Monday, 19 August 2019

Where Have The T's and The's Gone?

A lot of people are annoyed by the misuse of apostrophe's (intentional).  Then we have other  linguistic annoyances, such as phrases like "Going forward", as though given the nature of time, and our perception of it, we could actually be "going backwards".  There is the straightforward misuse of words, for example, using "of" instead of "have", as in "Could of", rather than "Could have"Dave Gorman, in Series 3 of "Modern Life is Goodish", did a whole programme on the misuse of idioms, such as "Bowl in a China Shop", "From the Gecko", "And his Elk", "Catphrase", and "Escape Goat".  But, I've noticed another feature coming from the mouths of supposedly educated politicians, and public figures.  It is that the word "the", and the letter "t", seems to be gradually disappearing from their speech.

For example, on numerous occasions, I have heard Theresa May, and others, from the dispatch box, talk about "Leaving European Union", rather than "Leaving the European Union".  The European Union is a thing, just as the United States is a thing, or a car is a thing.  It is this thing that, if Brexit goes ahead, Britain will be leaving.  If you were getting out of a car, as a thing, you would not say, "I am getting out of car", you would say, "I am getting out of the car", or, at least, you would if you were using the English language and grammar correctly.

European union, is, of course, also a valid phrase too, but it describes not a thing (noun), but an activity (verb).  In other words, union is the act of joining together.  But, it is not that activity that is being ended, indeed, at the point that Britain joined the EU, the activity itself ceased, apart from any further development in the nature of that union was concerned, and the act of union itself became congealed in the form of an institution, i.e. the Union.  It is that institution, the Union that Britain would be leaving.

And, its not some act of the Brexiteers to try to besmirch or somehow diminish the nature of the EU that leads to this transformation of the European Union from a noun to an adjective, because the same people, and others, omit the required "the" prior to other nouns, in their speech.  It is as though they are unable to distinguish proper forms of speech from abbreviated forms of language for use on Twitter.  But, the reason for abbreviations on Twitter, or in text messages, is for a specific purpose, i.e. to be able to communicate within the limits of the medium.  In the original forms of telegraphy, it was also necessary to miss out some letters from messages, because of the limits of the technology, but as soon as new technology developed, so that those limits no longer existed, it became possible to send messages using the full alphabet, though in the case of telegrams, still in abbreviated form in order to save on costs.

But, there is no such reason for speech to be abbreviated in that way.  Doing so, is simply an indication of laziness, and sloppiness of thought, a disregard for the rules of language and grammar.  The same thing can be seen in the fact that, often, people come on to TV, and refer to "poli-ics", and other words, containing "t's", which appear to have gone AWOL from their pronunciation.  Why?  It may again be laziness, it may be that this is the way they have always spoken, but, usually, these are educated people who know the correct pronunciation, and the whole point about education is that you are able to shape your own being, as well as the world around you.  The other explanation is that it is simply an attempt to appear synchronous with "youth culture", in which case it is simply the kind of populist dumbing down that we should oppose.  The job of socialists is to raise people up, not to dumb everyone down.

The issue was dealt with by Gramsci in his "Prison Notebooks", where he talks about the need for the proper study and use of grammar, for example, in his essay "On Education"  Gramsci notes that if someone is sloppy in their use of language then it means that they are also going to be sloppy and disordered in their general thought processes too.  Language is, or should be, the verbalisation of our thought processes, and the means of communicating those thought processes to others.  Its not always the case.  There appears little connection between the words that come from Trump's mouth, and any prior cerebral activity.  The words that come out appear to flow without any necessary connection one to another, other than the production of phrases deemed likely to provide a positive feedback from his supporters, and the ire of his opponents, or any other thinking human being.  It is a verbal equivalent of the internet troll, whose ranting is not the product of any great knowledge, or cognitive process, but simply an autonomic response to others, designed to promote hostility.

But, for thinking human beings concerned to have an intelligent dialogue, language should be the end result of such manipulation of knowledge via cognitive and thought processes, to produce new ideas, as the basis for discussion and intellectual development.  If you can't be bothered to use language correctly, by using the appropriate forms of grammar, or to enunciate words correctly, then what is anyone to think about your ability to think about anything complex correctly, to be meticulous and painstaking in your thought processes, as Gramsci describes?  

The same laziness applies in the apparent inability for anyone to have an attention span longer than that of a gnat.  Yet, as Gramsci says, work created the conditions in which workers by hand become disciplined to operate in a systematic and persistent manner.  It is something that capitalism imposes upon them, as against the idiocy of rural life.  But, the same must be true of intellectual labour, and the process of developing ideas.

"In education one is dealing with children in whom one has to inculcate certain habits of diligence, precision, poise (even physical poise), ability to concentrate on specific subjects, which cannot be acquired without the mechanical repetition of disciplined and methodical acts. Would a scholar at the age of forty be able to sit for sixteen hours on end at his work-table if he had not, as a child, compulsorily, through mechanical coercion, acquired the appropriate psycho-physical habits? If one wishes to produce great scholars, one still has to start at this point and apply pressure throughout the educational system in order to succeed in creating those thousands or hundreds or even only dozens of scholars of the highest quality which are necessary to every civilisation."

But, if today our intelligentsia, our media personalities, and our politicians do not have the rigour, the diligence, the precision or the discipline to even express their thoughts correctly via a proper use of language and grammar, or by the proper enunciation even of the words they are using, how can anyone have faith in their ability to have first applied the kind of rigour, precision and discipline to the thought processes they should have undertaken before making those utterances?

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