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The Destruction of Language in George Orwell’s “1984”

 

Overview of 1984

In George Orwell’s, 1984, we meet a man named Winston Smith who lives in the nation of Oceania. Here Winston is dictated by the ruling part in London who watches him. The party not only controls everything that happens in the city, but they also watch everyone by means of television screen strategically placed throughout homes, people who are called “thought police,” and giant posters of Big Brother who seem to watch Winston’s every move at every corner. After years of service as an editor at the Ministry of Truth, Winston has become very frustrated with the oppression and control of the Party. In a direct violation to the law, one day Winston stops by a little poor prole (the working class also called proletariat) shop to buy a diary that he saw in the window. In this diary, Winston writes about how much he hates Big Brother and the events of his days that he is able to remember (despite the victory juice).

The Ministry of Truth prohibits free thought, sex, and any kind of self-expression. This building is riddled with thought police, and every day the workers attend was is called the two-minute hate, a two-minute presentation on the crimes of Emmanuel Goldstein – leader of a resistance party called the Brotherhood. It is here that Winston sees a dark-haired woman named Julia whom he has intense lustful feelings for. He also sees a man who is a part of the inner Party (a very powerful party member) named O’Brian. At first sight, Winston is terrified of the woman named Julia because he thinks she may be a thought police, but really he’s just angry at her because she wears a chastity belt. But when he sees O’Brian, he is instantly calmed. Winston believes that O’Brienis a secret member of the Brotherhood (mostly because they just made eye contact during the two-minute hate, and Winston felt something).

One day, Winston receives a note from Julia that simply read “I love you.” This is the beginning of their love affair. They rent a room in the prole district where Winston had bought the diary and start meeting regularly. Throughout their relationship, Winston believes that they are going to get caught and die for their crimes against the party. But all along, Julia is more practical and optimistic about their situation. The longer their affair lasts, and the more he grows to love Julia, Winston’s hatred for the party and Big Brother only grows more intense.

After wanting and waiting to have a conversation with him for so long, O’Brienfinally reaches out to Winston and invites him to come to his house to talk. Since O’Brienis a member of the inner party, the wealthier more powerful members of the part, he lives in a luxurious apartment in the better part of the town. Winston brings Julia along to meet with O’Briensince he is sure of his being a member of the Brotherhood. When they finally meet with O’Brian, he does tell them that he is a member of the Brotherhood. O’Brieninitiates both Winston and Julia into the Brotherhood and give them the book (a book of all Goldstein’s beliefs). One night, Winston was reading the book to Julia in their rented room about a little store house, when soldiers from the party burst in to take them away. Apparently, the store owner who rented the apartment out to them was a member of the thought police all along. O’Brian

Winston and Julia were immediately separated and taken to the Ministry of Love where Winston meets O’Brien. O’Brien had been undercover for the party, acting as a member of the Brotherhood in order to catch Winston in the act of rebellion against Big Brother. Winston spends the next few months being tortured by O’Brien, but he consistently resists confessing to his crimes. Finally, O’Brien takes him to the dreaded Room 101, the final destination for traders, where Winston is forced to face his worst fear – rats. O’Brien plans to stick Winston’s head in a cage full of rats so that they can eat his face off. However, at the last minute, Winston begs O’Brien to torture Julia instead of him. Having broken Winston down completely, O’Brien releases him back into the city. Winston is a broken man who has given up on love and succumbed to the power of Big Brother, whom he now obeyed and loved for the rest of his life.

The Destruction of Language

            In the nation of Oceania, the language that they speak is called Newspeak (as opposed to Old speak). As an editor for the Ministry of Truth, who alters historical records to fit the needs of the part, Winston is charged with rewriting and editing a lot of these records in Newspeak, and often gets in trouble for sneaking in Oldspeak into his work. However, not everyone dislikes this new language as much as Winston does. In fact, his friend Syme, who works as a philologist (a specialist on Newspeak) is radically for the destruction of the language. Syme describes the workings of Newspeak in the following passage:

“It’s a beautiful thing, the Destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word, which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take ‘good,’ for instance. If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like ‘bad’? ‘Ungood’ will do just as well – better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of ‘good,’ what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like ‘excellent’ and ‘splendid’ and all the rest of them? ‘Plusgood’ covers the meaning or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already, but in the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words – in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston? It was B.B.’s idea originally, of course,” he added as an afterthought” (Orwell 51).

By controlling the language, Big Brother controls the way that the people think. With a limited vocabulary, the people are limited in how much they can think, as well as, what they think about. In another passage, Syme says to Winston, “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.” (Orwell 52). With the people’s inability to commit thoughtcrime, the hope of the party is that, the people will no longer act out in disruptive or subversive behavior. Big Brother will have complete control of the people in every way, right down to their thoughts, and the people will become, essentially, mindless zombies who are willing to worship and do what they are told with no questions asked. They are able to achieve this by also destroying literature and controlling what the people are able to read. Syme also describe the destruction of literature in the following passage:

“By 2050, earlier, probably – all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron – they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like ‘freedom is slavery’ when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness” (Orwell 53).

In order to dictate and control a whole nation of people, one must first limit their thinking by taking away all of their literature. This has been a strategy used by Hitler during World War II, China today with their restrictions on people having Bibles, and it has been written about in novels like Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  If it were not for Winston’s diary, he would have continued on his path to becoming another mindless worker.

“Politics and the English Language” by George Orwell: Society in 1948

In the year 1948, when George Orwell wrote his well-known book 1984, the world seemed to be in a rough patch. World War II had just ended in 1945, so this event was obviously still fresh on the people’s minds when Orwell was writing. This event and the rise of people like Stalin and Anglo-American millionaires to power, is what inspired Owell to write 1984. In a letter written by Orwell in 1944 to a Noel Willmett reads: “Everywhere the world movement seems to be in the direction of centralised economies which can be made to ‘work’ in an economic sense but which are not democratically organised and which tend to establish a caste system. With this go the horrors of emotional nationalism and a tendency to disbelieve in the existence of objective truth because all the facts have to fit in with the words and prophecies of some infallible fuhrer” (Marshall, Colin). Orwell’s main fear for the world he lived in was the destruction of truth, and with that inevitably comes the destruction of language. In another short essay Orwell wrote entitled, “Politics and the English Language,” he discusses this destruction of truth and language. To begin, he writes that, “Our civilization is decadent and our language — so the argument runs — must inevitably share in the general collapse” (Dag, O.). Orwell argues that if politics and civilization fails, so too does the language of the people. One does not exist without the other, and one does not rise or fall without the other. He continues on to write, “Now, it is clear that the decline of a language must ultimately have political and economic causes: it is not due simply to the bad influence of this or that individual writer. But an effect can become a cause, reinforcing the original cause and producing the same effect in an intensified form, and so on indefinitely.” Which reinforces the “one cannot exist without the other” idea. Then Orwell does something that may come as a surprise to some (me). In this essay, Orwell offers rules to purifying language (and here I thought he was strictly about preserving language). He cautions people against: using a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech that one sees in print, using a long word where a short one will do, using to many words, using the passive where the active will do, and using foreign phrases, scientific words, or jargon. According to Orwell, these rules will aid in purifying the language so that there is nothing but truth to our language. Orwell wrote a whole book about the government controlling language and destroying language, then he writes these sets of rules that limit expression and language. His intentions in limiting the language is directly affected by the time period. He writes, “. . . one ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy” (Dag, O.)  One could argue that Orwell is preserving language by setting these limitations, but in doing so, it seems to me that he is encouraging limiting self-expression, which was the biggest evil in his book 1984. Then Orwell writes that, “Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.” So, basically, the governments English is bad, but so is ours; so in order to fix political English, we must first get our bad habits for English under control – hence the rule and limitations.

After reading Orwell’s, 1984, along with his essay, “Politics and the English Language,” and lastly a letter written from Orwell to Willmett discussing his fear of the government taking over; I have come to the conclusion that Orwell was just really paranoid and afraid of the government. This is understandable considering the time period that he endured. Orwell’s book is a representation of what could happen to society if we allow our government lie and control our language for any extended amount of time. With the destruction of language comes (basically) the destruction of humanity. Unless we are able to express ourselves with our language, we cannot be creative, thinking people. When society limits our language, they limit our thoughts, as well as our actions. In today’s society, language has shifted to text-language and pictures. In this generation of student’s writing, teachers are seeing more and more that the language is suffering. Students do not have as wide of a vocabulary because all they are reading is shortened English and pictures. Although as teachers, we try to instill in our students an appreciation for language, it is hard to get students interested when society is telling them that it’s “old” or “dated.” Language is in danger now, just as Orwell felt that it was back then. But this time, it’s not politics and the government that people need to be afraid of; society, tabloids, magazines, the internet, social media, etc. is causing the destruction of language among the younger generations.

 

Works Cited

Marshall, Colin. “George Orwell Explains In A Revealing 1944 Letter Why He’D Write 1984“. Open Culture, 2017, http://www.openculture.com/2014/01/george-orwell-explains-in-a-revealing-1944-letter-why-hed-write-1984.html.

Dag, O. “George Orwell: Politics And The English Language”. Orwell.Ru, 2017, http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/.

Orwell, George, and Erich Fromm. 1984. 1st ed., New York, Signet Classic, 1961,.

 

Will in the World by Stephen Greenblatt: Book Review

In Stephen Greenblatt’s, Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare, he gives an account of William Shakespeare’s life beginning with his childhood experiences up until he began thinking of retirement. Although there is little evidence of Shakespeare’s experiences in life, Greenblatt is able to tell scenarios of what he, and others who study Shakespeare’s life, think may have happened. By connecting what historians have learned about that time period in England and some of the key moments in Shakespeare’s life, Greenblatt’s has written what many consider to be the most accurate depiction of Shakespeare’s life. He also goes through several pieces of Shakespeare work and relates them to Shakespeare’s experiences during the time he probably wrote them, to explore some of Shakespeare’s influences for why he wrote what he wrote. The main idea of Greenblatt’s whole novel is centered around one question: How did Shakespeare become the most renowned playwright of all time?

The book begins with Shakespeare as a young adolescent who accompanied his father to see many of the traveling troupes that came through his home town of Stratford-upon-Avon, which sparked his interest in the theatre. Greenblatt writes, “There must have been many such moments in Will’s life at home. The very young boy could have amused his family and friends by imitating what he had seen on the raised platform of the Stratford town-hall stage or on the back of the traveling players’ cart” (36). This is what many believe sparked William Shakespeare’s love for the theatre. This love only grew bigger and deeper when Will began formal schooling. During his time in school, they would perform many plays; these plays would end up inspiring many of the plays he wrote later on in life.

After William Shakespeare finished his formal schooling, he became very involved in his father’s – John Shakespeare – work as a glove maker. Much of the figurative language in Shakespeare’s plays make references to leather or gloves because of the impact this time spent with his father’s work had on him. During this time, his father also developed a bit of a drinking problem, causing their families name and fortune to plummet. The Shakespeare family entered a long season of hardship with his father’s debt and loss of social standing. This also plays a key role in William’s writing, using the theme of “the dream of restoration.” Greenblatt writes that, “the dream of restoration haunted Shakespeare throughout his life” (81).

Looking ahead to 1582, Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway, who was already pregnant with his first daughter, Susanna. Since Shakespeare did not have a happy marriage – probably because he hardly spent any time at home – a lot of plays and poetry seem to paint marriage in a pessimistic light, or at least an apathetic light. In the mid-1580’s, Shakespeare fled home (including his family and all of his fortune) because he was caught illegally hunting for deer on the property of a powerful neighbor, that or as Greenblatt also mentions, Shakespeare may have just left to join a group of players called the Queen’s Men. Either way, Shakespeare work was influenced by his family only in the very pessimistic and sad way we see marriage and family portrayed in his plays.

Although life for Shakespeare, by 1600, was going very well – his career as a poet and a famous author of dramas took off – there seemed to be death all around him. In 1596, he “received word that his only son, Hamnet, eleven years old, was ill” (288). This was obviously heartbreaking for William Shakespeare because around that time he began working on Hamlet. The emotional power in this great tragedy may have derived from his reaction to the news of his sons sickness and eventual death. Even the name “Hamlet” sounds like his departed sons name “Hamnet.”

In 1604, Shakespeare had retirement in mind while writing King Lear. This play shows Will’s anxiety about losing his fame, fortune, and becoming dependent on his surviving children. Greenblatt notes that in these final years of retirement, Shakespeare spent a great deal of time reviewing his work, but also wrote his final play, The Tempest, which is estimated to have been written in 1611. The Tempest is considered to have a “distinctly autumnal, retrospective tone [because] Shakespeare seems to be self-consciously reflecting upon what he has accomplished in his professional life and coming to terms with what it might mean to leave it behind” (370). In the end, Shakespeare stopped writing to settle property disputes. Although he had an unhappy marriage, he did live out the rest of his days tended to his daughter Susanna and her family whom he loved dearly.

The strengths in Stephen Greenblatt’s book, Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare, definitely come from the amount of historical research and documentation that had to go into writing a book such as this one. Many believe this is the most accurate depiction of Shakespeare’s life because key points we know how Shakespeare’s life are so skillfully aligned with key points historians know about from history. Greenblatt’s time a dedication to learning all there is to know about Shakespeare can be seen throughout every page of this book. His ability to reimagine scenes from Shakespeare’s life the way they might have been is almost to realistic to be anywhere near accurate. Greenblatt’s style of writing and language draws the reader and holds their attention till the last page. As far as weaknesses go, sections within the chapters could use some headers. Sometime the flow from one idea or scene can be muddied with the next, leading the reader to reread a passage of two to fully understand what Greenblatt is trying to say (at least in my experience). Although I believe the history is what makes this book so credible, I would love to see Greenblatt (or any author as informed as he is) write a narrative from Shakespeare’s perspective possibly experiencing these events he experienced and writing his plays in a first-person view; that would make this information even more interesting to study and learn about. Although, I did enjoy how Greenblatt did a bit of story-telling in his novel.

Will in the World: How Shakespeare became Shakespeare is a very valuable and significant tool to anyone interested in learning about Shakespeare’s life and what events throughout it influenced what he wrote about. I, for one, never knew about the details in Shakespeare’s life that had everything to do with why Hamlet is suffering or what is King Lear so afraid of. Being able to know what impacted Shakespeare’s life has really changed the way that I, and probably others who had read this book, read his plays. I am a firm believer in: if you know what influences the author to write his or his story, then you not only read the story, you experience that authors life.

 

Works Cited

Greenblatt, S. (2004). Will in the world. 1st ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Meritorious

The word meritorious defined by the OED means: “of actions: serving to earn reward; esp. in Theology, said of good works, penance, etc., as entitling to reward from God; productive of merit.” The first record of the word listed under this definition comes from HIdgen (Rolls) IV in 1432 – 50 and states, “The Pilgrimage made to thapostles was more meritorious to the sawle than the faste of ij. Yere.” The second definition of the word still describes and action; “Of an action or agent: That earns or deserves some specified good or evil.” The earliest example given for this definition comes from T. Norton Calvin’s Inst., “Pref., workes meritorious of eternall saluation.” The sub-definition of the word is, “meritorious cause: an action or agent that causes by meriting (some good or evil result). The third definition of meritorious is much like the first two in that it means, “deserving of reward or gratitude. Also (now usually) in vaguer use; Well-deserving; meriting commendation; having merit.” What is interesting about this definition is really the tiny print under it that reads, “In recent literary criticism the word tends to be a term of limited praise, applied, e.g., to work that is recognized as painstaking and useful, but does not call forth any special warmth of commendation.” So, in the actual definitions, meritorious sounds like a really good thing, but it’s actually more of just a pat on the back and a “good job.” The fourth definition of the word meritorious means, “bestowed in accordance with merit; merited.” And lastly, the fifth definition of meritorious: “In the sense of L. meritorious: That earns money (by prostitution).” I find it interesting that for this final definition, the spelling of the word changes. The example of this definition comes from 1636 used by B. Johnson: “Some love any Strumpet (be shee never so shop-like or meritorious) in good clothes.” Notice how the spelling of the word changes from the definition listed and the example given (interesting).

Mull over Richard Mulcaster

Richard Mulcaster was born in Cumberland, England in 1531. He was a highly-educated man who attended Eton, Cambridge, and Offord university. He spent some time as a headmaster and a teacher in several schools including: Merchant-Taylors’ School and St. Paul’s. Mulcaster also owned and operated a few private schools in his time. The reason why people still talk about him and know him, is because he wrote the book Positions Concerning the Training Up of Children in 1582, and then another book titled The First Part of the Elementarie in 1582. Mulcaster was an advocate for special university training for teachers (much like the training that doctors and lawyers received at university). But not only training, he also fought for teachers to have adequate salaries, for the best teachers to be assigned to teach lower grades, and a close association between teachers and parents. However, he also advocated for a careful selection of teachers which meant that not everyone could qualify to be a teacher; it would be more difficult for the average person to become a teacher. Mulcaster realized that there was value in looking at each individual student and adjusting curriculum to meet the needs of the individual (because we all learn differently. Another thing Mulcaster advocated for was that progress of a student would be based on their readiness (skills and knowledge they had attained), rather than their age. (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica)

Not only was he an advocate for the education system making a change; Mulcaster was also advocating for making some major changes to the English language. “His book Elementarie (1582) was a collection of 7000 common words and there recommended spelling. This was a very extensive and important treatise on the English spelling of that time considering that spelling had been an issue of that time. However, people of that time resisted the urge for radical phonetic reform in England, which is exactly what Mulcaster was trying to accomplish. Mulcaster was willing to standardize many customs and current usages if they could become universal (Baugh, Cable, and Ivonne 209 – 211). He worked more with cleaning up what the language already had, rather than adding to the language. Since everyone had their own way of spelling and writing in English, Mulcasters’ work really helped make the language universal at the time by setting certain writing rules. This process began with the removal of unnecessary letters from words including: putt, grubb, ledd (put, grub, led) (Baugh, Cable, and Ivonne 209 – 211). Mulcaster allowed double consonants to remain only where they belong to separate syllables, but usually not at the end of words except for the double “L.” (Baugh, Cable, and Ivonne 209 – 211). He also added the final –e to words that end with a “v” or “z” sound, and to words that end in a softly pronounced “I”; when the “I” is pronounced ‘loud and sharp’ he uses –y instead of –e (Baugh, Cable, and Ivonne 209 – 211).  Changes to spelling like Mulcaster made was meant to help everyone spell words the same way so that the language was understandable. Although his changes were viewed as radical, “his book has the great merit – or demerit – of standardizing a large number of current spellings, justifying them, and advocating the consistent use of them” (Baugh, Cable, and Ivonne 211).” (Wallace).

 

Baugh, Albert C, Thomas Cable, and PIERRON IVONNE. MISIONERO DURANTE LA DICTADURA (Spanish Edition). 6th ed. London, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2012. Print.

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Richard Mulcaster | English Educator.” Encyclopedia Britannica. N.p.: Encyclopedia Britannica, 9 June 2006. Web. 4 Mar. 2017.

Wallace, Courtney. “Mid-Term Question 2 Answer.” 2016.

“You’re so Vain, You probably Think this [post] is about You”

The word vain, according the first definition found in the OED, means, “Devoid of real value, worth, or significance; idle, unprofitable, useless, worthless; of no effect, force, or power; fruitless, futile, unavailing. The earliest recording of the word vain comes from Cursor M. in 1300: “Quen idel thought me come and vain, Wit will I stode pam noght again.” The sub definition to this first one is, “of material things: useless, worthless.” The second definition of the word vain is, “Empty, vacant, void.” So, if you call someone vain – you could be calling the worthless – or go even deeper and be calling them empty or void of something. The third definition is more specifically used to describe people. It states, “of persons: devoid of sense of wisdom; foolish, silly thoughtless; of an idle or futile nature or disposition.” According to the OED, this definition is rare. It was last used in 1819 by Shelley who wrote, “So that our hair should seep the footsteps of the vain and senseless crowd.” The fourth definition of vain is the one that we all are used to hearing and think of when we hear this word. Vain means, “given to or indulging in personal vanity; having an excessively high opinion of one’s own appearance, attainments, qualities, possessions, etc.; delighting in, or desirous of attracting, the admiration of others; conceited.” We’ve also all probably heard the fifth definition of the word vain as well. The fifth definition is the adverb phrase in vain, which means, “to no effect or purpose; ineffectually, uselessly, vainly.” A famous line from several movies (that I can’t actually name off the top of my head) is something along the lines of, “I won’t let him die in vain.” The last example recorded in the OED comes from Bryce Holy Rom. Emp. In 1864: “Lewis tried in vain to satisfy his sons . . . by dividing and redividing.” The sixth definition is a lot like the latter, but instead of something having no purpose, this definition is, “to take . . . in vain: to disregard, to treat with contempt.” The best example I could think of – that just so happens to be in the OED as a sub definition – is to take the LORDS name in vain. The sub definition is as follows: “With name as object. To use or utter (the name of God) lightly, needlessly, or profanely; transf. to mention or speak of casually or idly.” The final full definition of the word vain means, “vanity; a vain thing.”  The sub definition of this means, “Emptiness; void of space.” So, I believe this last definition sort of encompasses many of the definitions before it.

Creole

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “Creole was originally used in the 16th century to refer to locally born [born in America] individuals of Spanish, Portuguese, or African descent as distinguished from those born in Spain, Portugal, or Africa” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). However, in the early 17th century, the term creole was adopted into French to mean someone of African or European descent who had born in American or the Indian ocean colonies. The word creole has also been used as an adjective to, “characterize plants, animals, and customs typical of the same regions” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica).  In the 21st century, there were many different groups who referred to themselves as creoles including: people of African or mixed descent in Mauritius, any locally born person living on the island of Réunion, locally born people of full European and mixed indigenous-European decent in Argentina and Uruguay, and descendants of Africans and descendants of French and Spanish colonials (who lived there before the Louisiana Purchase) living in Louisiana. So, up until the late 1600’s, the term creole basically meant that an individual was living in a different place than where his or her ancestors came from (and maybe that the individual did not mix their blood line with the natives).

Since the late 1600’s, creole has meant, “a simplified form of language (or pidgin) that becomes the native language of a community” (Dr. Chisholm’s notes). “Creole was first applied to language by the French explorer Michel Jajolet, sieur de la Courbe, In Premier voyage du sieur de la Courbe fait a la coaste d’Afrique en 1685, which means the, ‘First voyage made by Sieur de le Courbe on the Coast of Africa in 1685’” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). Jajolet used this term in reference to the people living in Senegal who spoke a Portuguese-based language. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the creole – as a linguistic term – was applied to other languages. In English, the linguistic term creole was not widely used until 1825. (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica)

There are three major hypotheses for how creoles came about that scholars and creolists have argued over for years now. These three hypotheses include: the substrate, superstrate, and universalist hypothesis (substrate meaning non-European languages; superstrate meaning European languages). “According to substratists, creoles were formed by the languages previously spoken by Africans enslaved in the Americas and the Indian Ocean, which imposed their structural features upon the European colonial languages” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). The superstrate hypothesis claims that, “the primary, if not the exclusive, sources of a creole’s structural features are the colonial nonstandard varieties of the European languages from which they developed” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). And lastly, the universalist claim is that creole was developed by the, “children who were exposed to a pidgin at an early age created a creole language by adopting only the vocabularies of the pidgin” (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). These are the three-main hypothesis for the development of creole, but they are not the only theories in the world. More research is still needed before we can ever really understand how creole languages are developed.

 

 

The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. “Creole Languages | Linguistics.” Encyclopedia Britannica. Ed. Salikoko Sangol Mufwene. N.p.: Encyclopedia Britannica, 30 Nov. 2015. Website. 26 Feb. 2017.

“Quit nagging on the bread!”

The word nag has 4 definitions and at least 3 sub definitions that can be found in the OED. The first definition given is, “To gnaw, to nibble.” This is not what I expected the first definition would be, but it is the oldest record of the word dating back to 1825 when it was used in BROCKETT N.C. Gloss., Nag, “to gnaw at anything hard.” The sub definition is, “to keep up a dull gnawing pain; to ache persistently.” The example of this definition is sort of funny because it’s actually a question and answer type scenario: “How’s your face, now?” “Well it nags a bit.” The second definition falls more in line with what I think of when I hear the word nag. It means, “To be persistently worrying or irritating by continued fault-finding, scolding, or urging.” The third definition is much like the last in that it means, “To assail or annoy (a person) with persistent fault-finding or provocation; to irritate with continuous urging to something.” The most recent example can be found under this definition from 1969: “I am told that R. P. Blackmur used to give a lecture on Jane Austen in which he explored her work in terms of the verb ‘to nag’ (‘she nags out her plots’).” The sub definition is, “to wear out by nagging.” What is interesting about this particular definition, is that the example given spells nag with an extra ‘g’ (nagg). After I saw this, I looked back to the beginning of the word and discovered that you can actually spell this word three different ways: nagg, knag, or gnag. The final definition of the word nag is, “Used with repetition of the stem-syllable to express the persistency of the action.”

Johnson’s Dictionary

Samuel Johnson’s dictionary was published in 1755. The project that he thought would only take him a year by himself, actually took him just over eight years to complete with the help of six others. By the time the dictionary was published, Johnson and his helps had collected 40,000 words. Each word was defined in detail and included quotations. Johnson’s dictionary, at the time, was considered the most complex and extensive dictionary; even compared the French Dictonnarre which took 55 years to complete with 40 people working on it. There are over 114,000 quotations in Johnson’s dictionary. He was the first English lexicographer (a person who complies dictionaries) to use citations; since then, every dictionary after Johnsons uses citations. Johnson was an avid reader, so he gathered the vast majority of words he included in the dictionary, from books that he read dating back a far as the 1500’s. He used quotes from some famous writers like Shakespeare and Milton. Because he used books he liked, a lot of the words and quotations used in the dictionary reflect Johnsons taste in literature. One of the major issues with Johnsons dictionary is that, when he did not like a specific quotation he had found, he would twist or rewrite the quotation so that it would fit the word with what he thought it meant. This is why people discredit his dictionary. Book-sellers commissioned Johnsons dictionaries in hope that it would provide the English language with a set of rules. Some of the pros of Johnsons dictionary was that, “It exhibited the English vocabulary much more fully than had ever been done before. It offered a spelling, fixed even if sometimes badly, that could be accepted as standard. it supplied thousands of quotations illustrating the use of words . . .” (266 A History of the English Language). However, according to critics, Johnsons dictionary included some words and definitions that were considered questionable, the etymologies were flawed, and too many of the definitions were skewed because of his biases and whims. Another big issue people had with his dictionary is that, “many of the words he included were incomprehensible to the average reader – long words such as ‘deosculation’, ‘odontalgick’” (1755 = Johnson’s Dictionary). When reading Johnsons dictionary, one could see Johnsons character displayed throughout his writing. In his writing, he was very pompous, as if he did not want people to understand, or he wanted to seem more educated than he actually was. Lastly, some of his definitions of words were very offensive to some people (example: the Scots and the word Oats). No matter the flaws, Johnsons dictionary was, “enormously popular and highly respected for its epic sense of scholarship” (1755 = Johnson’s Dictionary).

Baugh, Albert C., and Thomas Cable. A history of the English language. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013. Print.

“1755 – Johnson’s Dictionary.” THE BRITISH LIBRARY – The world’s knowledge. http://www.bl.uk/copyrightstatement.html, 13 Dec. 2005. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

“The Trees have Doted”

The first definition of the word dote (or doat) found in the OED is, “to be silly, deranged, or out of one’s wits; to act or talk foolishly or stupidly. The second definition given is, “to be weak-minded from old age; to have the intellect impaired by reason of age.” The fact that these two definitions were given first came as a surprise to me; I have only ever heard the word dote to mean adore. I felt like maybe I was thinking of the wrong word until I read the third definition, “to be infatuatedly fond of; to bestow excessive love or fondness on or upon; to be foolishly in love.” According to the OED, this definition is rare, but this is the only way I have ever heard the word dote used, so I am quite skeptical about this. The fourth definition is an even bigger shock to me with the definition being, “to decay, as a tree.” This definition seems really out of place considering the next definition is, “to cause to dote; to drive crazy; to befool, infatuate.” This is followed by the sixth definition given which is, “to say or think foolishly.” The seventh – and final – definition of the word dote given is, “to love to excess; bestow extravagant affection on.” I would provide the earliest example of the word being used; however, I could neither find the symbol used in many of the words to insert, nor could I understand the sentence enough to make any sort of comment on it. The second earliest example comes from 1225: Leg. Kath. 2111, “Hu nu, dame, dotestu?” What I gather from looking through the history of the word, is that this word is spelt many different ways throughout history. One of the more recent examples of the word comes from 1871, and uses the first definition of the word:  R. ELLIS Catullus xxxv., “She . . . Doats, as hardly within her own possession.” The most recent example given comes from 1893 using the fourth (and strangest) definition: E. Cous Lewis & Clark’s Exped., “In North Carolina . . . it is said of trees dead at the top, that they are doted, or have doted.”

A Swift Introduction

Some of Jonathan Swifts most famous writing were satires including the well-known Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal. Swift was influenced, “by the works of the classical authors, the great ‘Ancients’ whom he revered, but it owed a great deal, as well, both to the works of friends and contemporaries like Addison, Steele, and Pope, whom he admired and collaborated with, and to the works of enemies like Defoe . . .” (Cody). A lot of his writings focus around contemporary events like English politics, or socio-economic events of Ireland. One could describe Swift as a risk-taker when it comes to pushes the boundaries on what he could write about and how. He tended to mock political officials for some of the choices that they made, like he did in A Modest Proposal. This boldness that Swift wrote with is what made him dangerous to society. “Thomas De Quincey wrote in 1847 that ‘the meanness of Swift’s nature, and his rigid incapacity for dealing with the grandeurs of the human spirit, with religion, with poetry or even with science when it rose above the mercenary practical, is absolutely appalling. His own Yahoo is not a more abominable one-sided degradation of humanity than he himself in under this aspect. . ..’” (Cody). When Pope wrote something that ruffled peoples feather, they were content with sweeping him under the rug; however, when Swift ruffled feathers, he did it in a way that people couldn’t just ignore him. I believe a lot of why people couldn’t just sweep him under the rug was because of his use of language. “His values, however were those of his age, and the Romantics and the Victorians reacted against his work even more strongly than they did against Pope’s. Pope they merely relegated to the dust-bin, but they perceived Swift, particularly the Swift who had brought Gulliver to the Country of the Houhynhynms, as a threat, and they savaged him” (Cody). According to the History of the English Language, “In the matters of language, Swift was a conservative. His conservatism was grounded in a set of political and religious, as well as linguistic, opinions” (Baugh 253). Swift was very influential because, “although [he] upheld the classics, he understood the merits of a plain English style, so long as it was not polluted by crude and careless usages” (Baugh 253). Although he had lost his reputation in his time, today, Swift is viewed as one of the greatest satirist in the English language. But despite his reputation, Jonathan Swift died a great, famous, and enormously respected man in the year 1745.

 

Cody, David . “Jonathan Swift’s Sources and Influence: An Introduction.” Jonathan Swift’s Sources and Influence: An Introduction. The Victorian Web, n.d. Web. 05 Feb. 2017.

Baugh, Albert C., and Thomas Cable. A history of the English language. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013. Print.