Language is a critical tool for communication among humans; we cry “watch out” when a speeding car hurtles toward a pedestrian. We also think of language as a cognitive tool for society at large, since all human learning is closely tied to how we learn and process language.
Yet sometimes we forget language is also an important social and cultural institution. And like all institutions, it is subject to corruption, in the form of capture by elites with agendas quite contrary to those of average people. Since language shapes our understanding of all human interactions, academics from all disciplines—but particularly social scientists—ought to pay more attention to linguistic corruption. When language becomes politicized, managed, and policed, we ought to notice, and we ought to fight back.
I make this very point in an upcoming article titled “Evolution or Corruption: The Imposition of Political Language in the West Today,” which will be published this fall in the Italian journal Etica e politica (put out by the University of Trieste Department of Philosophy). The article argues that top-down impositions, rather than natural evolution, often drive changes in language. It analogizes the linguistic “marketplace” with the market for goods and services. Impositions are akin to central planning, while evolution is akin to spontaneous order in the marketplace. The former occurs when elites in politics, media, journalism, and academia attempt to influence both the words we use and the meaning of those words. This is invariably in service of a statist agenda, just as economic interventions serve preferred interests at the expense of overall wealth and efficiency. The constant use and repetition of the word “gender” (a term relating to grammar) when we should use “sex” is one obvious example of imposed, corrupted language in service of a political agenda (trans). By contrast, the Middle English “whilst” sounds odd to our ear today—having naturally evolved into “while” without obvious or heavy-handed direction.
The great Spanish Austro-libertarian economist Jesús Huerta de Soto applies Carl Menger’s theory on the evolution of money to language: