, a malignant cancer of our words. They’re being taken away. No longer can we legitimately expect to deploy the full breadth of our personal lexicons and be understood. The 140-character text message has seen to that.

Collective laziness has ensured that the relentless pressure of the Internet — its dynamism, its speed — has been used to dismantle our language. Everything, it seems, must be condensed in order to avoid excessive reading; if it can’t fit into a text message, it’s not worthwhile.

Curiously, the systematic simplification of language has directly coincided with a tremendous increase in the volume of communication. At no time in history have people been so talkative: we correspond with each other in a multitude of ways yet, sadly, we actually say very little.

Email, instant messaging and the ubiquitous “texts” have removed emotion, insight and feeling from our interlocution. Indeed, we have become so complacent that we constantly rely on others understanding of our abbreviations and simplifications. Letters have become words, words are used as sentences. Verbs, it seems, are a thing of the past. We have been lulled by the ease of communication to the point that anything extraordinary is considered socially unacceptable.

The inexorable march toward constant communication has reduced the language to a series of unremarkable stock words and phrases — the trajectory of our language is inexorably moving towards atavistic simplicity. Those who revel in using the full span of the language have become iconoclasts, sesquipedalian has become a pejorative and authors are resigning themselves to the fact that their readership considers using a dictionary — that pinnacle of human achievement — an arduous chore.

The problem is, of course, rampant and widespread misinterpretation. Orwell’s pithy maxim has been taken to mean that clarity is synonymous with simplicity. Long words have become an inconvenience — they fill up text messages far too quickly — and are consequently shunned as “too complicated” or “unnecessary.”

Words are adjudicated on the basis of length, and nothing more. The entire purpose of language — communication — has fallen victim to lazy niggards and purveyors of linguistic turpitude. And yet simplicity remains synonymous with lucidity and clarity in the minds of some.

Orwell’s theories continue to be propagated for the sake of those unwilling to consult a dictionary or be challenged by language. If the decline of English is not halted, we will eventually be reduced to the level of beasts. Our commonplace words are already equivalent to grunts; our stock phrases are suspiciously similar to bestial noises.

Perhaps those who condemn language based on the perception that simplicity is more important than clarity should consider that they are denigrating and casting off the thing that makes us human.