Newspeak

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The logotype for Ingsoc from the film Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984), directed by Michael Radford.

Newspeak is the fictional language of Oceania, a totalitarian superstate that is the setting of dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), by George Orwell. To meet the ideological requirements of English Socialism in Oceania, the ruling English Socialist Party (Ingsoc) created Newspeak[1]:309, a controlled language of simplified grammar and restricted vocabulary designed to limit the individual's ability to think and articulate "subversive" concepts such as personal identity, self-expression and free will. [2] Such concepts are criminalized as thoughtcrime since they contradict the prevailing Ingsoc orthodoxy.[3][4]

In "The Principles of Newspeak", the appendix to the novel, Orwell explains that Newspeak follows most of the rules of English grammar, yet is a language characterised by a continually diminishing vocabulary; complete thoughts reduced to simple terms of simplistic meaning. Linguistically, the political contractions of Newspeak—Ingsoc (English Socialism), Minitrue (Ministry of Truth), Miniplenty (Ministry of Plenty)—identify the political philosophy and the government institutions of Oceania; like the Russian contractions politburo (Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), Comintern (Communist International), kolkhoz (collective farm), and Komsomol (Young Communists' League)—identify the institutions of the Soviet Union; likewise, the German political contractions—Nazi (Nationalsozialismus) and Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei)—respectively identify the political philosophy and the secret state police of Nazi Germany. The Party's long-term goal with regard to the new language is for every member of the Party and society, except the Proles—the working-class of Oceania—to exclusively communicate in Newspeak, by A.D. 2050.[1]:309

Orwell and Newspeak[edit]

That Orwell was interested in linguistic questions and questions pertaining to the function and change of language is a fact that can already be seen in his essay "Politics and the English Language" (1946)[5] as well as in the Appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four. As in "Politics and the English Language", the perceived decline and decadence of the English Language is a central theme in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Newspeak.[6]:171 In the essay Orwell criticises standard English, with its perceived dying metaphors, pretentious diction, and high-flown rhetoric, which he would later satirise in the meaningless words of doublespeak, the product of unclear reasoning. The conclusion thematically reiterates linguistic decline: "I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this may argue that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development, by any direct tinkering with words or constructions."[5]

Orwell's main objection against this decline of the English language is not so much based on aesthetic grounds, but rather that for him the linguistic decline goes hand-in-hand with a decline of thought, the real possibility of manipulation of speakers as well as listeners and eventually political chaos.[6] The recurring theme in Nineteen Eighty-Four of a connection between authoritarian regimes and (authoritarian) language is already found in "Politics and the English Language":

When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find - this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify - that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship. But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.[5]

Newspeak is a constructed language, of planned phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, like Basic English, which Orwell showed interest in while working at the BBC during the Second World War (1939–1945), but soon came to see the disadvantages of. Newspeak has considerable similarities to the system of Basic English proposed by Charles Kay Ogden in 1930. Basic ('British American Scientific International Commercial') English was a controlled language and designed to be an easy-to-learn English with only 850 core words. Like Newspeak, the Basic vocabulary is classified into three categories, two of them with two subcategories. The classification systems do however not coincide.[7]

Principles[edit]

The political purpose of Newspeak is to eliminate the expression of the shades of meaning inherent in ambiguity and nuance from Oldspeak (Standard English). In order to reduce the language's function of communication, Newspeak uses concepts of simple construction: pleasure vs. pain, happiness vs. sadness. Goodthink vs. crimethink linguistically reinforces the State's totalitarian dominance of the people of Oceania.

In Newspeak, English root words function as both nouns and verbs, which reduce the vocabulary available for the speaker to communicate meaning. For example, think is both a noun and a verb, thus, the word thought is not functionally required to communicate the concepts of thought in Newspeak and therefore is not in the Newspeak vocabulary.

As personal communication, Newspeak is to be spoken in staccato rhythm, using words that are short and easy to pronounce. The Party intends to make speech physically automatic and intellectually unconscious in order to diminish the possibility of critical thought occurring to the speaker. English words of comparative and superlative meanings and irregular spellings were simplified into regular spellings; thus, better becomes gooder and best becomes goodest. The prefixes plus- and doubleplus- are used for emphasis (for example, pluscold meaning "very cold" and doublepluscold meaning "extremely cold"). Adjectives are formed by adding the suffix –ful to a root-word, e.g. goodthinkful means "Orthodox in thought."; while adverbs are formed by adding the suffix –wise, e.g. goodthinkwise means "In an orthodox manner".

Thought control[edit]

The intellectual purpose of Newspeak is to make Ingsoc-approved thoughts the only expressible thoughts. As constructed, Newspeak's vocabulary communicates the exact expression of sense and meaning that a member of the Party could wish to express. It excludes secondary denotations and connotations. The linguistic simplification of Oldspeak into Newspeak was realised with neologisms, the elimination of ideologically undesirable words, and the elimination of the politically unorthodox meanings of words.[1]:310

The word free still existed in Newspeak, but only to communicate a lack of something, e.g. "The dog is free from lice" or "This field is free of weeds". The word could not denote free will, because intellectual freedom was no longer supposed to exist in Oceania. The limitations of Newspeak's vocabulary enabled the Party to effectively control the population's minds, by allowing the user only a very narrow range of spoken and written thought; hence, words such as: crimethink (thought crime), doublethink (accepting contradictory beliefs), and Ingsoc (English Socialism) communicated only their surface meanings.[1]:309–10

In the story of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the lexicologist character Syme discusses his editorial work on the latest edition of the Newspeak Dictionary:

By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of The Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like Freedom is Slavery when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.[1]

Vocabulary[edit]

Newspeak words are classified by three distinct classes: the A, B, and C vocabularies.

The words of the A vocabulary describe the functional concepts of daily life (e.g. eating and drinking, working and cooking). It consists mostly of English words, but they are very small in number compared to English, while for each word, its meanings are "far more rigidly defined" than in English.

The words of the B vocabulary are deliberately constructed for political purposes to convey complex ideas in a simple form. They are compound words and noun-verbs with political significance that are meant to impose and instill upon Oceania's citizens politically correct mental attitudes required by the Party. In the appendix, Orwell explains that the very structure of the B vocabulary (the fact that they are compound words) carries ideological weight[1]:310. The large amounts of contractions in the B vocabulary—for example, the Ministry of Truth being caled Minitrue, the Records department being called Recdep, the Fiction Department being called Ficdep, the Teleprogrammes Department being called Teledep—is not done simply to save time. Like with examples of compound words in the political language of the 20th century—Nazi, Gestapo, Politburo, Comintern, Inprecorr, Agitprop, and many others—Orwell remarks that the Party believed that abbreviating a name could "narrowly and subtly" alter a word's meaning. Newspeak is supposed to make this effort a conscious purpose:

[...]Comintern is a word that can be uttered almost without taking thought, whereas Communist International is a phrase over which one is obliged to linger at least momentarily. In the same way, the associations called up by a word like Minitrue are fewer and more controllable than those called up by Ministry of Truth. This accounted not only for the habit of abbreviating whenever possible, but also for the almost exaggerated care that was taken to make every word easily pronounceable. [1]:318

The B words in Newspeak are supposed to sound at least somewhat nice, while also being easily pronounceable, in an attempt to make speech on anything political "staccato and monotonous" and, ultimately, mask from the speaker all ideological content.

The words of the C vocabulary are scientific and technical terms that supplement the linguistic functions of the A and B vocabularies. These words are the same scientific terms in English, but many of them have had their meanings rigidified in order to, just like with the A vocabulary, attempt to prevent speakers from being able to express anti-government thoughts. Distribution of the C vocabulary is limited, because the Party want the citizens of Oceania to know only a select few ways of life or techniques of production. Hence, the Oldspeak word science has no equivalent term in Newspeak; instead, these words are simply treated as specific technical words for speaking of technical fields.[1]:309–323

Grammar[edit]

Newspeak's grammar is greatly simplifed compared to English. It also has two "outstanding" characteristics: Almost completely interchangeable linguistic functions between the parts of speech (any word could function as a verb, noun, adjective, or adverb), and heavy inflectional regularity in the construction of usages and of words.[1]:311 Inflectional regularity means that most irregular words were replaced with regular words combined with prefixes and suffixes. For example the preterite and the past participle constructions of verbs are alike, with both ending in –ed. Hence, the Newspeak preterite of the English word steal is stealed, and that of the word think is thinked. Likewise, the past participles of swim, give, bring, speak, and take were, respectively swimmed, gived, bringed, speaked, and taked, with all irregular forms (such as swam, gave, and brought) being eliminated. The auxiliaries (including to be), pronouns, demonstratives, and relatives still inflect irregularly. They mostly follow their use in English, but the word whom and the shall and should tenses were dropped, whom being replaced by who and shall and should by will and would.

Prefixes[edit]

  • "Un–" is used to indicate negation, as Newspeak has no non-political antonyms. For example, the standard English words warm and hot are replaced by uncold, and the moral concept communicated with the word bad is expressed as ungood. When appended to a verb, the prefix "un–" communicates a negative imperative mood, thus, the Newspeak word unproceed means "do not proceed" in Standard English.
  • "Plus–" is an intensifier that replaces very and more; thus, plusgood replaced very good and English words such as great.
  • "Doubleplus–" is an intensifier that replaces extremely and superlatives; to that purpose, the Newspeak word doubleplusgood replaced words such as fantastic and excellent.
  • "Ante–" is the prefix that replaces before; thus antefilling replaces the English phrase "before filling."
  • "Post–" is the prefix that replaces after.

Suffixes[edit]

In spoken and written Newspeak, suffixes are also used in the elimination of irregular conjugations:

  • "–ful" transforms any word into an adjective, e.g. the English words fast, quick, and rapid are replaced by speedful and slow is replaced by unspeedful.
  • "–d" and "–ed" form the past tense of a verb, e.g. ran becomes runned, stole becomes stealed, drove becomes drived, thought becomes thinked, and drank becomes drinked.
  • "–er" forms the more comparison of an adjective, e.g. better becomes gooder.
  • "–est" forms the most comparison of an adjective, e.g. best becomes goodest.
  • "–s" and "–es" transform a noun into its plural form, e.g. men becomes mans, oxen becomes oxes, and lives becomes lifes.
  • "–wise" transforms any word into an adverb by eliminating all English adverbs not already ending in "–wise", e.g. quickly becomes speedwise, slowly becomes unspeedwise, carefully becomes carewise, and words like fully, completely, and totally become fullwise.

Therefore, the Oldspeak sentence "He ran extremely quickly" would become "He runned doubleplusspeedwise".

List of Newspeak words[edit]

Note: The novel says that the Ministry of Truth uses a jargon "not actually Newspeak, but consisting largely of Newspeak words" for its internal memos. As many of the words in this list (e.g. "bb", "upsub") come from such memos, it is not certain whether those words are actually Newspeak.

  • ante — The prefix that replaces before
  • artsem — Artificial insemination
  • bb — Big Brother
  • bellyfeel — The blind, enthusiastic acceptance of an idea
  • blackwhite — To accept whatever one is told, regardless of the facts. In the novel, it is described as "...to say that black is white when [the Party says so]" and "...to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary".
  • crimestop — To rid oneself of unorthodox thoughts that go against Ingsoc's ideology
  • crimethink — Thoughts and concepts that go against Ingsoc, frequently referred to by the standard English “thoughtcrime”, such as liberty, equality, and privacy, and also the criminal act of holding such thoughts
  • dayorder — Order of the day
  • dep — Department
  • doubleplusgood — The word that replaced Oldspeak words meaning "superlatively good", such as excellent, fabulous, and fantastic
  • doubleplusungood — The word that replaced Oldspeak words meaning "superlatively bad", such as terrible and horrible
  • doublethink — The act of simultaneously believing two, mutually contradictory ideas
  • duckspeak — Automatic, vocal support of political orthodoxies
  • facecrime — A facial expression which reveals that one has committed thoughtcrime
  • Ficdep — The Ministry of Truth's Fiction Department
  • free — The absence and the lack of something. "Intellectually free" and "politically free" have been replaced by crimethinkful.
  • –ful — The suffix for forming an adjective
  • fullwise — The word that replaces words such as fully, completely, and totally
  • goodthink — A synonym for "political orthodoxy" and "a politically orthodox thought" as defined by the Party
  • goodsex — Sexual intercourse only for procreation, without any physical pleasure on the part of the woman, and strictly within marriage
  • goodwise — The word that replaced well as an adverb
  • Ingsoc — The English Socialist Party (i.e. The Party)
  • joycamp — Labour camp
  • malquoted — Inaccurate representations of the words of Big Brother and of the Party
  • Miniluv — The Ministry of Love, where the secret police interrogate and torture the enemies of Oceania (torture and brainwashing)
  • Minipax — The Ministry of Peace, who wage war for Oceania
  • Minitrue — The Ministry of Truth, who manufacture consent by way of lies, propaganda, and distorted historical records, while supplying the proles (proletariat) with synthetic culture and entertainment
  • Miniplenty — The Ministry of Plenty, who keep the population in continual economic hardship (starvation and rationing)
  • Oldspeak – Standard English
  • oldthink — Ideas from the time before the Party's revolution, such as objectivity and rationalism
  • ownlife — A person's anti-social tendency to enjoy solitude and individualism
  • plusgood — The word that replaced Oldspeak words meaning "very good", such as great
  • plusungood — The word that replaced "very bad"
  • Pornosec — The pornography production section (Porno sector) of the Ministry of Truth's Fiction Department
  • prolefeedPopular culture for entertaining Oceania's working class
  • Recdep — The Ministry of Truth's Records Department, where Winston Smith rewrites historical records so they conform to the Party's agenda
  • rectify — The Ministry of Truth's euphemism for manipulating a historical record
  • ref — To refer (to someone or something)
  • sec — Sector
  • sexcrime — A sexual immorality, such as fornication, adultery, oral sex, and homosexuality
  • speakwrite — A machine that transcribes speech into text
  • Teledep — The Ministry of Truth's Telecommunications Department
  • telescreen — A two-way television set with which the Party spy upon Oceania's population
  • thinkpol — The Thought Police, the secret police force of Oceania's government
  • unperson — An executed person whose existence is erased from history and memory
  • upsub — An upwards submission to higher authority
  • –wise — The only suffix for forming an adverb


See also[edit]

Fiction:

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Secker and Warburg. ISBN 978-0-452-28423-4.
  2. ^ "Newspeak | Definition of Newspeak by Merriam-Webster". Merriam Webster. 2020.
  3. ^ The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Tom McArthur, Ed. (1992) p. 693.
  4. ^ "Moellerlit Newspeak dictionary" (PDF). Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  5. ^ a b c Orwell, George (17 June 1946). "Politics and the English Language". New Republic. 114 (24): 872–874.
  6. ^ a b Köberl, Johann (1979). "Der Sprachphilosophische Hintergrund von Newspeak: Ein Beitrag zum 100.Geburtstag von Albert Einstein". AAA: Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik. 4 (2): 171–183.
  7. ^ Fink, Howard (1971). "Newspeak: the Epitome of Parody Techniques in "Nineteen Eighty-Four"". Critical Survey. 5 (2): 155–163.

Further reading[edit]