Friday, 28 August 2009

Part two) The collective identity in language

This brings me unto a little problem I have with the approach to language the British take, at least those of us who practice the form of communication which is cynical and defeatist and depressing. Stephen Fry once said he loved the phrase “Only in America” as a wonderful insight into how Americans are often inspired by the remarkable events that happen in the states. It is a wonderful insight into not only how Americans view their country but also how they view themselves: as can-do people living in the land of opportunity. 

Unfortunately he also comments somewhat woefully, that the situations that would demand the phrase “Only in Britain” would be well, far less remarkable to say the least. I’ve noticed a very annoying habit in English Language that seems to automatically assume the worst in any situation.

“Not Again…” Why are all reoccurring scenarios depressing?
“That’s Typical” Why is something displeasing always considered the norm?
“Whatever!” Basically means something not worth bothering about, the irony is this pretty much can put into any sentence as it’s essentially a meaningless term.

Its very telling of a culture that essentially redefines words in a negative context, and this before we import or even invent new words to use in a negative way! Fop, dandy and the aesthete are practically extinct from common usage it has given away to the derogetory yob, the snob, the Ned, the townie, the dweeb, nerd and pointdexter. This focus in British Language to always dwell on the negative irritates me immensely. If like me, you feel language informs thought wouldn’t it make more sense to have a more positive attitude? Wouldn’t it be more pleasant if we talked to each other in a lighter, brighter tone that focuses on positive aspects of Britishness? I think defeatism begins in the mind, if we communicated in a more positive manner, who knows, maybe we might have more drive and motivation to do more with our lives. A depressing tone in our language sets a depressing tone for our lives- and who wants that?

Many Brits decry Americanisms as corruptions of language but at least they tend toward a more positive evolution of communication, the terms “Positive-empowerment” and “Self-actualization” prove that a new language can grow to create a more positive way of expressing ourselves. I think inventing new words which all basically mean "finding new ways to furfill your potential" is very telling of the American character and its cultural thought. The sheer thought of the number of languages that exist in the world and how they might inform various cultural thinking fills me with such awe, I wish I had several lifetimes to study them all.

The Americanism reminds me quite abruptly that language is in a constant state of flux and that it is a constantly evolving beast, that there are no moral absolutes within language and that means pretty much anything goes in language. Admittedly I wouldn’t be quite so flamboyant with language in a job interview or a church reading, but that’s a question of suitability- convention has never been a good way to judge the accuracy or even the acceptability of anything!

So we must accept that language is without form so we as linguistic creatures are free to sculpt the future of our language. I for one will hope we shall move away from this miserable tone in the British language. It’s unfair to tarnish all of Britain with this depressing brush, I love the fact that the Manchuanians are “Mad for it” as it is and that the Geordies are already “Whey aye”-ing well into the 21st century with equal enthusiasm. I hope we will listen to the merry tone in their dialects to guide us to a more uplifting way of expressing ourselves. I think we would do well to remember that this unique and fantastic regional diversity is one we can enjoy “Only in Britain” and only one part of our culture worth celebrating. 

Perhaps you might adjust your thinking next time you use the words "Only in Britain".

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