Category Archives: language

Pinker’s piffle

The vogue word ‘pellucid’ is used by the half-educated to describe books such as these — or the even more tired ‘seminal’. This work is neither. It is humbug.

Dalrymple writes that pedagogically, disapproval of standard grammar

has become almost an orthodoxy.

A very smelly one.

In his preposterous book The Language Instinct (1994), the popular scientist and purveyor of pap Steven Pinker argues that, because all forms of human language have their rules, a standard language is, as Dalrymple puts it,

only a language with an army and a navy, as it were.

Whatever else may be said of this view, says Dalrymple,

it is certainly socially conservative in its effects.

Dalrymple points out that to discourage impoverished children from learning a standard language

is to ensure (unless they become sportsmen or the like) that they remain impoverished for the rest of their lives, not only economically but most likely in intellect.

Dalrymple observes that

to be intelligent but not to have the tools to be able to use one’s intelligence is a terrible fate, and dangerous too.

Morals and art will deteriorate

Dalrymple tells an interviewer:

I suppose I am a bit of a Confucian in the matter of the rectification of language. And I am afraid that in the present climate, the connotation of words has often taken over in importance from their denotation. Thus, since irrational racial antagonism is a manifestation of prejudice, all prejudice comes to partake of the quality of irrational racial antagonism, and the right-thinking person thinks he has to overthrow prejudice as such. This is not realistic: no one has ever lived or could ever live as if this were the case. Hence we live in a state of humbug.

Extract from the Analects:

If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.

Moral delicacy on Facebook

All we want is attention

All we want is attention

The internet and Facebook, Dalrymple notes,

are certainly bringing into prominence the intrinsic decency and sense of fair play of the English,

as well as their

refined use of language.

He cites the Facebook contributions that greeted the reduction of the sentence given to Lee Kilburn. Mr Kilburn, Dalrymple explains,

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.58.04is a 42-year-old man of previously good character who was driven to distraction by children who constantly knocked on his door and ran away. His wife had just been diagnosed with a brain tumour. Mr Kilburn chased one of the children who had knocked on his door, and there are two versions of what happened: he says he ran after her, grabbed her and she fell, he fell on top of her and she broke her nose on the ground; she says he punched her and broke his nose.

Mr Kilburn admitted that he had lost his temper and was in the wrong, but denied that he had intended to injure the girl. The judges agreed that there were mitigating circumstances, freed him from jail and suspended his sentence. One response on Facebook to the judicial decision read as follows:

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 11.59.15I’d go inside [i.e. be admitted to prison] just to wrap a quilt round his neck and stab the **** in his skull until his head is drained, no remorse, no mercy, dead! His cell would be covered in red.

Dalrymple comments:

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 12.00.42The moral delicacy of the man who wrote this is evident from his refusal to spell out the four-letter word he wanted to use to describe Mr Kilburn. The line has to be drawn somewhere.

He asks:

Did people have sentiments such as the above before Facebook enabled them to be expressed anonymously in public, or did the possibility of expressing them in public anonymously call them forth?

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 12.02.49

Rottrollen (detail), 1917. John Bauer. Pen and wash

 

Impenetrable drivel unworthy of the faculty of speech

The linguistic effluent that has engulfed Western society and economy

The linguistic effluent that is engulfing Western society and economy

Managerialese is the revenge of the unscrupulous and mediocre on the talented and principled

People who become managers in public service organisations and in large commercial firms, writes Dalrymple,

speak a kind of language that is neither colloquial nor technical nor philosophical nor literary nor precise nor poetic nor even quite human.

He asks whether their utterances correspond to what is going through their mind, or whether they have to translate their thoughts

into this simulacrum of language.

The bullshit piles up so fast you need wings to stay above it

The bullshit has piled up so fast you need wings to stay above it

No man of education and feeling can bear the tedium of it. A virus has entered the brain to

disarrange its language centres, rather as a stroke does.

Scourge of the talking robots

The source of the malady might, he suggests, lie with industrial concerns

and perhaps the business schools that trained their managers, as primates in the forests of Central Africa were the source of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus. Infection often escapes its original nidus to infect the surrounding population of the susceptible, in this case managers in and of the public service made susceptible by Margaret Thatcher’s ill-fated notion that the public service could be some kind of replica of private business.

Screen Shot 2015-03-22 at 11.26.35Verbigeration

Dalrymple points out that the argot is both a symptom and a sustainer of a social revolution. Those who consult its claims are

ruthless and ambitious, mediocre in everything except in the scale of their determination to rule some tiny roost or other, and be paid accordingly. The quid pro quo is that they must learn a new language, whose mastery is far from easy: I am sure that if my readers will try to speak for only a few minutes in managerialese they will find it almost impossible, for meaning will keep breaking through their best attempts at meaninglessness.

The harridan-and-harpy wing of British politics

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 15.02.04 An article reflecting the views of such people is read, or endured, by Dalrymple. It is about ‘gender inequality’ in politics and society, and is both

dull, as all such articles are bound to be,

and impoverishing of the English language. However, the virtue of the article, to be found in the London newspaper the Observer, is that it lavishly furnishes Dalrymple with opportunities to indulge what he describes as

Screen Shot 2015-03-08 at 14.59.45one of the most delightful of emotions,

viz., righteous indignation.

The article irritates our man intensely, finally reducing him to

impotent rage.

The Guardian is the sole remaining daily newspaper in Britain whose content is mostly devoted to serious matters

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 22.00.53The country, writes Dalrymple, has ‘only one important newspaper‘, and that is the Guardian.

He cites its reporting of the killing of Muath al-Kasasbeh, a Royal Jordanian Air Force pilot, by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. The London (formerly Manchester) paper ‘is to be commended‘, he says, for calling this act (al-Kasasbeh was put in a cage and burnt)

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 07.23.52murder, which is what it was; by contrast, it called the killing of terrorists in Jordan, executions, correctly, for the terrorists had been sentenced according to law, with at least an opportunity to defend themselves. Whether or not you are in favour of the death penalty, there was an important difference between the two modes of proceeding, a difference important to preserve by means of the words used to describe them. All too often the distinction is not made in our prints.

‘If names be not correct, language is not in accordance with the truth of things.’ (Analects, book XIII, ch. 3, Legge tr.)

 

Dalrympian Confucianism

analectsDalrymple draws attention to Analects 13.3:

子路曰。衞君待子而爲政、子將奚先 子曰。必也正名乎。子路曰。有是哉。子之迂也 奚其正 子曰。野哉、由也 君子於其所不知、蓋闕如也。名不正、則言不訓。言不訓、則事不成。事不成、則禮樂不興。禮樂不興、則刑罰不中。刑罰不中、則民無所措手足。故君子名之必可 言也、言之必可行也。君子於其言、無所苟而已矣。。

Here, Dalrymple explains, Confucius pointed to

the political dangers of saying what is not meant. If language is the medium of thought, then loose language undermines proper thought.

Leys renders the chapter thus:

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 19.07.39Zilu asked: ‘If the ruler of Wei were to entrust you with the government of the country, what would be your first initiative?’

The Master said: ‘It would certainly be to rectify the names.’

Zilu said: ‘Really? Isn’t this a little farfetched? What is this rectification for?’

The Master said: ‘How boorish can you get! Whereupon a gentleman is incompetent, thereupon he should remain silent. If the names are not correct, language is without an object. When language is without an object, no affair can be effected. When no affair can be effected, rites and music wither. When rites and music wither, punishments and penalties miss their target. When punishments and penalties miss their target, the people do not know where they stand.

‘Therefore, whatever a gentleman conceives of, he must be able to say; and whatever he says, he must be able to do. In the matter of language, a gentleman leaves nothing to chance.’