Abusing language: when should language be restricted?

Author:Hanne, Julia
Position:THE BIG QUESTION - Discussion
 
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FEATURING

MAHMOUD SALEM ANATOLY LIBERMAN THOMAS HYLLAND ERIKSEN SAKSITH SAIYASOMBUT LEE BOLLINGER ADEWALE MAJA-PEARCE NAZIFULLAH SALARZAI

As often as language is used with great facility to promote beauty, express deeply felt emotions, and convey vital information, it is all too often used malevolently to pit nations or communities against one another. Rather than promoting peace and understanding, it can undermine these aspirations. We have asked our panel of global experts to weigh in on this critical question about the use and abuse of language.

MAHMOUD SALEM EGYPTIAN EVOLUTION

People who argue for language restriction often attack the evolution of both language and the society that uses it. Seven years ago in Egypt, bloggers broke a taboo by mixing standard Arabic with the colloquial Egyptian dialect, attracting millions of readers to their blogs. This in turn led newspapers, and then publishing houses, to start mixing the old and the new. This new "Egyptian Arabic" language permeated the archaic rules and vocabulary of "classical Arabic" and resuscitated the flagging Egyptian literary scene. Loyalists and censors were up in arms, but that never stopped people from writing or reading literature published in the new "language."

Instead, a sense of dangerous freedom filled those who expressed their thoughts and pushed the limit of language and social discourse. The same phenomenon took place in Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria. And here we are now, Arab Spring and all, led by bloggers. Regardless of how grating a writer's words, grammar, or syntax may appear, the use of language should be at the writer's discretion.

So, the answer is "never." Language should never be restricted. It should be allowed to breathe and evolve as it wishes.

Mahmoud Salem is an Egyptian blogger known as Sandmonkey who was a leading voice of the uprisings in his country.

ANATOLY LIBERMAN WORD SNOBS

Of course, I object to the freedom of bullying, spreading verbal venom, and the use of the grossest words. All my life, I have been trying to instill in those prepared to listen that language is not only a means of communication but also a garden that has to be cultivated as long as we live. So my response to the question--should language (or rather speech) be restricted, and if so, when?--concerns form, not content. Speech should not be trivial.

My fight is not merely against buzzwords. It is against all cliches that jump to our lips...

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