Purity Of English

An ironic term.

"The problem with defending the purity of the EnglishLanguage is that English is about as pure as a cribhouse whore. We don't just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary." -- James D. Nicoll

Although this page pokes a bit of fun at the way we use English, it should be clearly understood that it's not an effort to promote any sort of linguistic anarchy (a la HumptyDumpty in LanguageAbuser).

Mangling the language under the flag of any of various "causes" (PoliticalCorrectness, GenderTyranny?, LocalIdiom?) is not a valid practice, as it undermines the standard for communication.

I can imagine some bizarre VersionControl system for English, so that when you went back to read a document written in the '50s, you had to have a translation key handy.

Yes, I know, language is dynamic, blah, blah, Shakespeare, blah, blah, Yeats, blah, blah, Longfellow, blah, blah, blah ... but: encouraging the continuous alteration of something that is already hard enough to master in its current form is surely an AntiPattern.

Such meddling is also the tool of Orwellian bad guys. [We will take the rest of this rant as read.]

Such meddling is also the tool of Orwellian bad guys.

Orwellian NewSpeak is based on removing words using the theory that thought is limited by vocabulary. Adding words or altering the established meaning of words indicates originality. Newspeak is not the conservation or altering of a language - it is an attempt to revert to a smaller subset.

An interesting theory. Do you have examples from NineteenEightyFour? Two easy ones (I haven't read it in about 20 years or so) that refute your point about alteration are WarIsPeace and LoveIsHate?. Adding words is necessary in order to be able to describe an ever changing world. Altering them implies that the original meaning behind the altered word no longer exists because the word no longer has that meaning. That is the point behind "thought is limited by vocabulary". You don't need to erase a word to control thought, just change its meaning.

Let's not forget SportUtilityVehiclesAreSafe?.

I recall that they were removing comparatives, replacing them with "good" and "ungood", with the only means of comparison being "plus" or "doubleplus". I have a hazy memory of them trying to equate the Party with "good".

The book contains an appendix entitled The Principles of Newspeak that makes it clear that Newspeak is intended to reduce vocabulary. Here's an excerpt: "It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought - that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc [the government] - should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. ... This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings. ... Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum"

The alteration of WarIsPeace and LoveIsHate? is known as DoubleThink - The Party wished for the population to hold contradictory thoughts simultaneously. In other words, if the Party said 2+2=5, then the population would believe that. So in that sense, the Party wasn't really altering the language so much as pushing a certain(often self-contradicting) mode of thought - which leads to a collapse of logic - which makes people have to rely on the party for every little belief(which was the end goal anyhow). DoubleThink served to kill independent thought, and NewSpeak served to minimize vocabulary - It's like a OnceAndOnlyOnce for words(but in a bad way). That's dangerous because words like "better" aren't necessarily replaceable by NewSpeak like "double-plus-good".

[ "... but: encouraging the continuous alteration of something that is already hard enough to master in it's current form is surely an AntiPattern." ]

That's silly. Languages evolve out of necessity and boredom; that's how it's always worked, and it won't ever change. So rather than calling it an AntiPattern, you should accept that complete mastery isn't possible, nor desirable. Expecting mastery is the AntiPattern, since mastery is hardly necessary for most communication, which is the point of language in the first place.

Striving for the best possible literacy could hardly be called silly. If by "mastery" is meant some kind of ivory tower academic linguistics professor command of the language, yes, that would be silly.

One of the most useful benefits of language is that it permits the knowledge of one generation to be passed on to many subsequent generations. To the degree that the language undergoes deliberate distortions of meaning such a benefit is seriously impeded.

It is understood that the language can't help but grow and be influenced by social change, but the kind of sabotage that happens to languages in the name of [insert king's name here] really should be avoided as much as possible.

See also EnglishLanguagePrescriptiveness.

View edit of August 11, 2006 or FindPage with title or text search