Making donkey meat of the English language

Jeremy Gordin says the language, as in Orwell's time, is in a poor way

I have a colleague called Tom "Lehrer" Learmont who is a scribbler of some passion and, if I have it correct, has written a great deal inter aliaabout the Radium beer hall. Recently he sent a MS to a Seffrican publishing house - no names, no pack drill, but pretty well known - one of whose "executives" sent it to a "Reader".

The Reader's report reads as follows. The stuff in the square brackets is by me.

"I do not believe this MS is suitable for publication, for the following reasons:

"1. I do not think it would be wise to publish a ‘Sheherezade [sic]'-type compendium of tales in which the narrative voice suffers from severe ethnocentrism (white, colour-and-class insensitive, complacent and politically facile pub talk without any real dialogical content or deep heteroglossic, let alone authentic cross-cultural, substance [vus?]).

 "2. Formally and technically, the narrative style is trapped in the strictures of paraphrase rather than complex and captivating diegetic [or diabetic] form (see Genette on diegesis). Stylistically, the stories fail to make the transition from (supposed) recounted oral delivery to strong or absorbing written form. 

"3. In terms of marketability, this MS will have an extremely limited appeal beyond the aficionado's [sic] of pubs such as the Radium inJohannesburg. Writers should now, more than ever, be seeking to break through [sic] the barrier [sic] of a reader-starved over-localized milieux [sic]. Recommendation: Do not publish."

For those, like me, who struggled with the note, I offer the following brief clavis:

(a) Ethnocentrism: judging another culture solely by the values and standards of one's own culture

(b) Dialogical: Of, relating to, or written in dialogue.

(c) Heteroglossia: Wikipedia: The term heteroglossia describes the coexistence of distinct varieties within a single "language". In Greek hetero = different + glōssa = tongue, language. In this way the term translates the Russian raznorechie (literally "different-speech-ness"), which was introduced by the Russian linguist Mikhail Bakhtin in his 1934 paper [Joe] Slovo v romane, published in English as Discourse in the Novel. Bakhtin argues that the power of the novel originates in the coexistence of, and conflict between, different types of speech: the speech of characters, the speech of narrators, and even the speech of the author. He defines heteroglossia as "another's speech in another's language, serving to express authorial intentions but in a refracted way."

Jou ma se heteroglossia.

d) Diegesis: Wikipedia: is a style of fiction storytelling which presents an interior view of a world and is: that world itself experienced by the characters in situations and events of the narrative and telling, recounting, as opposed to showing, enacting. In diegesis the narrator tells the story. The narrator presents the actions (and sometimes thoughts) of the characters to the readers or audience. Gérard Genette (born 1930 in Paris) is a French literary theorist [vu den?], associated in particular with the structuralist movement and such figures as Roland Barthes and Claude Lévi-Strauss from whom he adapted the concept of bricolage (not frottage or fromage.)


Do you, dear readers know George Orwell's essay (written in 1946), "Politics and the English Language"?

Orwell offers six rules.

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print ("no names, no pack drill").

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it's possible to cut a word, cut it.

4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase (vu den?), a scientific word (frottage) or a jargon word (clavis) if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

The bozo Reader has blown it on four counts: 2, 3, 5, and 6.

In addition, s/he doesn't spell very well: the plural of aficionado is aficionados, lose the apostrophe, s/he's probably Afrikaans of mother tongue; milieux is the plural of milieu; and Scheherazade has a little "c" between the S and h and a little "a" not an "e" after the "r".

Above all, s/he writes jargon-laden kak: ethnocentrism, heteroglossic, cross-cultural, diegetic and dialogical. Moreover, his piece is outright barbarous.

What this MA or maybe even PhD student (the Reader) was trying to say is this:

"The old white fart who put in this seemingly endless and tedious collection of vaguely-related stories told in and about some bar should not be published. The story-teller is obviously a whitey, doesn't give a shite about darkies, and the pub talk is really simple stuff, all in the same voice.

"What's more, the conversations don't tell us anything and are pretty boring to boot. Second, everything that's not conversation is a paraphrase and is reported - so we, the readers, never suspend our credibility; we never really believe that it's a genuine conversation.

"Basically, only half-pissed, old fart whiteys are going to read this kak. But we really ought to be writing for everyone in the country, even sober folk."

So if that is what the Reader wanted to say, why didn't s/he say it? ...

Ich vays? Do I know?

First, as I suggested above, s/he's probably a MA or PhD candidate - God help us, s/he probably teaches a PhD course in comparative literature, or maybe journalism and media studies, or gender studies, at a leading university. I suggest that this might be so - because this is the codswallop they teach in the academy.

Ethnocentrism, heteroglossic, cross-cultural, diegetic and dialogical... It's all rubbish, actually it's theft is what it is - it's tantamount to selling a clapped-out, mostly broken vehicle as a spanking new one. Yet no one ever prosecutes these people or even puts them into awaiting-trial cells for a few years.

And people like our Reader are apparently telling more-or-less respectable publishers what ought to be published ...Scary stuff.

And Orwell's right, you know: if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.  "Political language," writes Orwell, "is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind."

A further complication in Seffrica, obviously, is that many people are not speaking - let alone writing - their mother tongues. So they speak a special kind of slang, which is a collection of clichés.

"Levelling the playing fields. Major stake holders. The capitalists want to destroy the youth. Collective Bargaining is a collective tool of workers to engage a more organised and brutal partner, who owns the means of production. As a result of this weakness leaders of the unions do not only provide strategic leadership in public but get embroiled in the mud-slinging which ideally should be left to spokespersons."

Sportsmen, sportspeople, do it too. After each Super 15 rugby game, you hear the same old codswallop. "It was a big ask. But the boys gave it their best and they showed character. I'm very proud of their boys. Ja, we'll have to look again on Monday and work hard." Etc, etc.

Or what about goody-goody-gumshoes NGO-speak - of the sort espoused by Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), Willy Bird's organisation? Oy, don't get me started ... 

Now then, some people, including me, might ask why I haven't written this week about Dirk Coetzee or perhaps our murderous cops. I mean, to get any reaction from you guys, I have to be really rude about people, especially politicians... So why am I writing about a moronic and barely comprehensible reader's report that Tom Learmont's been sent?

Because Orwell was right. Not an original thought but one that bears repetition. The way people write and talk does affect the way they think - and vice-versa. And right now we're having the most odious, ethnocentric, heteroglossic, heterosexual, anti-cross-cultural, diegetic, diabetic and dialogical donkey meat that you can imagine being shovelled down our throats on a daily basis. With this we ought not to put up. We should rather throw up.

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter