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The authorities should not seek to inhibit the evolution of the English language

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 11/21/2011 Category: Society
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,044 times Debate No: 19378
Debate Rounds (2)
Comments (9)
Votes (1)




Here is a an example of the type of conversation you overhear down the pub every day:

"Listen to this, Bob, it says here in the paper that 'when neutrinos created at the Cern facility in Switzerland were sent through hundreds of miles of rock to a giant detector at the INFN-Gran Sasso laboratory in Italy, they arrived 20 billionths of a second faster than light would have done if it had travelled the same distance through a vacuum.' So that proves that the Special Theory of Relativity is gay and that Albert Einstein was a retard, doesn't it?"

"On the contrary, Joe, I read about that experiment in another newspaper and, apparently, the long bunches of neutrinos used could introduce an error into the test and the findings are not proved because only a few facilities worldwide have the detectors needed to catch neutrinos and they have not, independently, confirmed the results. It is my assumption, therefore, that Italian laboratory's equipment is handicapped and the boffins at Cern don't realise that because they are such a bunch of mongs."

"You reckon, do you Bob? And what do you know about sub-atomic particle physics then, you spazz?"

"Not much, Joe, but I do know that Professor Stephen Hawking endorses Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity, so would you call him a spazz as well?"

"No, of course I wouldn't because he actually is a spastic, so that would be very unkind and hurtful."

So what has that dialogue got to do with the price of beer, or indeed, the evolution of the English language?

Well, recently, comedian Ricky Gervais was forced to apologise for using the word 'mong' on his Twitter feed after coming under intense pressure to do so from disability groups and others. (1) The word 'mong' is short for 'Mongoloid' and can be used as a derogatory term for people with Down's Syndrome and may, therefore, have the potential to cause offence to people with that condition, or to those who care for them.

But was Gervais' criticism deserved? I'd say if he was directly mocking the afflicted, then it would have been, but the fact is that he was only using that word to describe normal people who act, or look, a bit like mongs.

Words change their meanings all the time in the English language: 'moron', 'cripple', 'retarded', 'Mongoloid', 'handicapped' and 'spastic' used to be perfectly acceptable in polite society but they took on negative connotations and are now considered offensive in politically correct circles.

Now we are expected to terms such as 'people with restricted mobility' and 'people with learning difficulties' which are much more cumbersome than the terms 'cripples' and 'retards'.

The English language is still evolving and we now see the word 'gay', having first been a synonym for 'happy' often used to mean 'worthless', while it is still being used as a word that refers to homosexual men.

Our manner of speech is not, and has never been, static and authorities such as government departments and charities should not seek to penalise people for keeping abreast with the inexorable evolution of our ever-changing language.

Thank you.



I would like to thank Pro for this debate topic. I will begin with my arguments that the authorities should inhibit the evolution of the English language.


Language: a system of communication by speaking, writing, or making signs in a way that can be understood, or any of the different systems of communication used in particular regions. [1]

Inhibit: to take an action that makes something less likely to happen. [2]

Evolution: a gradual process of change and development. [3]

So to begin, we must understand what the English language is. A language is a system of communication through means of speaking and writing, and the English language is a specific system with defined words, pronunciations, and definitions. In order to facilitate communication, society agrees through various means what words mean, what new words are added to the language, and what meanings need to be changed.

The standard for word meanings in the English language is provided by dictionaries. While definitions vary slightly from dictionary to dictionary, the basic meaning of words can easily be established. For purposes of this argument, I will use the Cambridge Online Dictionary, which can be read in British or American English. When Cambridge University Press(CUP) undergoes the task of defining words, they use the Cambridge International Corpus[4], which is an extremely large collection of word usage in different forms, in both speech and writing. CUP uses the most general and widely used meanings of any given word as the definition.

Now, for a living, changing language like English, this means that new words can be added to the dictionary, and new meanings for words can be added as well, if they are used in that context in a wide enough scope as to be 'generally understood'. This is the basic process of an evolving language.

Why then, should authorities inhibit the evolution of the English Language? There are several reasons, but first we must examine the meaning of 'inhibit'. "Inhibit: to take an action that makes something less likely to happen." Notice that the resolution is not 'The authorities should not seek to prevent the evolution of the English language'.

Therefore, any actions that make it less likely for the language to evolve, in any way, fulfill the meaning of inhibit.

Now let us consider an example from Pro's argument. We will use the word 'retarded'. When a large enough group of people start to use the word 'retarded' as an insult to people, it becomes an issue for that society. Authorities in government or special interest groups can step in and make a statement about the word, and state that it is better to use the term 'people with learning difficulties' in order to prevent conflict. This can be taken as an inhibition to the natural usage of the word 'retarded' by authorities, but causes no harm and helps to maintain a stable society.

Similarly, Dictionaries can include notations about word usage to inhibit their usage, due to the sensitivities to the words. For example, the Cambridge Online Dictionary defines retarded as "having a slower mental development than other people of the same age", but includes a note stating "Because "retarded" has sometimes been used as an insult, the term is now less often used to describe people with slow mental development."[5] This action by CUP can prevent people from using the word who might have used it otherwise, and that is a contributing factor to inhibiting what otherwise would be the natural evolution of the English language.

I propose that political authorities, and authorities in charge of studying and providing common definitions for words, should implement measures to inhibit the evolution of the English language when such evolution starts leading toward areas that cause difficulty in society. Once again, I am not arguing that authorities should prevent evolution of language, but to take action that makes something less likely to happen when it leads to strife.

Again, I thank Pro for this debate topic and await my opponent's response.

Debate Round No. 1


I would like to thank Con for accepting this debate challenge and confirm that I agree with his definitions. However, I would like to add one more:

Retard - verb, to make something slower

My opponent made a clear distinction between "inhibit" and "prevent" evolution of English in his rebuttal and I am happy to argue on that basis since this was part of my resolution.

Before I address his argument directly, however, please imagine you are the Speaker (chairperson) of a parliamentary assembly and a Member of the Opposition is addressing the House:

"This nation's economy is severely handicapped by the cost of unemployment. The billions being paid to jobless people in welfare benefits, put together with the reduction in income tax receipts, is crippling the public finances. It is vital, therefore, that we do all we can to retard the growth of unemployment. That's why the Government's proposal to lay off hundreds of thousands of public sector workers at this critical time is so utterly moronic."

At this juncture a Member from the Government benches jumps up and shrieks:

"Mr Speaker! My son has severe restricted mobility issues and profound learning difficulties and I strongly object to the honourable gentleman's use of the verbs 'handicap', 'cripple' and 'retard', together with his use of the adjective form of the word 'moron'. I find the use of these words highly offensive and I demand the honourable gentleman withdraws his remarks forthwith."

As the Speaker of the House, how would you respond?

A – "Your objection is unreasonable, Madam, the honourable Member was clearly referring to the economy and not to your son, so the use of these words, given the context, should not be considered offensive."

B – "Your objection is a reasonable one, Madam, the words the honourable Member used were ill-advised and divisive; they have the potential to cause conflict and, in the interests of maintaining a stable society, I insist that he duly withdraws his remarks as the honourable lady requests."

I leave this decision to you but I would choose option A, and I politely invite my opponent to choose an option, or provide his own option C in the next round.

My point is that certain individuals and organisations feel entitled to bully people into refraining from using words they consider offensive, even when they are used out of the context where they may cause offence.

Of course, if somebody wheeled a physically and mentally disabled person in wheelchair into a pub and the landlord said: "Sorry, I'm going to have to ask you to leave, we don't serve spastics here", he should, quite rightly be admonished for his unsympathetic views and, moreover, his crass use of an outdated term for people with disabilities, but if he referred to one of the regular punters who, say, had spilt his pint over himself, as a "spastic", then that remark should not attract criticism.

Thank you.


I thank Pro for this debate and his arguments, it has been intriguing.

As to Pro's question on how I would respond in this situation, I would respond with an option 'C'. The message can easily be amended to have the same meaning without using terms that can be considered offensive, and the honourable Member meant no disrespect.

After all, a society must try to work together in unity for the best results. Any strife only removes a society from it's full potential. Authorities who provide dictionary definitions can include simple notes, as I have shown previously, making people aware that a term is generally considered offensive. These notes will help prevent people who would have unknowingly used the word otherwise. This action of creating a note serves to inhibit the evolution of English by encouraging someone to use a different, non-offensive word.

Similarly, if a group comes up with a derogatory term for a group of individuals, it would be in the best interest of society to attempt to inhibit that natural evolution by discouraging use of that word. In some cases, words become so inflammatory that they are associated with hate crimes and extreme violence.

So in conclusion, I assert that authorities should seek to inhibit the evolution of the English language anytime such evolution starts leading toward conflict in society.
Debate Round No. 2
9 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 9 records.
Posted by Kid-with-power112 2 years ago
I'm sorry for who voted that we should improve our language when we as humans haven't yet learned mere "basics". I was in my English class today which is a 9th grade class, and students didn't understand basics that we learned years ago. If we were to go through process which evolutionise our language we should first try and master the language we have now.
Posted by vmpire321 2 years ago
I wish i could vote...But i have yet to complete 3 debates...
Posted by brian_eggleston 2 years ago
No, thank you - your arguments were balanced and sensible - I had great difficulty in addressing them. I hope we can debate again sometime.
Posted by TheTruthAnalyst 2 years ago
Thanks for the debate Brian, I had a feeling of 'what did I get myself into' when I accepted :D
Posted by brian_eggleston 2 years ago
Thanks! There are only two rounds so please dispense with the formalities and get stuck in!
Posted by TheTruthAnalyst 2 years ago
I'll take you up on it, is the first round for my initial argument?
Posted by brian_eggleston 2 years ago
@ Caveat: Cheers!

@ The Truth Analyst: Because this is an international site, I try to make my arguments as broad as possible, so as to avoid debates about constitutions and national legislation, although I do take your point. I would hope that my opponent would argue on a similarly broad basis.
Posted by TheTruthAnalyst 2 years ago
I would be worried about the effects of different cultures and governments on the outcome of this debate. English can be divided into American and British(or whatever the proper term is). Different governments can handle situations differently. Committees that decide proper definitions could work differently...

I'm tempted to take you up but I don't know what impact that would have on the debate(I'm new to formal debate and unaware of many of the intricacies).
Posted by caveat 2 years ago
Why do I always find myself unconditionally agreeing with all your resolutions? .__.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Maikuru 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: This was an interesting one. Both sides had a solid foundation: inhibiting language disrupts its natural course and speakers vs. inhibiting language is necessary for ideal social functioning. The issue is that neither side really addressed the point of the other. The second round was used more as a time to reiterate and reword initial arguments than to counter the opposition. As both views are understandable, arguments are a tie. All other categories were fine for both sides.