D. Bryan Schaeffer 12/8/14
“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” George Orwell, 1984 • On university campuses and elsewhere nationwide, the millennial generation uses linguistic expressions in English that are foreign to this author’s youthful (and now not so youthful) embrace of the study of both spoken and visual (artistic) languages. When examining grammatical rules, memorizing definitions and conjugative tenses, and applying a certain level of practical experience to the usefulness of verbal communication, the supposed fixed meanings of the learned words inculcate in the fledgling speaker (or writer or reader) a nuanced comprehension of the culture that utilizes the language. Even though specific aspects of languages change and shift over time, the underlying structural components remain the same; meaning, the significance of a culture’s identity inheres in the quotidian framework of language and its concomitant understood definitions as attested to by the timeless application of agreed upon core regulative linguistic rules.
Recently I have heard myriad undergraduate students in multiple campus settings unthinkingly change the meanings of heretofore agreed upon definitional words, thereby altering the very substance of cultural parameters and dynamics. The now banal and inexcusably misused phrases “I killed it,” “I crushed it,” “I win” (when no game is being played) and other immature expressions (such as the inexplicable, unfathomable, and unconscionable “I raped it”) have indelibly impacted the deleterious manner in which the millennial generation is verbally transforming our culture. For definitions to not only change the words we use but also the meanings attached to them, the seed of cultural doubt and derision must be planted and subsequently cultivated through a determined process of the symbolic transference of rhetorical association (read: the sour and spoiled fruits of government takeover of our educational system).[pullquote]As J.K. Rowling wrote in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: “Anyone can speak Troll. All you have to do is point and grunt.” But we, you see, ought not attempt to be trolls.[/pullquote]
Confucius once stated “If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.” This quotation, and the universal truths underscored by the philosopher’s perspicacious employment of language itself, axiomatically produces an expressive panoply of morally indispensable and anciently known correctives to the deterioration of civilization. Namely, that language is primary and therefore ought not be incorrect; that the words we utilize carry weight because, by their agreed upon and traditionally sourced definition, they are imbued by and embedded with the cultural codes of our civil social order.
In a generational difference highlighted not only by the wrinkles established on my face but by the wrinkles now encroaching upon the very wires of our linguistic interchanges, the millennials brazenly believe in their distortion of language or simply ignore it. Their denigration of our once verbally masterful expedition into the higher realms of creative linguistic expression through the use of pitiful phraseologies like “I killed it,” demonstrates a lack of educational erudition as well as an emptying of cultural meaning that used to elevate both individuals and groups of people.
To self-satisfyingly state “I crushed it,” within the context of scoring well on an examination or performing wonderfully in athletics, signals a salient ingredient in the current millennial milieu, which is really a persistent mindset of rhapsodizing about completed mundane activities as ontologically superior in their very fruition. When receiving a stellar grade for a presentation or test, which is truly the accepted expectation of most college classes nowadays, many millennials boast of the result. This reactive and narcissistic centering of self in front of others dovetails with another favored locution: “I win.” To witness this simple dyadic expression, this infantile linguistic composition uttered from twenty-five year olds is a veritable nightmare, a cultural mirror reflecting the progress of our communicative regression.
In the postmodern milieu of relativism and the shifting sands of signification in action, meaning, and language, the millennial generation thrives. Unfortunately, this heralds a disturbing view of tomorrow’s horizon, of the possible beauty, education, and intelligible definitions that point to the good, the right, and the true of our civilizational antecedents. It also indicates that as our language is denigrated, so is our culture. Our identity is inextricably intertwined with our linguistic choices! What we write and say produces the dynamic cultural process of self-imposed boundaries that define not only who we are, but who we desire to become. As J.K. Rowling wrote in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: “Anyone can speak Troll. All you have to do is point and grunt.” But we, you see, ought not attempt to be trolls. In order for our civilization to not only survive in the present but thrive in the future, the language with which we trace our very humanity will frame the identifiable characteristics of our aspirational advances as a nation, as a culture, and as individuals.
D. Bryan Schaeffer is currently a PhD candidate in Art History at The Florida State University in Tallahassee, Florida. His areas of interest are the visual cultures of ancient Mesoamerica and the indigenous languages of Mexico and Guatemala. • (1199 views)