Category: linguists and society

Scientists of all kinds speak out in the media on issues that affect society.  What is the linguist’s obligation?  Two language-based issues roil our society, year after year: (i) political correctness/language control; and (ii) the politicization, indeed weaponization of language to persuade and mislead large groups of people (includes such topics as fake news disinformation, propaganda, truth/lies, and much more).  Why are linguists silent?  Because they all live in academic halls of stifling political correctness?

Latest language crime: “equity”

 

A new brick has been added to the wall of politically correct speech: "equity" -- a euphemism for more (and unending) racial and gender preferences in pursuit of an undefinable and unattainable goal.

It takes courage and clear thinking to resist the liberal preoccupation with racial/gender preference and language control.

[In George Orwell’s 1984] Syme [a Party official] encourages Winston to recognize that the ‘whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought’.   He explains that ‘in the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it.’  Syme refers to the fact that individual thought, rebellious or ‘unorthodox’ thoughts will be impossible and so, too, will the true concept of individual freedom.   Each concept will be expressed in just ‘one’ word.   Any ‘subsidiary’ meanings will be rubbed out and forgotten. (55).The party controls the mind through the control of language (Newspeak), the control of history (the past) and the control of war/ enemies, [via] the process of DoubleThink.

Latest language abuse: “deprogramming Trump supporters”

Deprogramming is a brutal concept. For one side in American politics to urge it on the other is deplorable. An alternative is compromise on the part of both sides, so that Americans learn to live with each other.

Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.

— Nietzsche

We are so constituted that we believe the most incredible things; and once they are engraved upon the memory, woe to him who would endeavor to erase them.

— Goethe

To believe with certainty we must begin with doubting.

— Stanislaus I of Poland

Riots in DC: the power of conflicting narratives

Liberals may find fault with this American icon, but which of them coud have done what he did? Does any modern politician have his wit, diplomacy, tenacity, and, very important, his eloquence?

 

On Jan. 27, 1838, Abraham Lincoln spoke before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois, about “the perpetuation of our political institutions.” During that address, he said:

“At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

Lincoln’s message: no other nation is strong enough to destroy America.  We would do it to ourselves.  And it’s happening.

UNIFORMITY = DIVERSITY: Modern Newspeak hits Orwellian rock-bottom

Political language abuse has changed little since Orwell described it in "1984." But the Internet has made it much more effective.

 

“There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.”

“Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it.

— George Orwell

On slogans — especially the one that dominates our lives

Slogans, even if vague or meaningless, can serve as a rallying-cry for wars, consumer products, countries, and much more.

One of the countless slogans by which we live.

 

 

“Man is a creature who lives not upon bread alone, but primarily by catchwords”

-Robert Louis Stevenson

(NOTE: a catch-word is technically what we today would call a “pull-out quote”; I’m using it in a broader sense here, to refer to slogans, mottoes, taglines, and catch-words.)

I keep quoting Stevenson because his observation is so true and has been for a long time.  We love slogans even more than we love narratives and conspiracies…because slogans are the verbal equivalent of Paxil and Wellbutrin.  They encapsulate whatever some leader or group of people decides is the best summary of what the product, movement, party, etc., is all about, while they make us feel good about it.

Angry periods: P.c. virus spreads to punctuation

Punctuation marks can convey emotions. But the idea that periods mean anger or irritation is just another conceit of the snowflakes and language police.

Written language contains many information signals beside letters and numbers. Here are a few.

A period is to let the writer know he has finished his thought and he should stop there if he will only take the hint. Art Linkletter, A Child’s Garden of Misinformation (1965)

To a generation of children who are trained to be sensitive to an ever-increasing body of words deemed offensive because of their perceived meanings, who are “triggered” by these words and need “safe spaces,” it is, for  the P.c., just a small jump from reading new meanings into words…to reading new meanings into marks of punctuation.

Political correctness — ubiquitous and relentless

The babble of political correctness

Politically correctness attacks the teaching of English. Be afraid.
Be very afraid..

“The truth is what most people believe.  And they believe that which is repeated most often.”

-Josef Goebbels

“[The English language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts… if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”

George Orwell

Warning: political correctness is an attempt to control you

Who dares to be the red person in a homogeneous sea of blue think-alikes?

Who dares to be the red person in a sea of blue think-alikes?

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

Lewis Carroll

“Offending and being offended are now the twin addictions of our society.”

— Martin Amis

Stop the pronoun craziness

The babble of political correctness

Politically incorrect speech is neither red nor blue.  It is red, while and blue.  It is American.  Repression of speech leads to repression of thought.

This is a message that the p.c. crowd — in the media, in the universities – needs to hear again and again, because they don’t get it, especially when a Presidential candidate (Warren) announces “her” pronouns on the debate stage, and a teacher is fired for not using the student’s preferred pronouns.  It is not enough, the argument goes,  to have pronouns of two genders, when there are so many other genders.  We need more pronouns!

On baby talk and language change

Kinds of lingo

Linguistics is concerned with who says what to whom, and why. Why do groups of people adopt their own manner of speaking? There are many answers.

 

Is sloppiness in speech caused by ignorance or apathy?  I don’t know and I don’t care.

William Safire

 

I admire John McWhorter so much for the breadth of his accomplishments, his accessibility to the media, his eloquent lectures.

I recently saw a video clip in which he pegged Trump’s speech as characteristic of primitive humans just getting their “language chops” together.

Words, maps, territories, and the political abuse of language

 

From mind to thought (and from there to the speech and auditory organs)
.

The truth is what most people believe.  And they believe that which is repeated most often.

Paul Josef Goebbels

Here is the text of a letter I sent to the Manchester NH Union-Leader (published 6/21/19):

March 19, 2019

Dear Editor,

Let me add my voice to the chorus of people outraged by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s  comparison of immigrant confinement to concentration camps.  This is worse than obscene and ignorant.  It is an utterly irresponsible use of language.  As a linguist, I am appalled by the deceptive reducing of two vastly different entities to a single point of comparison — confinement.