Theatre in Wales

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Use the Words that Fit

Summing It Up

Better Language Makes Better Policy , Public Culture of Wales , March 30, 2020
Summing It Up by Better Language Makes Better Policy The article of 28th March below recommended looking at the tensions that run through organisations as a means to their inner understanding.

An article appeared on this site three years ago which had a heading that was out of the ordinary. “Cut Out the Pompous Language” was taken from an article of January 23rd 2017 by Lyn Gardner.

It was about the language that was used by makers of theatre, at a remove from their beneficiaries, audiences. She was reporting from Bristol, but the same applies across the Severn. The jargonisation of language has a social purpose. It creates an in-group. But more important it creates out-groups.

Look at those who, in normal times, go out for an evening. They go for laughter or tears, for excitement or profundity.

Then look at every utterance from every organisation with a responsibility for arts funding. The base functions of the arts- the making of meaning and the eliciting of emotion- are forbidden to be spoken about.

Consider if it were like this in other areas of public support. Imagine if the health service never talked about the health of its citizenry, and went on and on about other things, the beauty of their buildings and facilities for instance.

There is a pragmatic advantage in language not being used to exclude out-groups. The voice of ourselves that we hear is not the one we send out into the world. The sound is carried internally by vibrations in the bone, the journey from larynx to ear gives our words more bass.

The creation of groups creates a phenomenon known as epistemic vulnerability. Echo chambers are good for trust but they sharply raise the non-acceptance of alternatives

Look for instance at these two statements:

“Public funding for the arts has many purposes: to increase choice, to subsidise costs for audiences and participants, to encourage innovation and risk-taking, to invest in those activities that the commercial sector either won’t, or isn’t able to, support.”

And the second:

Public funding is there for “the highest standards in the arts of music, drama and painting” with the purpose of “the widespread provision of opportunities for hearing good music and the enjoyment of the arts generally.”

The first was written in Wales in 2019 and the second in England in 1940. In 2019 too in Wales:

“It’s also about investing in people’s well-being and their quality of life, those vital attributes that make Wales such a creative and exciting place to live, work and visit.”

The first question of any writing is “who is it for?”

This is not aimed at the general reader. It is not for us, the citizens. It is cant whose only audience is the government. But the relationship of government to culture has only one aspect, that its citizens be beneficiary of a rich, varied ecology of highest attainable quality. Arms length is a metaphor that speaks for reality.

Back at the meeting in Bristol which prompted Lyn Gardner's observations she mused: “people feel obliged to justify what they are doing by making it sound more complicated than it really is in order to give it weight.”

The Chair of the Arts Council does not use the words in public that fit: meaning, beauty, laughter, tears, emotion, enjoyment. Were he to place these at the heart of his every thought and utterance and meeting it would be better. It really would.

Reviewed by: Adam Somerset

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