Le bon mot: language and journalism

Tajik authorities to fine journalists who use “incomprehensible” words

 

Frustrated, gentle reader, by the obscurantism of, or perhaps bewildered by, the dazzling erudition of your favourite newspaper’s columnists? Take heart. You have a friend in Imomali Rakhmon, 63-year-old former head of a Soviet cotton farm, who has been reclusive Tajikistan’s president since 1994. A dictator.

The Tajik authorities are set to fine journalists who use “incomprehensible” words, from €90 individually and up to €160 for officials and organisations. “There are cases when journalists use as many as 10 words in one day that the simple reader, viewer or listener cannot comprehend,” Gavhar Sharifzoda, head of the state language committee explains. “This grossly violates the norms of state language.”

In fairness they are less concerned with exposing obfuscation or the concealment of the unacceptable in verbosity (see George Orwell’s fine “Politics and the English Language”), and more with defending their language from the pollution of foreign words, notably Farsi (Iran), Dari (Afghanistan) and Russian. But there is also a strong prescriptive streak – citizens are required in naming children to use Tajik endings (such as “zod”) and to avoid names that “humiliate the honour and dignity of the person”. Inappropriate names include “stone”, “axe” and “wolf”.

Is there a model here for defence of the Irish language by diktat? The closest parallel might be the brave but forlorn attempts by the Académie Française to uphold the integrity of the French language. It publishes online blacklists of the unacceptable and alternatives (for “networking” try “travail en réseau”). And its government in 1994 enacted the Toubon Law which ruled that the language must be used – although not exclusively – in a range of everyday contexts. To little avail.

As for fighting verbosity, perhaps we could introduce a “swear box” to the newsroom where reporters would deposit fines for the use of cliches or obscure words – within weeks we could be funding major infrastructure. Or could the Press Council as part of its remit of improving journalistic standards take on policing excessive verbiage?

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.