We’re All Bilingual Now

Call it the new bilingualism.

“Bilingual” has traditionally referred to languages that are distinct. English and French, for example, are clearly distinct languages, although they are structured to refer to the same thing. “Paper” and “papier,” though representing different languages, both refer to the same sheet to which I am now applying my pen.

In the new bilingualism, things are reversed — each language employs the same words, but to refer to different things. Obviously, this can be most confusing, and great effort must be taken in order to get a handle on this novel way of speaking.

The two languages employed by the bilingualism for the 21st century are “Oldspeak” and “Newspeak.” Whereas they use exactly the same words, their meanings are radically different. Failure to understand the subtle dynamics of this bilingualism can prove very costly. Let us consider a few examples:

In Oldspeak, the words “marriage” and “wedding” reliably referred to the union of a man and a woman. It was understandable, therefore, that the Knights of Columbus of Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, being stuck in the semantics of Oldspeak, did not realize what they were doing in late 2005 when the rented their hall to two lesbians for a “wedding.”

When they discovered what “wedding” meant in Newspeak, they canceled the booking. The women responded by taking legal action, which led to the British Columbia Human Rights Commission seeing fit to fine the Knights $2,000. K of C members throughout the country have now learned an important word in Newspeak, though this appears to be an expensive way of adding to one’s vocabulary.

Failure to keep pace with ever-expanding Newspeak can also prove fatal. “Dignity” in Oldspeak referred to an intrinsic and irremovable value of the human being, perhaps one of even divine origin. Its presence served as a powerful moral opposition to using a human being as a means to an end.

In Newspeak, “dignity” is used as a rhetorical ploy to rationalize putting people to death. In this way, the meaning of “dignity” has shifted from being a divine quality to a death sentence. Presumably, it is better to put an end to a person’s life while he still has dignity, rather than to wait until it has disappeared.

The arrival of new reproductive technologies has dramatically altered the meanings of “mother,” “father,” and “parent.” A “mother” may be the genetic mother, the gestational mother, the rearing mother, or a co-mother. Fatherhood ranges from the anonymous sperm donor to the stay-at-home dad who raises his wife’s children from a former marriage.

“Reproductive freedom” does not signify the freedom to reproduce whenever one desires. Rather, it refers to the alleged right to murder an unborn child whenever one desires. It is a one-way freedom and is completely dissociated from the traditional notion of responsibility.

“Birth control” no longer has anything to do with either “birth” or “control.” Closer to its Newspeak meaning is the idea that if people have been sexually out of control, they have a right to prevent birth. The novel meaning for “adult” is closer to “immature.” “Gay” does not mean “cheerful,” and “homophobia” — objecting to, but not participating in homoerotic activities — is a sickness.

Human life no longer begins at fertilization. When sperm penetrates egg, what is formed thereby is not a human embryo, but a “pre-embryo,” something that does not belong to any species classification, an utterly unique phenomenon in the world of taxonomy. The “pre-embryo,” therefore, may be raided with impunity and without qualms of conscience for its valuable stem cells.

A person is no longer communal, with a set of moral responsibilities to others. His Newspeak counterpart is the free-wheeling individual who has a right to do pretty much whatever he or she pleases (except to employ “exclusive language”). Humanism ceases to include God and concentrates solely on man. Its Newspeak form is purged of what is presumed to be an image of divine oppression.

In Oldspeak, “education” was regarded as the progression of the mind from the unclear to the clear. In Newspeak, the movement is from the clear to the unclear. Newspeak, in general, has traded the “I ought” for the “I want.”

Newspeak is Oldspeak out of focus, as if opticians had fitted people possessed with good vision with eyewear that made them myopic. Fuzzy thinking is the hallmark of the individual who remains open-minded.

Being bilingual in the 21st century is challenging. Oldspeak and Newspeak people tend to segregate and speak only to themselves. But their paths do cross and when they do, it becomes a matter of vital importance for Oldspeak people to have mastered the new bilingualism. Newspeak people, on the other hand, want to destroy Oldspeak, though they are finding insuperable obstacles that are preventing them from realizing such ambitions.

Those who learn to be bilingual for the 21st century will realize that the same word cannot be used realistically in a contradictory manner. Inevitably, they will turn to reality itself to resolve their conundrums.

Reality, ultimately, will be the supreme arbiter of truth.

Then, sanity, clarity and consistency will return to language as the nonsense of the new bilingualism happily fades into sweet oblivion. In the immortal words of Hamlet, “’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.”

Donald DeMarco is adjunct professor

at Holy Apostles College

 and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut.