The Merit of Idiom Complexity

As students of European schools, we are confronted with an incredible number of languages, all unique and complex. While trying to learn a lot of them, we end up speaking multiple languages imperfectly. Thus, we are unable to completely grasp their nuances and specificities. Many times we lack grammatical knowledge. How many times have you heard students complaining about the German grammar or the French spelling? Isn’t it easy to understand this frustration when even native speakers struggle with their mother tongue, when there are seventeen ways to spell the same sound (e.g. the sound “s” in French), or when there are more exceptions than rules?   

So, what is the solution? Should languages be reviewed, and should the rules be flexible? After all, languages have suffered multiple modifications throughout time. They are constantly being used and changed, adopting different connotations in each mouth. It wouldn’t be the first time a language changes to adapt to new times. If the grammar of an idiom can be changed to become more inclusive and gender-neutral, couldn’t it be done simply to make life easier for all its locutors? It is an appealing idea…  

But if we did this, wouldn’t we lose this diversity we are so fond of? If we simplify grammar and spelling, what will stop us from simplifying adjectives? Won’t this take to reducing the number of redundant forms that make up for linguistic diversity? If we limit vocabulary, won’t we lose literature and poetry, and with them, art itself?

I can’t stop thinking about George Orwell’s novel, “1984″, in which “Newspeak” is utilized. It is a controlled language, with straightforward grammar and basic vocabulary, designed by “Ingsoc” (English Socialism).  Its purpose is to limit people’s ability to think critically. Without the necessary terms, it is impossible to express certain ideas. Therefore, one is unable to show disagreement, and see the truths beyond what is being presented.

I’m not saying this nightmare scenario would forcefully come true. Reducing the complexity of languages might be a good idea, perhaps even a necessary development. But we must keep in mind that it is a dangerous road to take, where proceeding with care is essential.   

By Elsa Godinho de Matos