Conversation Agent - Valeria Maltoni - Reader's Digest Gets Conversation

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Dante made a choice to use a language, which is different to reducing a language to some arbitrary lowest common denominator!

Heck, English wouldn't exist if it weren't for the various forms of Latin - and a few other languages. This mashup (which would now-a-days be tagged with the useless honorific of "English 2.0", I guess) produced those really odd grammatical rules that pervade the language.

My point is not that a writer should use complex words for the sake of it - that's as bad a habit as using too simple a phrase! My point is that we, as users of this language, shouldn't equate dumbing the language (and therefore the ideas expressed) with being "good". It might be, but it's not an automatic assumption that stands any scrutiny, nor one we should make.

Some writing demands simplicity - a government form, for example. But others demand, require and need a more complex grasp of the language. Richard's "confined industry ecosystem" is one example; if the intent is to explain something to the layperson, fine - introduce the specialized terms, and explain them. The writers' success at this depends entirely on their skill as a writer, which is as it should be. But if the text is to be read, and understood, by other practioners - be as erudite and complex as you need to be!

It's important to resist needless simplicity - an expression of an idea needs to be as simple as it must be, but no simpler. As the famous saying goes! But when we insist on simplicity in the words we use, do we also insist that artists simplify their work - in order that we all have access to their vocabulary? I'd hate to think that society would demand such a thing, but so many do.

This reduction of language is, as far as I can tell, quite a new idea. It has noble goals: letting everyone in on what used to be hidden. I don't think I'm supposed to find any argument in that - and yet I can. When we insist on putting the language into that straitjacket of reduced simplicity, we force ourselves into a context that is alarmingly pliable - I think recent history has demonstrated that with alacrity! Reducing our ability to express ourselves is akin to removing some of that ability.

When we limit our vocabulary - this is required when dumbing things down - we lose an ability to express ourselves. And when we lose that ability, we don't just lose that - we lose poetry, prose and, finally, our ability to explain ourselves. We lose beauty, and we lose the ability to reflect on that beauty.

And that's not something I'm willing to lose!

Carolyn Ann

Let's imagine for a moment that poet and writer Dante Alighieri continued to use the erudite language of his time -- Latin. We could opine that people would have gotten smarter as the language was much richer in terminology and history. Yes?

Never mind that the great majority of people did not know how to read Latin nor could have an education outside the walls of a monastery or a convent. Well you could add the palace of the king and the influential families of the time.

In fact what people did then was speak a language very similar to Latin, a pronunciation of it, what cultured people called "de vulgari eloquentia". The language of the people.

Mr Alighieri, a conservative in liberal times (politically) went ahead and even composed a treatise titled De Vulgari Eloquentia, in Latin. Then he did something that nobody else would have done in his circles.

He wrote what became one of the most important trilogies of our times -- The Comedy (La Divina Commedia). Not only did he write it in the vulgar language, he used a composition style that was common to the non erudite -- the comedy.

He then imbued his opus with information on politics, history (chronicle of the people of his time), philosophy, theology, mathematics, poetry (he maintained rhythmic metrics throughout) and a healthy dose of humor.

Yes, I agree we should aspire to educate, achieve, be inspired and elevate our language to elevate our minds. What if Dante had not composed the Comedy? How many people would have had no access to the richness of the contemporary thinking? Would Italian exist today?

There are many ways to look at an idea.

I couldn't disagree more! Economy of language does not imply that we should limit ourselves to words of two syllables or less!

The clear and concise language that uses complex language is as wonderful as the simple, but equally concise, language others might use to explain something with less complexity than the first part of this sentence. (I just violated that condition...)

It is not the size of the words that's important - it's how we use them!

If you're for the Readers Digest, yes: the size of the words matter, If you're reading Scientific American, they do too. But if you read Shakespeare, well - if you want to prove yourself wrong, read Shakespeare. Or Philip Larkin, or Walt Whitman, or Alan Ginsburg! (Somehow, I just don't see Readers Digest publishing "Howl"; I also quiver at the thought of their editors providing "the RD edition" of that poem. Or of Chaucer - it would be a mealy-mouthed conglomeration of simplistic travel tales. Instead of an epic, we'd get bad snapshots with the heads curtailed.

Understanding an idea simply means that you can communicate it. If you have the ability of a poet or a decent writer, and can turn a neat phrase: you might be able to use simplistic language to describe the idea. But it shouldn't be a precondition, and indeed it is not one, that you must be able to clearly enunciate your thoughts so that the 13 year old can comprehend them! It is up to the 13 year old to elevate themselves to the level where they can understand the idea!

Harumph! Etc.

Carolyn Ann

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