The average intelligence quotient (IQ) of individuals worldwide increased during the post WW2 period until the end of the 1990s; however, over recent few years it has noticeably declined. Using what is called the Flynn effect; matrices measure a rise of 14 IQ points from 1942 to 2008. The level of intelligence measured by testing appears to have particularly decreased in the most developed countries. There are many possible reasons for this happening. One factor may be what is considered to be impoverishment of language. Recent studies have revealed a marked decrease in lexical knowledge that is not only a reduction of personal vocabulary, but also in subtleties in languages that allow people to process and formulate complex thought. Electronic media, especially social media imposing word limits, have been very much implicated.

One visible symptom of this decrease has been the slow but sure disappearance of parts of grammar, including the conjunctive, thus ‘and’, ‘but’, ‘f’, etc; the imperfect, composite forms of future and past participles giving rise to thoughts that are almost always in the present, incapable of projection in time, somehow limited to the moment when they are spoken. However, this may partially be because of simplified classroom instruction, such phenomena as the disappearance of use of capital letters and, in some cases, almost entirely absent punctuation that are examples of damage done to the precision and diversity of expression. Using fewer words and less conjugated verbs carries with it the implication that individuals have less ability to express emotions and reduced ability to process a thought. A number of studies have shown that part of increased violence in public and private spheres comes directly from the inability to describe emotions through words with which we construct reasoning. The poorer the language, the more thought disappears and history is rich in examples including books such as Georges Orwell’s ‘1984’ and Ray Bradbury’s ‘Fahrenheit 451’ that told how totalitarian regimes suppressed thought, through reduction of the number and sense of words. Instead they used psychological and physical violence.

If there are no thoughts, there is no critical thinking. It is the turnaround of the Flynn effect that was never really anticipated. In his appendix on language in the fictional world of ‘1984’, Orwell explained: ‘Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism.’ Using ‘Newspeak’ as a metaphor for what is happening, it appears to have been devised for the purpose of thought control. By reducing modern language or ‘Oldspeak’ to a useful minimum, dispensing with verb tense irregularities and syntactical complexity, thus reducing word choice, it is destroying the ambiguity of language, consequently being used to reduce the diversity of human thought. In ‘1984’ people had not yet adopted Newspeak as the single means of communication, however the plan was that by 2050 Oldspeak would be made totally obsolete. One of the objectives was to make observation of people far easier and by reducing sophisticated thought also lessen the likelihood of resistance and rebellion.

At present we are finding out about the close observation of journalists using spyware. One can very easily read into that the likelihood that by making investigative journalism more difficult and supplanting it with banal ‘Newspeak’ reporting will serve the ends of political powers. If people are no longer well informed, they will also say and think less about things critically. Orwell and Bradbury warned us, now it is upon us.

Brian Milne
A Social anthropologist who specialises in the human rights of children. In practice Brian Milne has worked on the street with 'street children', child labour, young migrants, young people with HIV and AIDS. Brian’s work has taken him to around 40 countries, most of them developing nations; at least four of them have been in a state of conflict or war, thus taking him to the front line in two. Brian’s theoretical work began with migration; working on, written and publishing on citizenship and generally best known as an 'expert' on the human rights of children. Brian has a broad knowledge of human and civil rights for all ages, environmental issues and has been politically active most of his life. An internationalist and supporter of the principle of European federalisation.

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