Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Clarity of Thought and Language

I was reading an article by George Orwell today, titled “Politics and the English Language”. I found a link to it on another blog by Jerry Coyne; and found it VERY interesting. One can read the full article here.

A particularly interesting bit was – “ . . . A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.”

That statement makes so much sense. As far as language goes, I admit to being guilty of Orwell’s charge of slovenliness as well. I used to pride myself on my lingual abilities. Over time, they have corroded. I am as much to blame as is my peer group. However, that is not my point.

What fascinates me is the link that Orwell has drawn between language, expression and clarity of thought. I completely agree with him. In my professional as well as my personal spheres of influence, I can visibly see that the power of expression amongst my generation has degenerated to a point where I fear it is irrevocably damaged. However, along with the power of expression (and power here refers to the ability to clearly and systematically express a thought or concept), what is also missing is the power of actually having a clear and systematic thought process.

There will of course be exceptions. I can however, definitely see a clear link. I feel the root-cause here is laziness. A person who is too lazy to sit and think about a concept through to its logical conclusion or till the concept is clear in his or her own mind will most probably also be the person to obfuscate his or her language while explaining it or expressing it. A lazy person will look for cheap tricks to either shirk his work or put it off completely. That lazy person will also use this trick in his or her method of expression. Take an example. Orwell has given us five passages that would represent the language he considers as lazy in his time. We have degenerated much more. Take for example the language used for communication in text messages. A plethora of shortered words pass for the actual word itself. 

"wnt 4a drv yday n 8 lotz on da way"

The above is a legitimate message! Who are we kidding? Between laughing our asses off (lmao) and f**king our own lives (fml), we forgot to actually elucidate our thoughts properly. An obvious response to this is that shortened words save time and as long as the content is communicated from one party or parties to another party or parties, it doesn't matter how badly language is mutliated. Fair point I say; but look at what has happened all around us as a result of this. Since language has lost it's effort, so has thought. Nobody spends time thinking hard enough to form structured sentences. In other words, nobody spends time thinking enough to express anything worth thinking. 

While I agree that I am the last person to propound hard work, I can certainly understand the necessity of taking effort of thought in order to understand concepts and to express those thoughts in order to clarify them in our own mind by discussing them with others. If one shirks that basic activity, one's thoughts too will slowly start to degrade. The circle is vicious indeed. 

The point I am trying to make is that clarity of thought and language have a clear and direct link (though by no means the only one). The more we earn mastery over it, the more it aids us in formulating thoughts and helps us in better expressing them.