Politics and the English Language
Just as evolution has taken place in animals over the decades and causing many species to arise. Language has also evolved and changed over the years to fit different means of society. I argue that nowadays modern English is vague and not really used effectively by not only individuals but also politicians.
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Language nowadays lacks meaning and imagery and instead consist of words and phrases that are attached together.
In “Politics and Language” by George Orwell, he also argues that the language utilized by political parties is vague and incompetent language is used to remain abstract to the listener or reader. This is shown when Orwell states, “The mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing” (Orwell 2611).
Modern English political texts contain vagueness and incompetence as they are without meaning. These kinds of text no longer have imagery and meaning in its writing can be abstract to an audience. When there are elections taking place politicians tend to use English in this manner by using various connotations, and vague messages that are not very informative.
Firstly, meaning in a text is created by various uses of language. Dictations such as incompetence, bad, worse, ugly (ugliness), vague, abstract and many more were used by Orwell as negative connotations to describe the texts used in politics and that written in modern English. Whereas, words that have a positive connotation were associated with, “good English” by Orwell. Good English indicating English that has not been modernized nor has it been used for political reasons.
Orwell indicates that modern English no longer has imagery and meaning in its writing, instead of modern English is simply words taken mostly from other languages such as Latin or Greek. Politicians nowadays use these negative connotations to create a public persona of the opposition that is negative. These connotations, however, can be misunderstood by the public as they are used in a general manner and do not target something specific about the opposition.
In addition to this, Orwell gives an example of a sentence from a well-known text, ‘Ecclesiastes’, and how it has been changed to what would be known as modern English. He states the old English sentence, “I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is now swift, nor the battle to the … ” (Orwell 2614). In modern English, he states it translates to, “Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure …” (Orwell, 2614). Compared to the modern English translation the old English example had more words and fewer syllables.
However, in the modern English translation, eighteen of those words were found to be of Latin or Greek origin. Due to this, Orwell claims that nowadays English does not consist of words used to create images to have a clearer meaning nor for their meaning. In 2016, during the USA presidential elections, Donald Trump would often use the catchphrase ” Make America Great Again” (The Odyssey Online).
This phrase lacks to create a specific image in the minds of the audience. The adjective great is very vague and does not provide any direct meaning to the audience other than creating a thought of a generally positive way of things occurring if Trump becomes president. The purpose of writing the way one does in the modern day is because it is easier. Since phrases already exist for individuals and one does not have to think of words or phrases that have meaning or can convey mental images. This makes the meaning of texts not only abstract to the audience but abstract to ourselves and inhibits us from understanding not normal messages but also political messages that influence the public opinions.
Secondly, one should have awareness of how political writing can not only confuse us, but it can also change the way we think. The sloppy language and abstract used in political writing influence us to write in the same manner, because it is what has been taught to us and we generally tend to do what we’re told. Orwell is trying to get us to step away from this kind of writing as it doesn’t have any meaning or imagery in it. The lack of meaning or imagery only builds up the vagueness in our language, making it harder to understand one another.
Thus, Orwell is trying to make one aware of these kinds of texts and also wants individuals to avoid doing the same thing when writing our own texts. Political speeches will tend to consist of euphemisms, questioning, and vagueness because the content is too brutal for the audience to handle. When discussing, “the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan”(Orwell 2616) Orwell shows that vague language is used not only in this case but also in similar instances where people will not be able to face the truth.
In the modern day, vagueness is also used by politicians in multiple scenarios one of them being during the 2012 United States presidential elections. Mitt Romney in one of his transcripts states, “we will make trade work for America by forging new trade agreements. And when nations cheat in trade, there will be unmistakable consequences”(NPR).
Romney doesn’t really state what kinds of consequences when he says, “unmistakable consequences”. This might be because he is referring to war or something violent, which he doesn’t want to reveal to his audience because they might see it as an act of cruelty or brutality. In order to keep the audiences, trust he hides some facts by using vague language.
To conclude, George Orwell spreads his overall message on why we shouldn’t use vague language in our writing. He gives us various examples of how our language can be vague since it lacks imagery and meaning. Today, if we avoid this type of writing or speeches we will be able to think better, and we won’t be as misled by political language because we will know that it is purposely trying to confuse us. Being aware of the vagueness in politic will aid individuals and making better-informed decisions about the future.