Access to Language

Erin McKean writes an interesting article in the Boston Globe about the creation and use of new words and the unfounded fear of criticism some of the users of these newisms have.

Whenever I see “not a real word” used to stigmatize what is (usually) a perfectly cromulent word, I wonder why the writer felt the need to hang a big sign reading “I am not confident about my writing” on it. What do they imagine the penalty is for using an “unreal” word? A ticket from the Dictionary Police? The revocation (as the joke goes) of your poetic license? A public shaming by William Safire? The irony is that most of these words, without the disclaimer, would pass unnoticed by the majority of readers.

So I get he impulse not to be beaten up and accused of having a shitty vocabulary but really I agree with McKean – who cares! It’s the communication that counts. But never forget who your audience is.

When discussing Free, Open & Propriatary software I am often inclined to talk about language as being a product which we are all free to use, borrow, steal, plagiarise, remix to suit or own needs. In most cases we use and abuse our language to achieve a communicative purpose rather than to appease a dominant system of governance. Naturally some people will argue that there are rules to language and these rules are notto be toyed with.

This is not always so and there have been languages which have been firmly in the control of certain power groups. In this way langauges were used as a method of controlling the users, and often the non-users.

The languages such as Sanskrit, Greek and Latin have all been used as exclusive devices. In many languagesĀ  correct vocabulary, right dialect and proper enunciation of words have been used to identify and control insider and outsider groups. Basically if you did not talk like one of us – then you were not one of us. It is amazing to see how such a fundamental social infrastructure can be used to keep groups in check.

Added to this is the topic of language as a form of control in the sense that it controls what we are able to say and communicate to others. If you cannot articulate a word for freedom (as in liberty) and the people you talk to cannot comprehend such a word – then will the idea cease to exist? George Orwell explored this in 1984. Today technology has created two different impulses. Old formal language is being controlled by what is permitted grammar and vocabulary in the spell-check program. An opposite development is the growth of new languages and forms of language (for example slang) online.

This is something I have been kicking around for a long time but I need to develop it much further.

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