Monday’s Suggestion

In Matt, Monday's Suggestion on September 20, 2010 by Two Barbers

An article published a few weeks ago in the New York Times Magazine.

Title: Does Your Language Shape How You Think?

The most well-known treatment of this question is Newspeak, created by Orwell in his book famous, high-school reading classic, 1984. I don’t have any authority to make such a statement, have not given it all that much thought, and it’s verity is most likely circumstantial. Like, among a crowd of linguists or language psychologists, I imagine it’s way down to a middle rung of the ‘well-known’-ness totem pole, and probably owes a bit to ambiguity and loss of interest for as high a status as that. But I’m not a linguist or psychologist, and my sense of its stature comes from pop culture, the media, pundits, celebrities, comments on web articles, YouTube videos, guest speakers on Democracy Now!, conservatives (who also seem to be very fond of the term ‘big brother’), congressmen in debates on the House floor, and more. Everyone uses one of the terms, ‘newspeak’, ‘big brother’, ‘Orwellian’ at one time or another, when looking for a check mate to an argument or to just wow whoever’s listening, as if they package and present the universe of a subject entirely within their one word economy at absolutely no-cost to the speaker. So much of the time, they are used as arguments themselves rather than words that construct an argument. The user tries to reduce complicated circumstances, and complication itself, which are necessarily expressed in formats that require development, like essays, to single, impactful utterances that are useful and rhythmical to formats like TV or lyrics.

This article, is only five pages long. It does not work like an essay that is intended to dilineate the whole subject, history and all counterarguments. But it does present you with a cogent representation of the intellectual dilemma, and of the realistic implications of these things Orwell noted and described fictionally: Does language predicate thought? And then if so, how? A simple ‘yes or no’, ‘this or that’, ‘either/or’, is irrelevant. It can be read in one sitting, but give yourself like a half-hour, or even an hour if you really want to take it in.

I imagine Orwell would have considered it excellent reading material for a plane ride or sitting a long time in a waiting room.



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