Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Politics and Grammar

Language and government often make a very sensitive mix. After all, within our own lifetime we have seen plenty of political interference in the way people communicate. In the U.S.A. what qualifies as "appropriate language" as well as the level of restriction put on words that fall afoul of that standard can be viewed as a barometer of which way the conservative - liberal balance is tipping. Elsewhere in the world we have seen provinces and even whole nations try to impose linguistic restrictions in an attempt to preserve the "integrity" of their native tongue. Such laws, often very appropriately referred to as "language fascism", tend to be absurd at best and hypocritical at worst.

Well, now Brazil has gone and taken the proverbial cake. In a bizarre twist one would expect to find in The Onion rather than Bloomberg, the governor of the Federal District (i.e. the capital city of Brasilia) has officially banned a verb form, specifically the present participle, from government use. (Sitting here typing, it is occurring to me that some of you may not be recalling what a present participle is. Broadly speaking, being the nice guy that I am, amusing though it may be, I'm providing a telling link here.) To quote him:

``The present participle is hereby fired from all federal district entities,'' the governor wrote in a decree posted on the government's Web site last night. ``As of today, it is forbidden as an excuse for INEFFICIENCY.''

Apparently politicians in Brazil are notorious for linking endless participle phrases in government documents as a way of hiding what it is they truly want to say. It is effectively grammatical double-speak, or grammatical camouflage. It also leads to pages and pages of unnecessary discourse. Therefore, to increase efficiency and reduce costs, the governor wants to do away with the abused grammar form.

Now, that's really looking out for the public interest! After all, clearly another potential fringe benefit of the ban is increased academic performance in Brazilian schools (Wow! That's a lot of schools!)(WHAP) since it means one less complicated grammar rule for kids to worry about. Maybe the U.S. should take a lesson from this!

Speaking of which, if you had the authority to do so, which grammar rule would you ban? As for me, I think I would get rid of particle phrases (not to mention rhetorical parentheses).

9 comments:

ladybug said...

I specifically remember during the Reagan administration that FBI/CIA reports changed their vocabulary:

"Kill/Killing" was replaced with "involuntary deprivation of life"

Yea, when you can double-speak around death, you know your near the bottom the slippery slope my friend!

When corporate speak is used to justify war, torture and an endless money train, it just doesn't sound so bad now does it?

DewKid said...

I hate word "the". This is singlemost annoying word in dictionary.

Don Snabulus said...

One day, President Bush convened a meeting of his staff regarding the War in Iraq. When all had gathered, Bush looked at his advisors and said, "Well, how are things going?"

One staffer spoke up and said, "Mr. President, there have been casualties from our coalition forces. Two Brazilians died in battle, sir."

President Bush seemed crestfallen. He shook his head and exclaimed, "This is terrible! However, their lives shall not be in vain. I do have one question for you as we contemplate this tragic news."

The advisor replied, "Yes, sir. What is it?"

The President locked eyes with the advisor and asked, "Just how many is a brazillion?"

Pandabonium said...

This is a fascinating law, but I am thinking it only applies to government documents, and that is making perfect sense to me. If nothing else, it will be cutting down on the amount of paper being used.

But those tree-hugging, latte-drinking, sushi-eating, Blue RAV4-driving academics out there will probably be disagreeing with me.

Overdroid said...

I am thinking. . .

How about an end to having a war against anything other than a country? No more War on Drugs, War on Christmas, War on Terror?

All names of bills must be descriptions of the bills. The Patriot act would be called the "restriction of freedoms to make us safer bill."

Replace "family values" with "closeted-homosexual."

That about covers it.

Maximilian Strange said...

I actually wrote a bit of legislation. It was ignored, perhpas because either the idea was to radical, or I wrote it in plain english.

DewKid said...

This is what happens when you accidentally leave a word out of a bill:

Arkansas Law allows Toddlers to Marry

The Moody Minstrel said...

Ladybug
I once wrote a letter to the student newspaper at Oregon State concerning that very topic. It wound up in a national college newsletter, and I got paid for it!

Dewkid
As long as you don't say "it". Oops, I said "it"! I said "it" again!
Ni!

Snabulus
That reminds me of the news story not long ago of a plane crash in which about 70 Brazilian people died. I didn't think planes could carry that many!

Pandabonium
Regarding what you have just said, considering the circumstances, allowing for error, denying nothing, admitting nothing, neither interpolating nor extrapolating, fitting, as it were, between the heres and the nows, arriving at the most plausible and least inane conclusion, I don't remember what I was going to say.

Overdroid
Just don't! Whatever it is you're doing, just don't!

Maximilian
Of course, there's also the possibility that they just said, "Who is this guy?" and filed your piece of legislation with all the thousands if not millions of letters they probably get every year.

Dewkid
It looks more like they added an extra word, but I see your point.

Momo the Wonder Dog said...

Hey Moody, those Brazillions, uh Brazilians, can have the whole "proverbial cake" if they want to take it. I'll take a slice of Ladybug's Pumpkin Spice Cake myself!
:-p