Sunday, April 20, 2008

New Focus

So at long last, I've realized why I haven't been posting, and what I can do about it. As I have floated from point to point in the vast ocean of my interests, my blog came to feel too limiting, so I'm refocusing it. That is, I'm putting back on the wide-angle lens, based on all of my myriad interests. Now, don't worry, all that Germanic and obscure linguistic stuff isn't going anywhere--like curious explorations of how Vatican and Wednesday come from the same root. Still, I have a few areas in particular I'm looking forward to exploring, all in some vague way related to language.

I'd like to serve a slightly more definite "public diplomacy" purpose by looking at some aspects of other languages that have lessons for understanding other cultures--something Americans are so tragically bad at. The sad part really is not that Americans are bad at languages--you can't know you're bad at something you don't try. But by not opening those horizons for ourselves, we do keep ourselves needlessly from the opportunity for more precise thought. George Orwell makes this point famously--and brilliantly--in his 1946 essay on Politics and the English Language.

I'd also like to look again at the whole prescriptivist/descriptivist approaches to language. The prescriptivist grammar school approach to what is "correct" in language is certainly inadequate--to what other field do we feel it is sufficient to apply a grammar school understanding in our adult lives? Yet the strict descriptivism that I think I see in linguistic academia seems a bit restrictive in its own way: If Keynesian prescriptivism ignores the unpredictability of human nature and therefore the fact that languages evolve naturally over time, laissez-faire descriptivism may be too afraid to view language as a tool--one which others will master even if we don't.

In other words, I'm interested in the the whole idea of language being a tool of humanity, and the various applications this has for strategic communication, rhetoric, propaganda, semantic battles in public discourse--the conscious use of language as a tool by people, or the unconscious use of people as tools by language.

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