Language is Power

My husband and I have a running debate: He is in favor of simplifying the English language in order to ensure clear, unambiguous communication. Me? Every time he suggests it, I feel the color draining from my world; it is as if someone has suggested doing away with the 64-color box of Crayola Crayons and “simplifying” the product offering by only stocking the little 8-color boxes. Or burning out some of the rods and cones in my eyes, so that I see red, green, and blue – but not the subtle shades and differences that make chartreuse, or mauve, or toasted cinnamon with a touch of Bing cherry. That is what language, writing, the manipulation of words means to me.

A similar discussion arose on CJ Cherryh’s Facebook page:

The Oxford Dictionaries suggests that “may” and “might” are interchangeable, except when it comes to discussing past events that did not actually occur; in that context, it’s better to use “might have.”

We have been having a lively discussion of whether language ought to evolve or whether we ought to stick to persnickety rules taught only by ancient grammarians who are likely rolling over in their graves over our use of split infinitives, our laziness in using “who” when we ought to use “whom,” and our pragmatic ending of certain sentences with prepositions.

I’m willing to concede a few formalities, but I am not willing to abridge the Thesaurus or turn that weighty compendium into a small pocket guide to colorful, obsolete colloquialisms. Language is power. Having more tools in one’s toolbox can never be a bad thing, surely.

HollyJahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
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7 thoughts on “Language is Power”

  1. My sister and I frequently have the same debate. I couldn’t agree with you more, Holly! Language – and all its subtleties – matters. Let’s stop agreeing to dumbing down (aka “simplifying”) and preserve the very thing that defines our humanness: our exquisite ability to communicate on a profound level.

  2. I can’t imagine limiting our language. Now, some of the new “slang” words being added… I find that questionable and maybe just a little foolish. Our English language can be difficult, but that’s part of the beauty.
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  3. I imagine all modern language would sound questionable and foolish to an English speaker of the 16th century or earlier. I always chuckle when people refer to Shakespeare as “great literature” and think that the words are somehow “formal” English, when he wrote in the vernacular of his time for common theater-goers to be entertained in plays that were rife with ribald humor. That he was able to pull it off in mostly iambic pentameter is awesome.
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  4. Language is indeed power 😀

    One of the other things I have always wondered is why do we even need so many languages?

    Sure, I can understand that these languages were developed by people who were living in different areas of the world, when they were leaving in isolation (they might have not known the existence of other civilizations).

    I do understand the beauty of languages, so many languages. They represent our history. But, do we really need 1000+ languages, especially in a globalized world?

    Of course, if we are going to abandon other languages, which one would we choose? (Choosing English might be the first choice..but, I don’t think everyone would agree on that. Then again, none of us agree on anything. We all have other different opinions. We are good at arguing, not so good when it comes to taking action).

    Okay, I am done.

    I don’t think there was any use of writing all that..but, I just wanted to say it (let’s call it an urge :D).

    Anyways, thank you for sharing this post, Holly 🙂 I do appreciate that!

    I am far from an expert in any language, but I do love learning and exploring new ones 🙂

    Note: It’s all good, as long as we don’t let these differences (languages, traditions, races etc) get in the way of solving any problem.

    Unfortunately, it does, doesn’t it?

    Hopefully, someone (I hope), someone will unite this world under one government (perhaps a government of the people…although, I would prefer a monarch- just let it be a nice guy/gal :D)

    I hope you are having a great weekend!
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    1. I think it would be very pragmatic to select English as the language of international commerce, diplomacy, science, etc. By the numbers, it would likely come down to English vs. Chinese, and English would have to be the front-runner, then, based on ease of use and learning (and the fact that there are fewer characters and they take up less space on a computer). Once upon a time, it was French, and I wouldn’t object to the choice of any Romance language – also based on ease of learning and familiar alphabet and syntax. Someone’s going to have it easier than others, but it’s not personal. (The first time I saw a serious proposal for English as a universal language, it was put forward and argued for by a Romanian man.)

      For business, technical writing, law, and diplomacy, the language should be simple, straightforward, and unambiguous – no more complex or complicated than it absolutely must be. But for fiction, poetry, and conversation, there’s no need to “dumb it down” or rob it of its complex and subtle beauty.

      I did tell someone, the other day, that they could choose me to be their monarch – I just have a few simple conditions: A nice little secluded palace with no paparazzi, plenty of chocolate, and line-item veto being foremost among them. We would have a radical simplification of all laws (I’m thinking that first, we burn all the statute books and start over with the Golden Rule and work outward again, slowly and deliberately.) Anyway… 🙂 That’ll never happen. More likely, if we’re ever under “one government,” it will be a plutocracy or a theocracy and we’ll all be miserably unhappy. But one language has possibilities – we could communicate with others and realize how many interests and values we share, and keep the plutocracy/theocracy at bay.
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  5. You hit a nerve. May and might are neither equivalent nor that hard to figure out (go read some decent literature fomr previous centuries).

    They are constantly misused, to the point where I have to stop and think every time I read them. Not when I use them – just when someone else does.

    Am I a snob? Elitist? No, I’m a writer.

    And from a state where a good chunk of the population ‘axes’ each other questions.
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