May. 15th, 2007

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http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit

For the lazy, Orwell is arguing that English has become degraded by practices such as stale and/or misused metaphors and using long complicated words to try to make yourself sound more profound. And of course since this is Orwell he then links it to politics. But the political aspects aren't quite so interesting to me.
At the end he posts this short guide to expressing yourself:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Let's see; I'm guilty of (1) sometimes (the other day I said "she's an oasis of logic in a sea of Arts." And then I wanted to smack myself for talking about an oasis in a sea).
I'm good for (2) and (3), since both my writing and speaking style have always been as succint as possible (which does kinda make it hard when I'm trying to make wordcounts for essays. I suspect that for my last Linguistics essay I broke a lot of the above rules, not surprising since I was running on a tight schedule and making up my argument as I went while at the same time heading for that wordcount target).
(4) is harder. I don't think I do it much but it's much harder to be aware of.
(5) same as for (2) and (3), I've always gone for the 'less is more' approach.

And for the record, yes I did change my writing in the last paragraph to try to stick to the rules more effectively :p


In other Linguistics-related news, lately I've been considering angles to write a Computing thesis from that could somehow incorporate Linguistics into it. Ideas so far include:
* Sign language to text converter - I don't think it's feasible, from what I remember Anu tried to make some kind of program that allows you to move a mouse pointer by pointing your hand for his thesis, and it wasn't too crash hot. The technology really isn't there for something as complicated as sign language.
* Something to do with natural language parsing - I really don't want to though because the problem with the whole field is very simple to understand and hellishly difficult to fix. Basically the problem is that language is never going to adhere to any kind of fixed patterns that a computer could have hardcoded into it. The reason language works for humans is because our brains are amazing at receiving huge amounts of data from the environment, discarding parts that aren't important and then sifting the rest for meaning. Until a computer can emulate that process natural language parsing is screwed. Quick example: I originally wrote the first line as "something to do with a natural language parsing". I didn't even notice the typo until just now, however that inclusion of an article where there shouldn't have been one would have been enough to break a lot of parsers.
* Something to do with how computing is a field dominated by English and how this has affected programming and design - There's a couple of problems with this idea. The first is that it sounds a bit wanky* to me, which means that I'm probably not going to be able to get really motivated about it. The second is that the faculty member most likely to be interested in a topic like this is John Plaice. For those who don't know John Plaice, he's an angry angry man and the idea of working with/under him does not fill me with joy.
* This isn't even computing related, but interesting nonetheless: Something to do with translating maths notation into English and vice versa. Brought about by Alex's constant maths-ing, where I noted that mathematicians can say a surprisingly large amount using their incomprehensible symbols, and maths notation is supposedly a universal language between mathematicians and so forth.


*Wanky: A term I first heard used by my HSC English teacher. From the context she used it I think it means something you write for the specific purpose of getting the marker to give you more points, but from that I've always mentally expanded it to anything you write that gives off a vibe of "ooh look at me I'm so intelligent because I can use literary techniques and big words and overly complicated ideas". In fact, George Orwell's idea of bad language fits my concept of "wanky" quite nicely.
As for the etymology of "wanky".. think about it :p.

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