ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • Linguistics

The Problem with Language

Updated on May 29, 2009

A Response to Orwell

Language, like everything else in the world, evolves with the people who speak and write it. As communications develop, new ways to use language come along with them. In his essay “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell discusses the general decline of the English language.

He wrote this essay sixty years ago in 1946, but his points are still as valid, if not more so, in today’s world (Orwell would no doubt be outraged to see the way people communicate via the internet). He identifies the driving force of our language problems as political writings, loaded with euphemisms, inexactness, and roundabout points, but he only briefly mentions convenience as a possible side contributor.

While Orwell’s frustrations with the degeneration of the English language are understandable and largely accurate, the specific arguments that he presents against certain writing problems and the remedies he suggests do not address directly enough the true cause of the issues in the first place: necessity.

Towards the end of his essay, Orwell only momentarily touches on the factor of convenience in the matter of modern problems with English.  “The debased language that I have been discussing,” he admits, “is in some ways very convenient.”  While this is only one sentence in his essay, it is essentially the most important point:  the problems with modern writing now stem from necessity.  Of course, Orwell wrote this essay and experienced these problems in a very different time – a time without cell phones, the internet, or text messaging.  Even so, to make this essay relevant to today, there would need to be a serious expounding on the matter of how we are taught (or possibly how we are forced) to communicate.

Join HubPages!

You can write a "hub" like this and make money from the advertisements! Just join the HubPages community (it only takes a few seconds), and start writing about whatever moves you. It's that simple!

Beginning around the time we are told to write our first essay or story in elementary school, we associate writing with quantity. Assignments are conveyed to students in terms of numbers of pages or of words. Convenience, of course, necessitates this kind of designation because how else would the students have a framework in which to put their ideas? In this way, quantity of writing is put ahead of quality of thought.

This is obviously inadvertent; teachers want their students to be good writers and good thinkers, but legislating amount of text is much more sensible than legislating level of thought. From this comes what Orwell calls “operators or verbal false limbs.” Here, complication robs the sentence of simple verbs. “Instead of being a single word… a verb becomes a phrase, made up of a noun or adjective tacked on to some general-purpose verb.” This results in sentences such as, “The actions of the dog played a large part in the subjection of the house to inspection,” as opposed to, “The house needed to be inspected because of the dog’s actions.”

As students get older, they are encouraged, at least subconsciously, to “sound smarter.” This results in another major problem that Orwell identifies: pretentious diction. How many high-level scholars use words or phrases that sound much more complicated than they are in an effort to sound more scholarly?

This is further encouraged in school by the simple (and not inherently wrong) act of vocabulary assignments and tests. Of course students are expected to use the vocabulary that they are being taught, but the usage is often premature and nonsensical. This effort to be a better writer ironically has the opposite effect on the students.

Orwell needs to acknowledge in this essay that the major cause of the type of deterioration that he cites is necessity and convenience instead of the political influences on how we write and think.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Víctor Manteiga profile image

      Víctor Manteiga 8 years ago from Spain

      It's also fascinating to see how bilingualism affects one's writing strategies. I find that writing in English and writing in Spanish are two quite different experiences, so avoiding interference is a big deal for me. Since Spanish tends to use longer more complex sentece structures than English, I always feel restrained when writing in English!

    • kire0602 profile image

      kire0602 9 years ago

      Agreed! I am one of those writers who tends to say too little in too many words... luckily I have had many teachers who seem to take Orwell's view on this and have helped me make changes. Quantity and big words do not necessarily make for good writing!

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 9 years ago from Chicago

      Very interesting and fresh take on the language of convenience. You write extremely well so keep after it. Thanks!

    • helenathegreat profile image
      Author

      helenathegreat 9 years ago from Manhattan

      Thanks for the comment, Melody! I appreciate it.

    • Melody Lagrimas profile image

      Melody Lagrimas 9 years ago from Philippines

      Very well-expressed.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: "https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr"

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)