Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Politics and the English Language

Posted by metaphorical on 7 November 2006

Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely. A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. The point is that the process is reversible.

— Politics and the English Language, George Orwell, 1946


In his last sentence quoted above, is Orwell, not generally noted for his optimism, being overly optimistic? I think so, but it’s a lovely thought, and without it, perhaps he felt there was less point to the essay. But it’s anyway useful to know the causes of the decline of a language (and a civilization, we might add), even if the decline is not, in the long run, preventable.

The complete essay is, fortunately, available all over the web.

A Project Gutenberg version, the text completely unformatted, is here.

A version is also at the self-proclaimed official Orwell site.

A nicely formatted version, if you don’t mind a PDF, is here.

I’ll have more to say about the essay of course.

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