English language

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Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier

The Oxford English Dictionary lists more than 500,000 words.  In addition, there are some 500,000 technical terms (such as the official Latin names for biological entities and unpronounceable names of complex chemical 

Pontiac Perspective by Peter Gauthier

The Oxford English Dictionary lists more than 500,000 words.  In addition, there are some 500,000 technical terms (such as the official Latin names for biological entities and unpronounceable names of complex chemical 
compounds) in the language.  With over one million words, English has the largest vocabulary of the 7,106 living languages in use on our planet.  Further, three quarters of the world’s mail, telexes and cables are in English along with 80% of the information stored on computers.  So English not only has the largest vocabulary, it is also the most widely used language.
Despite its vocabulary and usage popularity, English does have some problems.  One of these was recently illustrated by our prime minister with his invention of the word “peoplekind” as a replacement for “mankind”.  The obvious problem is that English lacks gender neutral and gender inclusive terms for many common human-related references. One proposal to deal with this problem was published in 2002 by the Women in Literacy and Life Assembly (a committee of the USA National Council of Teachers of English).  Their publication – Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Language – addresses many of the gender language problems. For “mankind”, they specifically recommend “humanity”, “human beings” or “people” but not the non-word “peoplekind”.
However, gender is not the only, nor ever the most significant, English language issue that is problematic for politicians.  As early as 1946, George Orwell observed that politicians used language that was “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”. Unfortunately, the ease of use of modern mass media technologies has given an unexpected depth to Orwell’s observation.  But the issue has not gone totally unnoticed. In 2009, the British House of Commons established a committee to investigate “Bad Language: The Use and Abuse of Official Language”. Its conclusions include the following: the language used in politics matters because politics is a public activity … politicians should be required to communicate with people in a straightforward way, and the use of inaccurate, confusing, or misleading language should be treated as maladministration.
Political use of mass media technologies has made a mockery of such recommendations. The only solution seems to be an aggressive educational effort aimed at the proper use of English by all who use the language.  Unfortunately, such an effort would require significant commitments by politicians.  And based on their performance, they would not recognize the problem. Perhaps we could start by looking at examples of good English – Winston Churchill’s World War II speech, “We shall fight them on the beaches,” and “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr.  There is also Arnold Chan’s 2017 plea in the House of Commons for MPs to treat one another with civility and compassion by ditching canned talking points and honestly addressing the real issues facing this nation. 
Perhaps the public can use mass media technology to combat its misuse and poor English.