Friday, December 5, 2014

Profanity and Fanny

Profanity and Fanny Comment Political parties shouldn't ...
6 mins ago - Profanity and Fanny Comment Political parties shouldn't lower the bar any further Hindustan Times December 05, 2014 First Published: 20:59 IST(5/12/2014) Last ...

Political parties shouldn't lower the bar any further
Hindustan Times
December 05, 2014
First Published: 20:59 IST(5/12/2014)
Last Updated: 21:05 IST(5/12/2014)

The power of rhetoric over politics appears to be little understood by our political class. So we see the unsavoury spectacle of West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee making rude allusions about bamboo sticks and a BJP minister Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti talking about illegitimate and legitimate sons in a bid to ascertain people’s loyalties. While these careless words can be dismissed as the ravings of an emotional person in the first instance and those of a ‘village woman’ as a party leader described her, in the second, they have the potential to inflame passions and cause divisions among people. It was today, 22 years ago, that a cataclysmic event took place that was to change Indian society and politics forever — the demolition of the Babri masjid. And it was another sadhvi, Uma Bharti, now a minister in the NDA government, who uttered the fateful words, “Ek dhakka aur do, Babri masjid tod doh” as she urged Kar sevaks enraged by religious zeal to destroy the historical mosque. She has, however, denied saying this. Since then, of course, there have been several such remarks which have unwittingly or deliberately incited passions, many of them from Right-wing elements.

The latest round of public abuse from our elected functionaries suggests that discourse today is more invective and devoid of any substance. For the NDA minister to say that Sadhvi Jyoti is a village woman is to insult village women, hardly any of whom would consider using such foul language. In the case of Ms Bharti, her reported words were taken with utmost seriousness from those gathered in Ayodhya. In fact, it almost seemed that those who brought the masjid down had official sanction, something the BJP and its fringe affiliates have yet to live down. In the case of the West Bengal chief minister, such language is par for the course. Such language may be befitting a street corner ruffian, but not the chief minister of a state. The use of reason and logic seems to have taken a backseat today with parties deliberately wheeling out provocative leaders like Sadhvi Jyoti to grab attention during elections. Little wonder then that such people think they can continue with their inflammatory rhetoric during the normal course of events. The calls for her resignation are not entirely misplaced if the Modi government wants to demonstrate that it will spare no culprit, particularly since she has embarrassed her own party.

All parties should adopt a zero-tolerance stance on abusive and divisive language. They should make it clear that such rhetoric has no place in a civilised polity. The aim should be to raise the bar on public discourse, not lower it any more than it has already been.

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    But there’s more. Each new iteration of a language, each new hybrid,
    creates a new culture, representative of a new era, which is turn
    produces new types of knowledge and new bodies of literature, music and
    art. Thus is the resilience of language and by association, human
    nature. In 2009, Chinese censorship of vulgar online content led to the
    creation of the Grass-Mud Horse meme, a term which sounds almost
    identical in Chinese to “fuck your mother”. A lexicon of
    censorship-circumventing euphemisms and homonyms soon followed. While
    this sort of resistance discourse is praiseworthy, it’s a sorry state of
    affairs to be in in the first place. The impact of today’s swearing ban
    is yet to be seen, but if Russia’s musicians are anything to go by,
    they won’t stand by in silence. “If they ban mat totally, what else is
    there left for us to do?” said Sergei Shnurov, frontman of rock band and
    swearing powerhouse Leningrad. “We’ll just have to fuck on the stage.”
    Maryam Omidi


    Despite the wealth of other languages in Russia, for the majority of
    the populace, it’s the Russian language that’s an indispensable part of
    their identity. With 58% of Crimea’s population identifying as ethnic
    Russians, Ukrainian repression of Russian culture and language was one
    of the justifications put forward for the annexation of the peninsula
    this March. Equating the Russian language with Russian identity is,
    however, a fallacy; Kazakhstan offers an example of a country where
    Russian is an official language and widely spoken but the majority of
    the population is ethnically Kazakh and identifies as such.
    “If they ban mat totally, what else is there left for us to do? We’ll just have to fuck on the stage”
    Then there’s a second point of tension. On the one hand, the desire
    to preserve languages and their cultural heritage is a highly
    commendable endeavour — it is the reason why languages such as Manx,
    Livonian and Cornish have been brought back from the brink of
    extinction. But so too is seeing beauty in the evolution of living
    languages. This turns Whorfian philosophy on its head by demonstrating
    that thought too can shape language. Don’t have a word for a new
    concept? That’s okay, because you can create one. It is this mutable
    nature of language that makes it so poetic whether those changes come in
    the form of coinages, portmanteaus, bastardisations or, even loanwords,
    a fact that drives purists mad. English has certainly been enriched by
    words borrowed from other cultures, including Russian — just think of
    apparatchik, tsar, bolshy, pogrom, gulag and pavlova. For its part,
    Russian has appropriated thousands of Turkic, French and German words.
    Each new word encapsulates a very precise cultural reference and imparts
    a greater level of nuance to the language which it slips into. To cite
    Mark Twain this is important because, “The difference between the right
    word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a
    lightning bug.”

  • Our use of language is deeply political. It’s the difference in
    language between the Obama government’s Countering Violent Extremism and
    the Bush administration’s War on Terror, which essentially refer to the
    same thing. With regards to Russia’s pivot towards language, there a
    several points of tension. Firstly, the very critics who are quick to
    decry acts such as a ban on English loan words as nationalist or even
    xenophobic are often the same people who lament the homogenisation that
    comes with globalisation. The defence of one appears to be acceptable
    and the other not, even though the sentiments behind protecting one’s
    own culture — be it language or your local butcher — can often emerge
    from the same place.
    The fact is that the world’s languages are disappearing and fast; the
    oft-cited figure is at a rate of one every two weeks. With each one, a
    culture is lost along with its customs, its ways of seeing the world,
    its humour. Yet what’s tragic about Russia’s rhetoric regarding language
    preservation is that it doesn’t extend to the others in danger of
    extinction on its territory. According to the UNESCO Atlas of the
    World’s Languages in Danger, there are more than 100 languages in Russia
    that are vulnerable, definitely endangered, severely endangered or
    critical endangered. Most of these are in Siberia and the Caucasus. Many
    are at death’s door because of government neglect, others because of
    the supremacy — not of English — but of another language closer to home:

  • “Equating the Russian language with Russian identity is a fallacy”
    Anyone who’s read George Orwell’s 1984 will be well versed in the
    politics of language. Real-life attempts to limit language can often
    seem to resemble Orwell’s fictional tongue Newspeak — in essence a
    mind-control tool designed to restrict free thinking. The idea of
    language shaping opinion can be traced back to American linguist
    Benjamin Lee Whorf, who, in the early 20th century, proposed that
    language preceded thought. According to this model, the grammar and
    vocabulary of a certain language determines its speakers’ cognition and
    behaviour. Although, Whorf’s claims have been largely debunked — his
    theorising about Native Americans’ conception of time has been shown to
    be well wide of the mark — his ideas have experienced something of a
    renaissance in recent years, albeit without such dramatic claims. Unlike
    Whorf, contemporary researchers no longer think that if a concept is
    non-existent in a certain language then speakers will be unable to grasp
    it. It is, however, widely accepted that language effects one’s
    perception of the world. For example, some languages such as Guugu
    Yimithirr, spoken by Australian aboriginals, use cardinal points (north,
    south, east, west) instead of terms such as “left” and “right” when it
    comes to directions. As a result, speakers of these languages have
    developed an almost compass-like set of cognitive skills when it comes
    to navigation.

  • Russian poet Alexander Pushkin is known for his liberal use of swearwords
    The professed thinking behind the law is that such a ban will not
    only ennoble Russian culture but also position Russia as the antithesis
    of the decadent west. A ban on foreign words meanwhile can be seen as a
    form of linguistic protectionism, intended to safeguard Russian culture
    from external influences, thereby helping advance Putin’s second pillar
    of nationalism.
    Russia is certainly not the first country to react defensively to the
    hegemony of English. Last year, French philosopher Michel Serres called
    on his fellow citizens to go on strike in protest against the
    “invasion” of English words. This March, Gambian president Yahya Jammeh
    announced plans to throw off the shackles of the colonial past by
    discontinuing the use of English as an official language. Because of
    what it represents — imperialism — the dominance of the English language
    is a sore point for many across the globe.

  • Avatar

    From 1 July 2014, the words khuy (cock), pizda (cunt), yebat (to
    fuck) and blyad (whore) — a smutty quartet known as mat — will be banned
    from use in the arts in Russia. Violators of the law face fines of
    between $70 and $1,400 depending on whether they’re an individual, an
    official or an organisation. This isn’t the first time that the state
    has intervened in this manner — the Soviets too attempted to dispense
    with foul language to preserve the beauty of Russian. Add to this law a
    legislative debate in the Duma on banning foreign, mainly English,
    loanwords last month, as well as a crackdown on independent media, and
    you start to sense the presence of a much more pernicious effort to
    restrict both information and language.
    Together, the law on profanity and the bill on foreign words serve as
    a two-pronged attempt to cleanse the Russian language in order to
    ensure its “purity”, a moral crusade that dovetails with President
    Vladimir Putin’s ideological hopes to create a “national and spiritual
    identity” for Russia. Now in his third term, Putin is hard at work on
    his legacy. Within Russia this meant the adoption of a culturally
    conservative stance and a raft of regressive laws such as the
    criminalisation of “gay propaganda”. In foreign policy terms, the most
    obvious manifestation was the annexation of Crimea, a move which has
    seen his rating skyrocket at home.
    With the ban on swearing, which includes books, film, music, theatre
    and popular blogs, Putin has the spiritual side of things covered. Films
    containing expletives won’t receive general distribution, and copies of
    DVDs, books or CDs will come sealed and labelled as obscene. Yet the
    law is so hazily worded that it is not known which cursewords are out
    and which are in — what counts as profane will be determined by an
    expert panel, making effing and blinding a risky business. The loss will
    be felt. Swearing in Russian is a linguistically productive exercise;
    by applying prefixes, infixes, suffixes and different combinations of
    the four words, khuy, pizda, blyad and yebat can be used to express
    pretty much anything, and in a surprisingly eloquent manner.

  • Profanity, purity and politics — the battle for the Russian language
    A law banning swear words in the arts in Russia has come into effect in July 2014. Maryam Omidi discusses the implications.

  • In general, censorship in India, which involves the suppression of speech or other public communication, raises issues of freedom of speech, which is nominally protected by the Indian constitution.
    The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of expression but places certain restrictions on content, with a view towards maintaining communal and religious harmony, given the history of communal tension in the nation.[1]
    According to the Information Technology Rules 2011, objectionable content includes anything that “threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order".[2] Analysts from Reporters Without Borders rank India 131st in the world in terms in their Press Freedom Index,[3] falling from 80th just 11 years earlier.[4] In 2011, the report Freedom in the World by Freedom House gave India a political rights rating of 2, and a civil liberties rating of 3, earning it the designation of free.[5] The rating scale runs from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free).

    Source: HT

    ...and I am Sid Harth

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