Professional Writing: Process and Practice
EN 1700 – Fall/Winter 2009/2010 – Jan Rehner
Lecture 16 – The Politics of Language – Feb 08
The Politics of Language
- Language is the most important human tool we have. We use it to define our self
towards other species. We use it to shape reality. Language is essential for the
construction of reality. Without language it would be difficult to recognize the
existence of an object, event or feeling.
- Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of language
o Language conditions thinking.
o Language is the shaper of ideas.
o We experience social reality in ways that the language habits of our
community predispose us to.
- Language is the shaper of ideas and functions as a guide to how we analyze the
- All observers are not lead by the same physical evidence, to the same picture of
the universe. Every language conveys to its users certain points of view.
- Orwell adopts suffer-war hypothesis. Looks at the close and neutral relationship
between thought and language. Orwell raises its political implications. Language
can corrupt thought and vice versa. There’s no question that Orwell sees clearly
that language can be abused. Can be used not to communicate but to confuse.
Not to lead but to mislead.
- Orwell reminds us that language can control and restrict thought. Controlling and
restricting thought is the first step in being controlled politically.
- Orwell’s image is a chilling one.
- Orwell gives example of language he finds more chilling. What it does is he uses
language by name; doublespeak.
- Doublespeak tends to communicate but doesn’t limit rather than expands
thought. Combines the meanings of newspeak and doublethink from 1984.
- There are four kinds of doublespeak; they are harmless unless they are used
with purpose to mislead.
o Euphemism: ‘downsizing’, ‘labour force is being shrunk’.
o Jargin: specialized language of a trade profession. Can be used to
o Language of government: filled with vague terminology. Used by
politicians when they don’t want to answer your questions.
o Inflated language: designed to make something ordinary into the
extraordinary. Simple to sound complex.
- Orwell is appalled by use of language that is dishonest.
- The move from a structuralism account in which capital is understood to structure
social relations in relatively homologous ways to view of hegemony in which
power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulating brought
the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from
a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate
a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and
strategies of the rearticulating of power.
- Orwell is appalled with what he calls laziness in expression.
- Lazy writing are clichés and idioms. For that