Orwell’s Legacy: The Misuse of English and Its Impact on Translation

Orwell's Legacy: The Misuse of English and Its Impact on Translation

George Orwell is iconically known for introducing such ideas as Newspeak, Big Brother, and “all animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others”. While he firmly identified with the left, his social criticism was not limited to a single idea, and would criticize equally fascism and communism. One of his lesser-known essays, “Politics and the English Language” is a timeless piece of literature that delves into the consequences of misusing language in political discourse. While Orwell’s focus was primarily on how the abuse of language could obscure truth and manipulate opinion, his ideas extend beyond just the realm of politics. In this blog post, we will explore how Orwell’s insights on language misuse resonate in the context of translation, specifically examining the popular use of preferred pronouns and its implications on both political discourse and multilingual communication.

The Power of Language:

Orwell argued that the misuse of language could lead to the degradation of thought and the manipulation of political narratives. This concept can be applied to various aspects of modern society, including for example the use of preferred pronouns. In the effort to be inclusive and respectful of gender identities, many have adopted new pronouns, such as they/them, ze/hir, or others. While the adoption of preferred pronouns may appear progressive on the surface, it clearly has consequences in its use to obfuscate previously held social norms, which is very much in line with Orwell’s warnings, cand is to critics, a cynical manipulation of language for political control.

Political Discourse:

Orwell’s central thesis in his essay was that vague, convoluted language could be used to manipulate people and obscure the truth. This notion is especially pertinent in discussions involving gender identity and the use of preferred pronouns. When people engage in political discourse and misuse language, they may inadvertently create confusion and polarization, hindering constructive dialogue. Debates about gender identity and expression deserve thoughtful and clear communication to foster understanding and civility in society.

Multilingual Communications:

The adoption of new pronouns can also pose challenges in multilingual contexts. Different languages have their own grammatical structures and linguistic nuances, making it difficult to translate gender-neutral pronouns effectively. This challenge not only hinders the flow of communication but also risks alienating individuals who might not identify with the language’s available pronoun options. The misuse or misinterpretation of these pronouns in translation can have unintended consequences, causing offense or miscommunication.

Striving for Clarity:

Orwell’s essay forcefully reminds us of the critical significance of clarity and precision in language use. When it comes to preferred pronouns, it is essential to recognize that Orwell’s warnings echo loudly in the misuse and overcomplication of language for political ends.

Rather than advocating for a balance between inclusivity and clarity in this context, it is crucial to assert that linguistic clarity should not be sacrificed in pursuit of inclusivity. Here are some recommendations:

  1. Critical Evaluation: Scrutinize the necessity and implications of preferred pronouns, emphasizing that language should remain a tool for genuine communication, not a political weapon.
  2. Language Pragmatism: Promote the use of language that is both respectful and practical, avoiding the unnecessary complexity that Orwell cautioned against.
  3. Transparency: Encourage open and honest discussions about gender identity and expression without imposing linguistic constructs that may complicate communication

In the spirit of Orwell’s essay, the focus should be on maintaining the integrity of language to prevent its manipulation for political purposes, even in well-intentioned initiatives such as the use of preferred pronouns.

George Orwell’s essay, ‘Politics and the English Language,’ issues a timely reminder about the perils of language manipulation and the importance of clear, honest communication. Ignoring these warnings can lead us down a treacherous path, as seen in Orwell’s own works, ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm.’ In ‘1984,’ the abuse of language by the oppressive government, exemplified by terms like ‘Newspeak,’ served to control thought and quash dissent. In ‘Animal Farm,’ the pigs’ gradual distortion of the original commandments showcased how language can be twisted to justify authoritarian rule.

By disregarding Orwell’s insights and failing to uphold clarity and transparency in our discourse, we risk allowing language to be weaponized for political gain, enabling the erosion of truth, freedom, and equality. The cautionary tales of ‘1984’ and ‘Animal Farm’ serve as stark reminders of the consequences that can befall society when we disregard the wisdom of ‘Politics and the English Language.’ Let us heed Orwell’s advice and commit to fostering a society that values linguistic clarity, respects diverse viewpoints, and upholds the principles of open and honest communication, thus averting the dystopian futures he so vividly depicted.

Related Posts