If you’ve ever immersed yourself in George Orwell’s incredible world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, you will know that the concept revolves around the regime of Big Brother and the control of language, thought, and expression. The state ruled by the Party in the story is called Oceania, and while it is a fictional state ruled by totalitarians, the control the Party has over residents is something quite frightening. That control is depicted in the form of Newspeak.
What is Newspeak?
Newspeak is Oceania’s official language. It is the controlled language in the state and it is made up of a limited vocabulary and restricted grammar.
The overall linguistic design of Newspeak is to limit people’s freedom of thought, and that means controlling their self-expression, free will, and personal identity. The language, in the story, is scheduled to officially be adopted in the year 2050 with the aim of rendering the premises of Ingsoc (a word in Newspeak for the Party’s official political alignment, English Socialism) the only doctrine allowed.
But, it goes even deeper. Newspeak has been engineered by the Party to remove any rebellious thoughts – in other words, the words by which rebellious thoughts may be expressed have been obliterated from the language. In fact, you won’t find a single negative utterance in Newspeak. Residents cannot even say the word “bad,” and instead it is substituted with “ungood.”
All this being said, is Newspeak really a fictional language, or is it, in fact, a controlling weapon?
The influence of Newspeak within the plot of Nineteen Eighty-Four
Essentially, the grammar of this language is arranged in a way that any word will work within any part of speech. In fact, there are three groups of vocabulary words:
- Vocabulary A consists of everyday words to describe things like working, eating, or drinking. Compared to the English that we are familiar with, the words are fewer but have rigid meanings. There is no room for interpretation.
- Vocabulary B consists of the words to describe ideological and political terms and to ensure people accept the Party’s doctrines. For instance, “orthodoxy” is just another word for “goodthink” and vice versa. This vocabulary is made up of compound, simple words. For example, “miniluv” is the same as “the Ministry of Love.”
- Vocabulary C comprises the words within the technical and scientific fields. The idea is to ensure that such knowledge is segmented between fields so that one person alone may not acquire too much knowledge.
Newspeak – influential today or just fiction?
While we are way past 1984, we can’t help but wonder if Newspeak carries relevance in today’s society and the power of language. We don’t want to get into politics in this piece, but we do want to leave you with a few things to think about. Like just how many tools were used to suppress Oceania that have become part of our everyday regime – from surveillance techniques to, of course, the way in which we use language.