We all know that language has always changed and adapted to new environments over time. Today, we can see it on the many overwhelming anglicisms, since we are implementing a majority of our popular culture from Anglo-American countries.
So, when we talk about a deterioration of our language, it seems as if we are describing a natural process occuring in every culture. But this time it is not the same as a few generations ago. This is entirely different.
Language does not simply change and adapt to the current time. It is the first time in our modern Western culture that such a massive loss of language occurs. For the first time since the invention of printing, and the therein resulted heyday of a differentiation of our linguistic usage, we lose our language.
Because the emerging language is not just a corruption of the previous one, but a high degree of reduction.
This has a massive impact, because without a differentiated language, abstract thinking and a nuanced emotional world are not possible.
And that is why the way we look at the world and its values and norms is changing.
“Today, there are two types of language. A highly differentiated one for thoughts on science and technology and a highly banal one for thoughts about life.” 1
In order to show the impact language has on our lives, I would like to take you on a little journey.
But the book has a much deeper meaning, which is mostly forgotten when its discussed. It shows how people with a reduced ability to speak live in a spiritually limited environment. And that they see this kind of world without ambiguity and nuances as the only conceivable one.
Because the words we use determine what thoughts are possible. And with it what and how we feel.
This view is probably new and unusual for some. But let me briefly explain what G. Orwell wanted to tell us with this.
Today, less and less people can speak about their thoughts and emotions in a differentiated way. When they feel comfortable, they feel good or great, which translates to “plusgut” in the Orwellian language.
And when a sense of discomfort creeps up, they feel bad or very bad. Some even speak of depression or depressive states, which in turn is not a description of a sensation, but only the name of a disease.
“Who still dares to say in today’s environment: I am melancholic?” 1
But aside from the ugliness and insignificance of these words, what about all the other emotions that create humanity in all its nuances?
Who is still using words like ‘joy’ today? Are certain emotional states not described more aptly with ‘joy’ rather than the word ‘fun’?
Or who speaks of melancholy instead of depression? Would that not be a more appropriate term in many cases? Depression is something you have to treat in order to be to be fit and ‘normal’ again.
But melancholy! Weltschmerz! These are words that connect us to the world. They show that you are sensitive and alive. And not that you need a treatment. These feelings describe a state of a human in a suffering world.
What I’m trying to tell you is: when I can only say I’m feeling bad or depressed, then I can only feel this way. I am capable of other feelings, but if I can’t describe them with words I don’t know how to deal with them. Then I’m just depressed more or less. And then I need to be treated in order to become more or less happy again.
But if I’m melancholic, I don’t need to be treated. Then I’m sick of the state the world is in, and the people living in it. Then I am a sentient being who is rightfully sad, without needing to be treated or being negatively evaluated.
Then I would be able to deal with these feelings. I would be able to integrate them into my personal history, and also the history of the world.
“Where is life in all its colorfulness?” 1
Now that we have seen how important a differentiated language is to our worlds of thoughts and feelings, we now get to the question of why we once had such a rich availability of language and why it is disappearing today.
Until recently, we lived in a book culture. I’ll get back to this in detail at a later moment, for now I just want to tell you this: The book used to be the main girder of our thoughts and feelings. On the one hand, it promoted a certain way of thinking and the worldview. And at the same time, our brains were able to adapt to the form of a thought written down in a book.
Of course, there are also civilizations without books. There are some traditional cultures who never relied on books and yet they had lots of wisdom to share. But we walked another path of history. We live in a culture characterized by the book, with all its developments, such as sophisticated science or certain moral concepts such as the Declaration of Human Rights.
In our western European world, we were able to create one of the most beautiful cultures in history over the course of centuries. All the ways of thinking and feeling, the huge collection of works of art, the variety of constructs and beauties – all this combined is so overwhelming that even later generations will still be amazed.
And all this has been massively influenced by the book or was even made possible by it.
“What do we have today? Science? Information society? Consumer culture?” 1
But why is all this disappearing today?
In every culture, there is a medium that determines the public discourse. But since we are using it to convey our thoughts, it inevitably affects our language and, therefore, the thoughts and feelings that can be made possible with it.
But what is the impact of this change?
Above all, it is noticeable that we no longer use the language to describe our differentiated thoughts and feelings. Today, the main purpose of our entire media environment, including most books and social media, is to entertain us.
We are no longer a book culture. We are also no information or knowledge society. We are not even a consumer culture anymore. First and foremost, we no longer buy things to own them, we buy things to get distracted from our everyday life. Frankly, to be entertained.
And the majority of our remaining activities, such as internet, television or our entertainment culture, is only for our amusement.
And that is tragic. For us as a human, because we intendedly cut ourselves loose from that beauty. For us as a culture, because society cannot exist like that. But above all, it’s tragic for our children and adolescents, who no longer have the opportunity to be a part of our high culture.
“Everything is contaminated with the spirit of entertainment.” 1
What options do we have to deal with this knowledge? The worst thing would be to believe the two most widespread lies. Either to say that it is not true, because nothing important is changing, after all. Or to say, it is changing, but we’re on our way to a Golden Age.
Because that’s just denying reality.
One thing we might do is to look at the latest brain research results. To see that the brain can be shaped up to old age, depending on what you keep it busy with.
When a culture mainly deals with trivial things, then the mental power of its members decreases.
And that’s why we begin to see problems like a disappearing language and emotional world. In the end, this threatens to ruin our values, our culture and our society.
When we finally realize this, we should start to face the consequences.
If we do not want our culture and society to move into such a negative direction, we must begin to change ourselves.
We have to learn to think differentiated again. We need to develop a rich and accurate language to get back to a richer emotional life.
And that works by first getting back literature to sharpen your mind.
To reacquire our culture. For ourselves, and especially for our children.