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32


THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 32, August 1, 1997

Brave New Language

By John Cornell
102122.3062@compuserve.com

Exclusive to The Libertarian Enterprise

         In the essay, "The Principles of Newspeak," George Orwell explains the background of the emerging new language spoken by the citizens of the totalitarian society Oceania in his novel 1984. Newspeak as a fictional language was the "Ingsoc" (English Socialist) government's attempt to minimize the number of words available to the people by limiting definitions and combining words into contrived compounds with "goodthinkful" (politically correct) meanings. Society's shapers streamlined the inconsistencies of English: the word "wrong" became "ungood," and something very good was "doublegood" or even "doubleplusgood." The goal of the Ingsoc Party was to control thought by controlling speech, to make all communication staccato, automatic and void of thought.
         Our own government-controlled schools have achieved the same effect but through different means. English and other western languages are built from a limited number of basic building blocks, or letters, representing consonants or vowels that are constructed, following phonetic rules, into many thousands of words. There is a balance between economy and range of expression in such a system. A multitude of ideas is available for communication if the basic rules are learned. This is the system of phonics that was once taught in public education.
         Schools now generally avoid the use of phonics when teaching children to read. Instead, they follow the so-called "whole language" concept, or the "Look-Say" method. This means of teaching scraps the focus on the logical construction phonics provides and replaces it by asking children to learn vocabulary by memorizing the "whole" word. Thus, the symbol "chair" is a unit unto itself, to be associated with a piece of furniture used for sitting. No examination is made of the phonetic components: the hard "ch" sound, the diphthong "ai" or the consonant "r." The students are not taught to make any connection between the similarities of the sounds of the components of "chair" and "cheese," of "chair" and "main" or of "chair" and "bear." This leaves every child faced with having to learn thousands of symbols, with no rational system of word-formation available, just to communicate in everyday life. Additionally, most schools don't teach the idea of a chair rationally or analytically, meaning through integration and differentiation: that a chair is a piece of tangible, personal property within the group known as "furniture," having similarities and differences when compared to other pieces of furniture such as a table or a bed. Thus, learning is limited and rare. (If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you understand it, thank a home schooler.)
         Ayn Rand analyzed this destruction of the learning process in her essay, "The Comprachicos," from her book The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution. She asserted that leftist envy has led to a deliberate disfiguring of the minds of our nation's children through this bastardization of our educational systems. Instead of diminishing the number of words available, as in 1984, our society instead limits access to them -- at least to the younger generations -- through confusion. Communication is now a chore, as the world of words is difficult to grasp for those raised in the modern public education cesspool. Mindless memorization has brought about a lethargy to learning. Students view concepts as useless abstracts having no relation to "real life," such as one's impulses. It seems only the automatic, feed-my-face, instant gratification mind set is pursued by the members of the X (and Y and the final Z) generation. So our own government is achieving the same end-state with language as the Party in 1984: a generation with limited reading, writing and speaking skills, unlikely to form any opinions but the prescribed ones.
         Some eastern languages are not built with letters, but by characters which represent syllables. Chinese has several thousand characters, versus English, which has two to three dozen. Radically different languages need different techniques for teaching people to use them. Whole-language teaching has seemingly more similarity with some Asian languages and might even be appropriate in such cases; it does not work well when teaching English.
         Governments have also evolved systems of signs, for highways and pedestrian information, into international symbols, supposedly for the ease of everyone. Not only is this confusing for those of us taught to read the Roman characters of a phonetic system, but the symbols are often illegible or unclear. Perhaps if we're all properly preprogrammed within the limits of acceptable behavior and the narrow definitions of the symbols thrown at us, we'll all know the "correct" response to any stimulus when it's applied.
         Computer icons can be likewise confusing. Some people find a word-based menu easier to follow, or buttons with the words clearly written on them. An operations management class in my undergraduate business studies asserted that digital numbers and letters are easier to read and understand than analog dials or symbols. So why use these "pictures"? "Icon" traditionally means "sacred image." Is this modern class war? When someone says, "A picture is worth a thousand words," they don't tell you which one of a thousand possible words their icon or international symbol refers to. A better saying would be, "A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a word is worth a thousand icons."
         This system of limited communication is now dominating our modern world, in business, education and government -- prompted by our progressive "leaders." Our education system has been dismantled into an unintelligible mishmash of images which focuses on random, concrete-bound associations instead of presenting a logical progression of abstract concepts linked by definable, manageable symbols. We're taught that every picture tells a story, and we must only concentrate on how the story makes us "feel."
         How to respond to all this dumbing-down of language? To put it in Orwellian terms:
         Doubleplusungood.


John Cornell is a finance professional whose personal goal is to spread rational, Objectivist and libertarian ideas by writing and publishing libertarian science fiction and literary novels, stories and articles and occasional pieces of political satire and humor.


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