MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

The Language Vandals

Posted by M. C. on July 22, 2022

Today, of course, PC is obsolete—replaced entirely by the far broader concept of “woke,” which goes well beyond language. And to be sure, “woke” is so vague and so overused as to be a poignant example of George Orwell’s meaningless words,

https://mises.org/wire/language-vandals

Jeff Deist

Language is a critical tool for communication among humans; we cry “watch out” when a speeding car hurtles toward a pedestrian. We also think of language as a cognitive tool for society at large, since all human learning is closely tied to how we learn and process language.

Yet sometimes we forget language is also an important social and cultural institution. And like all institutions, it is subject to corruption, in the form of capture by elites with agendas quite contrary to those of average people. Since language shapes our understanding of all human interactions, academics from all disciplines—but particularly social scientists—ought to pay more attention to linguistic corruption. When language becomes politicized, managed, and policed, we ought to notice, and we ought to fight back.

I make this very point in an upcoming article titled “Evolution or Corruption: The Imposition of Political Language in the West Today,” which will be published this fall in the Italian journal Etica e politica (put out by the University of Trieste Department of Philosophy). The article argues that top-down impositions, rather than natural evolution, often drive changes in language. It analogizes the linguistic “marketplace” with the market for goods and services. Impositions are akin to central planning, while evolution is akin to spontaneous order in the marketplace. The former occurs when elites in politics, media, journalism, and academia attempt to influence both the words we use and the meaning of those words. This is invariably in service of a statist agenda, just as economic interventions serve preferred interests at the expense of overall wealth and efficiency. The constant use and repetition of the word “gender” (a term relating to grammar) when we should use “sex” is one obvious example of imposed, corrupted language in service of a political agenda (trans). By contrast, the Middle English “whilst” sounds odd to our ear today—having naturally evolved into “while” without obvious or heavy-handed direction.

The great Spanish Austro-libertarian economist Jesús Huerta de Soto applies Carl Menger’s theory on the evolution of money to language:

Thus there is an unconscious social process of learning by imitation which explains how the pioneering behavior of these most successful and creative individuals catches on and eventually extends to the rest of society. Also, due to this evolutionary process, those societies which first adopt successful principles and institutions tend to spread and prevail over other social groups. Although Menger developed his theory in relation to the origin and evolution of money, he also mentions that the same essential theoretical framework can be easily applied to the study of the origins and development of language, as well as to our present topic, juridical institutions. Hence the paradoxical fact that the moral, juridical, economic, and linguistic institutions which are most important and essential to man’s life in society are not of his own creation, because he lacks the necessary intellectual might to assimilate the vast body of random information that these institutions generate. On the contrary, these institutions inevitably and spontaneously emanate from the social process of human interaction which Menger believes should be the main research in economics.1

Today, it appears linguistic interventionism is alive and well in the West. Language is a subset of culture, albeit a very important subset, and we can hardly expect progressives to leave it alone. Like culture, language is not property, and it cannot be “owned.” But it can be influenced and steered by linguistic vandals seeking to topple old understandings and leave us all overwhelmed and demoralized by the ever-shifting new terminology. 

See the rest here

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