Censorship and Censoring

Dr Keith Allan
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Censoring encompasses both the institutionalized acts of the powerful and those of ordinary individuals: everyone censors their own or another's behaviour from time to time, and for such an occasion they can be justly described as a censor; but the title is temporary and contingent upon the occasional act of censoring. All kinds of tabooed behaviour are subject to censoring, but only certain kinds are subject to censorship – for instance, child pornography is subject to both censorship and to censoring; but picking your nose in public is subject only to censoring. Language is constantly subject to censoring: an individual who does not censor their language, and so normally says whatever first enters their head without considering the circumstances of utterance, is deemed mentally unstable. Censorship is the suppression or prohibition of speech, writing and other behaviour condemned as subversive of the common good. It flourishes in a climate of fear. Censorship puts untoward power into the hands of people who are by inclination illiberal and unlikely to be artistically creative or broadly schooled, and whose judgment is open to error, fashion, whim, and corruption. As Tacitus said, banned writings are eagerly sought and read; censorship fails to prevent people intent on flouting it. There is no evidence that reading works such as the Marquis de Sade's "Juliette" has in fact caused debauchery or torture; as long as mankind as been in existence there has been sexual perversion, child abuse, rape, torture, mutilation and murder – mostly by people who had never heard of Sade and certainly not read him. There is no evidence that censorship protects the society rather than imposing a repressive ideology upon us that restricts our behaviour needlessly. Do we trust in individual responsibility to the society as a whole, or do we instead favour the 'nanny state'?

Keywords: Censoring, Censorship, Killing, Language Taboos, Obscenity, Politeness, Sade, Terrorism
Stream: Language, Linguistics
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: Censorship and Censoring

Dr Keith Allan

Reader in Linguistics, Linguistics Program, Monash University

Keith Allan MLitt, PhD (Edinburgh) FAHA is Reader in Linguistics at Monash University (http://www.arts.monash.edu.au/ling/staff/allan). His research interests focus mainly on aspects of meaning in language, with a secondary interest in the history and philosophy of linguistics. Books include Linguistic Meaning (2 vols, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986), Euphemism and Dysphemism: Language Used as Shield and Weapon (with Kate Burridge, OUP, 1991), Natural Language Semantics (Blackwell, 2001), Forbidden Words: Taboo and the Censoring of Language (with Kate Burridge, CUP, 2006), The Western Classical Tradition in Linguistics (Equinox, 2006). He was Semantics Editor for International Encyclopaedia of Linguistics (OUP 1994, 2nd edn 2003) and editor for Logical and Lexical Semantics for the Encyclopedia of Languages and Linguistics 2nd edition (Elsevier, 2005) as well as author of many papers in major international scholarly journals and books.

Ref: H05P0567