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?