Thursday, April 07, 2005

the beauty of language

This article from today's Guardian is worth a read. It shows how our use of language has become unimaginative and we've lost something of the beauty of different words and their meanings and the use of rhetoric. For example, 'forward, not back' is completely unimaginative. I love language and words and reading a good sentence. We need to take our words seriously. We need to be imaginative in our writing.

6 comments:

HP said...

I love the sound of words too, but sometimes language only needs to be functional, and in a country where we have one of the hardest languages to learn (and the highest levels of dyslexia) sometimes language needs to be kept simple! Hitler said of his campaign speeches (which were v. simple) that they were like that so that even the least intelligent could understand.
(Not that I'm trying to say Labour are like the Third Reich...)

andy goodliff said...

There's a "dumbing down" or "raising up" issue here. To we make our language simple so everyone can understand, or do we speak more eloquently and actual force people to raise their understanding of language. Of course language sometimes only need to be functional, but I think we live in a culture of the slogan often devoid of any serious content.

ash said...

I think I am with Andy on this one. I think perhaps if Hitler's language was deeper and more complex, perhaps it would have exposed some of the flaws in his arguments earlier on. Hitler was able to win over the poulation because his rhetoric was simple, and less open to criticism: it presented things simply and people took it to be simple.

As the writer in the Guardian says, the devices of rhetoric are important to learn so that the truth can be found. The philosophers of antiquity thought this, and they included in their works "dictionaries" of the most commonly used terms in philosophical debate. The writer's link to aristotle's argument is interesting: we can often find that people lose a debate not because they are wrong, but because their opponent has a firmer grasp of the necessary rhetoric to succeed.

But I don't think that means we should simplify our arguments; on the contrary, like Andy, I think we need to coax people through language and teach and equip them to defend themselves properly.

HP said...

OK, I think there's more than one argument here - 1) the idea that we should use language in general more eloquently (or imaginatively, a word I am sure will be overused here soon!)and 2) a discussion on political language. And maybe 3) the idea of empty slogans.

1) I do agree that we could learn to use language better, or more elegantly, or be more sophisticated in our usage BUT 2) On 2, I think it's hard enough trying to work out what politicians say (as well as what they mean, which is different again) and I do think that actually they should stick with keeping it simple. Hitler might have been nasty but he wasn't stupid. Politicians need votes. The more people that understand, the bigger the pool of people who can understand (and might vote).
3) I think you just don't like their slogan? The argument when they released 'Forward, not back' was that it didn't mean anything. It does mean something, it just isn't that specific.

OK, so I haven't read the article yet... but I think you both sound a little pretentious, if I'm honest, to suggest that we should 'force' people to 'raise their understanding of language.' Hopefully I don't quite understand you yet, since I'm all for literacy...

andy goodliff said...

The reason politicians use such simple slogans is they want to simplify complicated arguments, but this often only serves to hide the multi-faceted nature of most political arguments, that is, things are not as black and white as politicians would like us to believe.

ash said...

indeed... which is why i think if tyranical politicians like hitler had used more complex language people would have seen the immense flaws in his language earlier on...