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Politics and the English Language

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Suha Khan

on 18 February 2014

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Transcript of Politics and the English Language

'Politics and the English Language'
By: George Orwell
Politics and the English Language, by George Orwell is an essay which argues about the use of vague language in political speeches as a means to brain wash or confuse people. This is done, in order to, gain people's trust. By using vague language and difficult words, people assume that something great must be coming out of it. When a difficult word is used in a speech it forms the idea that a person is well educated and knows what they're talking about. When vague language is used in political language, this shows that the speaker does not wish to give away everything that they have done or are about to do. Especially if they are not sure themselves (future plans) and if they have or are going to do something that benefits themselves, and not the people.
Presentation by: Suha Khan
Introduction of the Essay
Talks about how the English language is being changed in a bad way and what is causing it to change (political and economic causes)
Provides evidence by showing us five passages, which are unclear and have faults in the writing
Tells us that the five passages have common faults, two of them being the "staleness of imagery" and the "lack of precision" in the authors' writing
Shows us four examples or ways in which the English Language in certain pieces of writing is changed to a more vague form
Middle of the Essay
Orwell gives an example of a sentence from a well known text, 'Ecclesiastes', and how it has been changed to what would be known as modern English. The sentence is, "I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is now swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all." This in modern English translates to, "Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account." He shows us how the first sentence has more words and less syllables, whereas the second sentence has less words and more syllables, with eighteen of those words coming from Latin or Greek roots. He then talks about how the first sentence consists of more imagery than the second, which only contains vague words. Orwell then makes a claim that English now does not consist of words used for their meaning nor to create images to have a clearer meaning. The purpose of writing the way we do now, is because it is easier, since the phrases have already been made up for us and we don't have to think of words or phrases that have meaning or can convey mental images. This makes the meaning of texts not only abstract to the audience but abstract to ourselves.
End of the Essay
Orwell describes the faults in the five passages looked at in the beginning
He states how a writer should ask themselves certain questions to avoid having vague or cloudy language
He talks about how political language uses vague words and phrases to hide important facts from the audience or to not put an image in their minds, which they probably don't want to picture (violent, gruesome, or a dishonorable act, which they wish to hide)
He states how the use of vague language can be cured or decreased (removal of certain metaphors, reduction of Latin or Greek words/roots being used, etc.)
He then lists a few rules to follow in order to avoid using vague language
Significance of the text
Significance of the text
The significance of the text is to create awareness to people of how political writing can not only confuse us but it can also change the way we think. The main ideas of the text are the abstract and sloppy language used in political writing, which influences us to write in the same manner, because it is what is being taught to us (we generally tend to do what we're told). Another main idea of the text is to show us how certain events can be hidden from the audience through the use of vague language. In writing this essay, George Orwell is trying to make us aware and to pay attention to these kinds of texts and also to avoid doing the same thing, when writing our own texts. By doing this he is making us aware of the fact that we are being tricked. He is also trying to get us to step away from this kind of writing because it doesn't have any meaning or imagery in it, which only builds up to the vagueness in our language, making it harder to understand one another.
Audience and Purpose of the Text
The Audience of the text are both males and females, because there is no specific language that indicates that the text is only targeted towards males or only targeted towards females. The age range the text is aimed at would have to be eighteen and over, because that is when you can vote for president (in the US). It is also the age where you are able to get a job, therefore, you have to have some responsibilities. The age where you get a job is also when you must start paying taxes (some countries). The audience would have to have a high level of education to be able to understand the language used in the essay. Since, the audience has a high level of education, they would have to be around middle class to high class. The culture the text is aimed at would mostly have to be those that speak the English Language (where English is the native language). Since the essay is written in difficult English, one would have to be fluent in English in order to have a good interpretation of the text.
The purpose of the text is to argue as well as to inform people of how vague and incompetent language is used in political writing to remain abstract to the reader or the listener. The main purpose of the text is to argue, this is shown when Orwell states, "The mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing." In this sentence he is making a claim that modern English texts (especially political ones) mostly include a mixture of vagueness and incompetence, which means that they are unclear and without meaning, this is how writing can be abstract to an audience. However, some might disagree with his opinion. Later in the same paragraph, he states that, "...prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together..." Here he is arguing that nowadays texts incorporate less meaning and imagery and instead consist of words and phrases that are attached together.
Language and Style
Language is used to create meaning in the text. Orwell uses diction such as vague, abstract, incompetence, bad, worse, ugly (ugliness) and many more. In his essay, these words have a negative connotations and are used to describe the kind of writing used in politics and modern English. The words which have positive connotations are associated with the good kinds of English, that have not been modernized or aren't used in political language. He indicates that modern English no longer has meaning and imagery in its writing, instead its just words taken mostly from other languages (Latin or Greek). He provides various examples of this in his writing, where he tells us a word from another language that looks very similar to a word used in English. He uses language and style effectively to show various arguments, which prove his theories, including personal ones. For example he states, "...if you or I were told to write a few lines on the uncertainty of human fortunes, we should probably come much nearer to my imaginary sentence than to the one from 'Ecclesiastes'. He uses style effectively in order to connect with his audience and to get them thinking. When they realize that he is right, they will begin to see his point. This is how he has used style and language effectively to gain his audience's trust.
Theory of Knowledge
The text relates to theory of knowledge, when it mentions how our written language is what influences our thinking. Since, Language is one of the ways of knowing. An example of this in the text is in the beginning when Orwell states, "It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." When he says this he means that our language becomes ugly because of our thoughts, however, the lack of tidiness in our language is what influences our way of thinking. In other words, if our language is sloppy then our thinking becomes sloppy as well. He also states, "If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration." In this sentence, he tells us that if we don't use vague/abstract language in our writing then we can think clearly, and thinking clearly can help us change the way political speeches and writings are structured.
Analysis of an analysis
Evidence that Orwell provides in his Essay of Political language
He gives examples of times where political speech will consist of euphemisms, questioning and vagueness, because the content is too brutal for the audience to handle. Examples of times where vague language could be used is when discussing "the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan" and other similar instances where people won't be able to face the truth. There are certain types of phrasing which would be used without having to call up mental images of them.
Real life evidence not included in Orwell's Essay
During the 2012 United States presidency elections. Mitt Romney in one of his transcripts states, "...we will make trade work for America by forging new trade agreements. And when nations cheat in trade, there will be unmistakable consequences." When he says "unmistakable consequences", he doesn't really state what kinds of consequences. This might be because he is referring to war or something violent, which he doesn't want to reveal to his audience because they might see it as an act of cruelty or brutality. So in order to keep their trust he hides some facts by using vague language.
To conclude, George Orwell spreads his overall message on why we shouldn't use vague language in our writing. He gives us various examples of how our language can be vague, since it lacks imagery and meaning. If we avoid this we will be able to think better and we won't be as misled by political language because we will know that it is purposely trying to confuse us. Personally, I agree with George Orwell, because I think that he provides enough evidence to prove his theories. His comparisons and explanations clearly show the message he is trying to convey to the audience.
How the English Language is becoming more vague
The English Language is becoming more vague through the use of:
Dying Metaphors: these are metaphors that consist less of imagery and more vividness. These metaphors are also old, worn-out metaphors, which have lost their power and are no longer as effective. They are mostly used to save people the effort of creating new metaphors.
Operators or verbal false limbs: these remove the simplicity of words, phrases, or sentences, by using more complex words, which contain more syllables. Instead of using one word/verb to describe something, an entire phrase (noun or adjective), is used. The range of verbs are reduced through the use of -IZE endings and DE- beginnings. The use of these beginnings and endings make the words more obvious and lack originality.
Pretentious diction: Words which are used to make a statement sound more impressive and intellectual. Generally, political, scientific and sociological writers use foreign phrases mostly coming from Latin or Greek words instead of Saxon words. A Latin or Greek root is used with an affix added to it. Words are taken from these formations instead of coming up with new words for ease. This increases the vagueness of our language.
Meaningless words: When words such as romantic, human, dead, etc. are used in art or literary criticisms, it is confusing to the reader to tell whether the critic is saying something positive about their work or something negative. Especially because these kinds of words are meaningless if not used in the right context. Similarly, this can be seen in political language, where the word either has no meaning in the context or it has a secret meaning, which only the author can identify. This increases the slovenliness in our language.
Orwell, George. Politics and the English Language (1946): 1-9. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.
"Who Can Vote and Who Can Be Elected." Infoplease. Infoplease, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2014. <http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0878573.html>.
"Transcript: Mitt Romney's Acceptance Speech." NPR. NPR, n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2014. <http://www.npr.org/2012/08/30/160357612/transcript-mitt-romneys-acceptance-speech>.
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