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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.


Date: 2007-05-16 02:31 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Well you're talking about linguistics and Orwell, so I felt I could no longer hold my peace, and had to input something.

There already is, or was, a sign-language interpreter machine made. It was part of a thesis by... well, look, someone in America, or somewhere where they have funding for this sort of thing. Could have been UK. Anyway it was on Quantum/Catalyst about 10 years ago so can't be impossible to find. It was designed so that a deaf/dumb person could operate a machine, and it could interpret hundreds of signs in real-time using a system that took a high contrast image of the hand movements and matched it to a known library. I think. Anyway, it would probably be 2^7 times easier to make than a natural language processor.

...the killer though, for natural language processors, is domain. If you picked a nice simple domain, you could do it no problem: e.g. only one dialect, only females/males, only interprets place, only interprets speaker, only separates noise from speech, etc. Oh my god Bayesian filtering ROFLL!@! I believe people would be impressed if you could make one which interpreted speaker, as most processors have trouble telling which person is speaking. Great security/surveillance applications.

Wanky means you're having a wank. You're so excited about how clever you are, you are intellectually masturbating. Wank means masturbate. In England, they use it all the time. Apparently. Of course, if you believe films like Sliding Doors, they also say 'pissing' all the time, which I'm skeptical of. Just thought I'd drop in my 0.02 on that.

Orwell. The thing about Orwell was, that he was not only into politics, and not only a writer (of 1984 no less), he was also: a journalist. Noam Chomsky, for example, was a linguist before he was a political fanatic - but anyone who hasn't studied linguistics usually doesn't know that. Yet his understanding of language and the way people lie no doubt underpinned his interest in politics, and it was the same for Orwell. First and foremost, he was a journalist. He wrote a couple of books about the spanish civil war, and his experiences there, before he wrote the only novel anyone remembers him for. Journalists have rules, and those were his, for excellent newspaper writing. I don't think it was a treatise on English, but probably everything Orwell wrote, was, in his mind, some kind of treatise. So whatever.

So it's Ben btw. And what's this guy you went out with for 3 weeks like a million years ago doing shitting all over your article and handing down knowledge about Orwell and stuff? Well... yeah I just thought I'd say hi :) How's it going and stuff and junk?

Re: linguistics

Date: 2007-05-16 08:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think you misinterpreted what I meant by natural language processing :)

I don't want to create something that takes spoken language and transfers it into writing/data/whatever. One of the reasons for this is the persuasive argument you gave me way back when about how all that soundwave analysis stuff is ridiculously complicated and it's hard to differentiate between phonemes and all that.
I was thinking more along the lines of being able to parse written text without going into nuclear meltdown.

As for Orwell's rules, I follow a lot of them in day to day conversation naturally, and I make a conscious effort to do the same for presentations. Because while it's all well and good that I have a vocabulary bigger than most people I know, there's no point in me showing it off, because the aim here is to be communicating right? Rather than being wanky (God how I love that word :D), because being wanky only communicates to everyone else that you're more interested in appearing intelligent than you are in having intelligent debate. *shuts up before rant covers full page*

Also, hi, I'll send you an email because it just feels weird catching up over livejournal comments

Date: 2007-05-19 01:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

The response one expects when engaging in the catching up over a publicly accessible medium.

Orwell was onto something good in all his points, but I think he's guilty of oversimplification. Especially when it comes to the choice of words - some people aim to give a general and simple idea (thus using simple langauge) while others aim for precision. I am one of those who nitpicks everything he says, often correcting myself even in casual conversation - I am especially careful with words and if a large yet obscure word conveys my intended meaning more precisely than a more common word, I will use it.

The two problems with this are (a) perceived wankiness and (b) ignorant or stupid people. (a) occurs when in an argument, and people will for some reason or other decide that you are trying to dazzle them with your vocabulary or bring the argument beyond the limits of their knowledge. I resolve this by explaining the word used, this often leads to exposing a crucial oversight in the position against which I am arguing. (b) isn't a problem, since I only talk to the intelligent - ie, people who would rather learn a new word than think less of someone for using it.

Date: 2007-05-19 06:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I don't really see it as trying to dazzle with vocabulary, rather keeping the flow of ideas going instead of stopping every few minutes to make sure everyone's still following you. I'll only use a large/obscure word if the amount of simpler words needed to explain it is too large


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