Inquiry of George Orwell's Politics and the English Language Essay

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¶ … Language Political or Historically Based?

In George Orwell's essay, "All Art is Propaganda" he tells us the English language is intrinsically politically manipulative. 'The English language, " says Orwell, " Is in a bad way" and he goes on to demonstrate how this is so. There are many words and phrases that he uses to make his point.

According to Orwell, and this is where all linguistics agree, language is a natural outgrowth of one's culture. It echoes the way we think and objectives our socialization and transmitted values. Language is a semantic instrument fashioned by a specific culture and the values and principles of that specific culture are sewn into the fabrics of the words that make up that specific language. In other words, "language is a natural outgrowth and not an instrument which we shape for our own purposes" (Orwell, 270). Language is as much a social construct as is race or class.

As per example, Orwell points to 'dying metaphors', 'pretentious diction', and 'meaningless words'. All of these are used as tools to assert a certain implied superiority over a class of people that one sees as illiterate, uncouth, and uneducated. Leveraging oneself above that class with seemingly sophisticated and unintelligible language is a way of belligerently asserting one's authority. In other words, a certain class of academics and influential people assert their authority and dominance via inflated semantics. As Orwell sees it, "there is 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" (282).

Writing is a delicate piece of work. One has to know expressly what to say and ensure that one reaches the mind and attention of the other without boring him and deceiving him in long-winded ambiguous and rambling network of meaningless semantics. To that end, Orwell recommends that the write focus on simplicity, constantly asking him whether he may not have phrased the words in a simpler, more direct manner.

Orwell compares the craft of writing with that of painting where both require precision, clarity, effort, and care. "Thought corrupts language and language corrupts thought" (282). To produce clear and effective writing therefore one has to have clear and effective thought. Users of the English language have to be aware of the possible corrupting influences of the language and evaluate those carefully, scrupulously assessing what they want to say in order to present their ideas in the most accurate, effective manner.

Orwell is not the only one to point to the social construct of semantics. Foucault, for one, points to political exploitation of semantics where certain terms such as 'normal' are used to exploit and dominate a demeaned and under-privileged other. The difference between social constructionists such as Foucault and Wittgenstein is that they point to specific constructs of the English language that represent unintentional perceptions of viewing individuals or objects in a certain manner (such as social constructionist of 'normal' or 'attractive' or 'poor'). Orwell, in contradiction, points to the tendency of certain people to indulge in lofty and exorbitant leverage of English (bloated English) in order to make them appear more intelligent and powerful than they really are.

Although the English language has been symptomatic… [END OF PREVIEW]

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