Newspeak

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This article is about the fictional language. For the programming language, see Newspeak (programming language). For politically correct speech, see Political correctness.

Newspeak is the language of Oceania, a totalitarian state portrayed in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), by George Orwell, which was created to meet the ideological needs of the Party.[1] Newspeak is a controlled language designed to limit freedom of thought, by eliminating political concepts — free will, self-expression, personal individuality, peace, etc. — that are ideological threats to the régime of Big Brother and the Party, who classified such concepts as forms of thoughtcrime, for contradicting the orthodoxy of Ingsoc, English Socialism.[2]

The language of Newspeak is explained in “The Principles of Newspeak”, an appendix to the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. Linguistically, Newspeak usage follows most of the English grammar, yet is characterised by a continually diminishing vocabulary of simple terms and simplistic meaning.[3] The long-term, political purpose of the language is for every member of the Party and society, except the Proles — the working-class of Oceania — to exclusively communicate in Newspeak by the year AD 2050; during that 66-year transition, the usage of Oldspeak (Standard English) remains interspersed throughout conversations in Newspeak.[4] The contractions of Newspeak — Ingsoc (English Socialism) and Minitrue (Ministry of Truth) — are inspired by the Russian syllabic abbreviations used to identify government and social institutions of the USSR, such as politburo (Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), Comintern (Communist International), kolkhoz (collective farm), and Komsomol (Young Communists’ League).

Newspeak is a constructed language, like Basic English, which Orwell promoted, from 1942 to 1944, before rejecting it in the essay “Politics and the English Language” (1946).[5] In that essay, Orwell criticises the bad English of his day, citing dying metaphors, pretentious diction and rhetoric, and meaningless words, which encouraged unclear reasoning and doublespeak. Towards the essay’s conclusion, Orwell reiterated the theme of 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.”

Basic principles[edit]

Elimination of synonyms and antonyms[edit]

The political purpose of Newspeak is to remove shades of meaning (nuance) from the language, thus reducing the language to simple concepts — pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness, goodthink and crimethink — that reinforce the totaltotalitarian dominance of the State. In Newspeak, root words function as nouns and verbs, which practice further reduced the total number of words available to the speaker; for example, think is both noun and verb, thus, the word thought is not required to communicate thought, and can be abolished from the language. The Party also intend that Newspeak be spoken in staccato rhythm with syllables that are easy to pronounce, which shall facilitate automatic and unconscious speech, thereby diminishing the likelihood of critical thought. (See duckspeak.)

In addition, words with negative meanings are removed as redundant, so "bad" becomes "ungood". Words with comparative and superlative meanings are also simplified, so "better" becomes "gooder", and "best" becomes "goodest". Intensifiers can be added, so "great" becomes "plusgood", and "excellent" or "splendid" becomes "doubleplusgood". This ambiguity between comparative/superlative forms and intensified forms is one of the few examples of ambiguity in Newspeak.

Adjectives are formed by adding the suffix "-ful" to a root word (e.g., "goodthinkful" – orthodox in thought), and adverbs by adding "-wise" ("goodthinkwise" – in an orthodox manner).

This would, of course, not prevent heretical statements such as "Big Brother is ungood," but not only would this statement sound absurd in the ears of the politically orthodox, it would also be impossible to elaborate on or specify exactly what the statement means since all concepts and words that can be used to argue against Big Brother (i.e. liberty, rights, freedom, etc.) would be eradicated from the language. The statement would thus be meaningless.

Thought control[edit]

"The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of IngSoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meaning and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meaning whatever."[6]

For example, the word free still existed in Newspeak, but could only be used in terms of something not possessed, as in the sentences "The dog is free from lice." ando "This field is free of weeds." The word free It could not be used to denote free will, because such concepts no longer existed in Oceania.[7] As a language, Newspeak was designed to diminish the user's range of thought, which is assisted by reducing vocabulary to a minimum.[6] Some examples of Newspeak are: crimethink (thought crime), doublethink (accepting contradictory beliefs), and Ingsoc (English Socialism). Generically, Newspeak has come to mean any attempt to restrict disapproved language by a government or other powerful entity.[8]

As discussed by the character Syme, who is discussing his 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."[5]

Vocabulary[edit]

In Orwell's novel, Newspeak attempts to influence thought by consolidating—i.e., decreasing—the expressiveness of the English language. In keeping with these principles, the following words serve as both nouns and verbs. Thus, crimethink is both the noun meaning "thoughtcrime" and the verb meaning "to commit thoughtcrime." To form an adjective, one adds the suffix "-ful" (e.g., crimethinkful) and to form an adverb, "-wise" (e.g., crimethinkwise).

There are some irregular forms, like the adjectival forms of Minitrue, Minipax, Miniplenty, and Miniluv (Ministry of Truth, Ministry of Peace, Ministry of Plenty, and Ministry of Love, respectively—all ministries of the active government in 1984). To say that something or someone is the best, Newspeak uses doubleplusgood, while the worst would be doubleplusungood (e.g., "Big Brother is doubleplusgood, Emmanuel Goldstein is doubleplusungood").

"Bellyfeel"[edit]

The word bellyfeel refers to a blind, enthusiastic acceptance of an idea.

"Consider, for example, such a typical sentence from a Times leading article as Oldthinkers unbellyfeel Ingsoc. The shortest rendering one could make of this in Oldspeak would be: ‘Those whose ideas were formed before the Revolution cannot have a full emotional understanding of the principles of English Socialism.’ But this is not an adequate translation. [...] [O]nly a person thoroughly grounded in Ingsoc could appreciate the full force of the word bellyfeel, which implied a blind, enthusiastic and casual acceptance difficult to imagine today." — Orwell’s 1984 appendix[9]

"Blackwhite"[edit]

Blackwhite has two mutually contradictory meanings depending on whether it is applied to an opponent—"impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts"—or to a Party member—"a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands".

However, it is also an example of doublethink, because it represents an active rewriting of the past, which is a key aspect of the Party's control. Indeed, blackwhite is explained as "the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary".

This blind faith can stem from respect for authority, fear, indoctrination, critical laziness, or gullibility. Orwell's blackwhite refers only to that caused by fear, indoctrination, or repression of critical thinking, rather than that caused by laziness or gullibility. A true Party member could automatically and without thought expunge any "incorrect" information and neatly replace it with "true" information. Done properly, there would be no recollection of the "incorrect" information.

"Crimethink"[edit]

Crimethink is the Newspeak word for thoughtcrime (thoughts that are unorthodox or outside the official government platform), as well as the verb meaning "to commit thoughtcrime". Goodthink, which is approved by the Party, is the opposite of crimethink. Winston Smith, the main character, writes in his diary, "Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime IS death."

"Duckspeak"[edit]

Duckspeak is a Newspeak term that means "to quack like a duck" (literal meaning) or "to speak without thinking". Duckspeak can be good or "ungood" (bad) depending on who is speaking, and whether what they are saying aligns with Big Brother's ideals. To speak rubbish and lies may be "ungood", but to do so for the benefit of The Party may be good. Orwell explains in the appendix: "Ultimately it was hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all. This aim was frankly admitted in the Newspeak word duckspeak […]. Like various words in the B vocabulary, duckspeak was ambivalent in meaning. Provided that the opinions which were quacked out were orthodox ones, it implied nothing but praise, and when the Times referred to one of the orators of the Party as a doubleplusgood duckspeaker it was paying a warm and valued compliment."

An example of duckspeak in action is provided in chapter 9, when an Inner Party speaker is haranguing the crowd about the crimes of Eurasia when a note is passed into his hand. He never stops speaking or changes his inflection, but (according to the changed Party position) he now condemns the crimes of Eastasia, which is Oceania's new enemy.

Goodsex and sexcrime[edit]

The term goodsex (chastity) describes the forms of sexual intercourse that the Party deem morally acceptable behaviour for the rank-and-file members of the Party. Specifically, goodsex denotes only heterosexual relations exclusively for procreation; and no pleasure (sexual or emotional) for the woman. All other forms of sexual relations are classified as sexcrime (sexual immorality).[10]

"Ownlife"[edit]

Ownlife refers to the tendency to enjoy being solitary or individualistic, which is considered subversive. Winston Smith comments that even to go for a walk by oneself can be regarded as suspicious.

"Unperson"[edit]

An unperson is someone who has been "vaporized"—not only killed by the state, but erased from existence. Such a person would be written out of existing books, photographs and articles so that no trace of their existence could be found in the historical record. The idea is that such a person would, according to the principles of doublethink, be forgotten completely (for it would be impossible to provide evidence of their existence), even by close friends and family.

Mentioning an unperson's name, or even speaking of their past existence, is itself thoughtcrime; the concept that the person may have existed at one time and has disappeared cannot be expressed in Newspeak.

Grammar[edit]

Prefixes[edit]

"Un-" is a Newspeak prefix used for negation. It is used as a prefix to make the word negative, since there are no antonyms in Newspeak. For example, warm becomes "uncold". It is often decided to keep the word with a more unpleasant nuance to it when diminishing vocabulary. Therefore, cold is preferred to unwarm or unhot, and dark is preferred to unlight.[6] The Party's choice for the less pleasant versions of an antonym may be interpreted as a way of rendering its subjects depressive and pessimistic, as well as to limit and suppress unorthodox thought.

On the other hand, the Party also controls one's ability to think negatively by sometimes allowing only the positive term preceded by the prefix "un-". For example, the concept of "bad" can be expressed only with ungood. When placed before a verb, "un-" becomes a negative imperative; for example, unproceed means "do not proceed".

  • "Plus-" is an intensifier, in place of "more" or the suffix "-er"; great or better becomes "plusgood".
  • "Doubleplus-" further intensifies "plus-"; excellent or best becomes "doubleplusgood".

Suffixes[edit]

  • "-ful" is a Newspeak suffix that turns another word into an adjective (e.g., "speedful" instead of rapid).
  • "-ed" is the only method of making a non-auxiliary verb past tense in the A-vocabulary. This decreases the number of words required to express tenses by removing irregular conjugations. Ran becomes runned, drank becomes drinked, etc.
  • "-wise" is a Newspeak suffix used to turn another word into an adverb; for example, quickly would be speedwise. Therefore, "He ran very quickly" would become "He runned plus-speedwise."

Further vocabulary[edit]

(Some of these are only part of the "abbreviated jargon — not actually Newspeak, but consisting largely of Newspeak words — which was used in the Ministry for internal purposes" described by Orwell in chapter 4.)

  • Artsem: Artificial insemination.
  • BB: Big Brother.
  • Crimestop: To rid oneself of unwanted thoughts—i.e., thoughts that interfere with Party ideology—in order to avoid committing thoughtcrime.
  • Dayorder: Order of the day.
  • Equal: Only used to describe physical equality such as height and weight. It does not refer to social, political or economical equality because there is no such concept as social inequality in purportedly egalitarian Ingsoc
  • Facecrime: An indication that a person is guilty of thoughtcrime based on facial expression.
  • Free: Meaning negative freedom (without), in a physical sense. Only used in statements such as "This dog is free from lice", as the concepts of "political freedom" and "intellectual freedom" do not exist in Newspeak.
  • Goodthink: Orthodox thought.
  • Ingsoc: English Socialism.
  • Issue: Children produced by goodsex.
  • Joycamp: Forced labor camp.
  • Malquoted: Flawed representations of the Party or Big Brother by the press.
  • Miniluv: "Ministry of Love" (secret police, interrogation, and torture).
  • Minipax: "Ministry of Peace" (Ministry of War, cf.: "Department of Defense", "War Department").
  • Minitrue: "Ministry of Truth" (propaganda and alteration of history, culture, and entertainment).
  • Miniplenty: "Ministry of Plenty" (keeping the population in a state of constant economic hardship).
  • Oldspeak: English; any language that is not Newspeak.
  • Oldthink: Ideas inspired by events or memories of times prior to the Revolution.
  • Pornosec: Sub-unit of the Fiction Department of the Ministry of Truth that produces pornography for proles.
  • Prolefeed: The steady stream of mindless entertainment produced to distract and occupy the masses. The prole in prolefeed is reference to the Marxist concept of the proletariat.
  • Recdep: "Records Department" (division of the Ministry of Truth that deals with the rectification of records; department in which Winston works).
  • Rectify: Ministry of Truth euphemism for deliberately altering the past.
  • Speakwrite: An instrument used by Party members to note or "write" down information by speaking into an apparatus as a faster alternative to an "ink pencil". Speakwrites are used extensively in the Ministry of Truth by both Winston Smith and others in their daily work.
  • Telescreen: Television and security camera devices used by the ruling Party in Oceania to keep its subjects under constant surveillance.
  • Thinkpol: Thought Police.
  • Upsub: Submit to higher authority. In one scene, Winston Smith is instructed to alter a document to conform with the Party line and submit it to his superiors before filing it: ("rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling"; note that this sentence is an example of the Newspeak-influenced bureaucratic jargon rather than official Newspeak).

Vocabularies: A, B, and C[edit]

The "A" group of words deals with simple concepts needed in everyday life (such as eating, drinking, working, cooking, etc.). It is almost entirely made of words that already exist in the English language.

The "B" group of words is deliberately constructed to convey more complicated ideas. The words in this group are compound words with political implications and aim to impose the mental attitude of the Party upon the speaker. For example, the Newspeak word "goodthink" roughly means "orthodoxy". The B words were in all cases compound words. They consisted of two or more words, or portions of words, welded together in an easily pronounceable form. The resulting amalgam was always a noun-verb and inflected according to the ordinary rules.

The "C" group of words deals with technical vocabulary and is supplementary to the other two groups. Since the Party does not want its people to have knowledge of more than one subject, there is no Newspeak word for "science"; there are separate words for different fields.

Ramifications[edit]

The advantages of Newspeak are its means of preserving the secrets of the Party, preventing politically motivated actions, and promoting the use of politically correct terms. Its disadvantages include the Party using censorship and glamorization of themselves, compromised freedom of speech, and the prevention of the flow of ideas for the citizens of Oceania, who are controlled by this reduction in their language.[11]

Words created to soften the blow of something taboo quickly absorb any negative connotations they were meant to avoid in the first place. Steven Pinker, a Harvard University linguist, calls this the "euphemism treadmill", also known as pejoration. By creating such euphemisms, Newspeak only creates a new generation of derogatory terms. As Pinker argues in "The Game of the Name", the euphemism treadmill signifies that "concepts, not words, are in charge: give a concept a new name, and the name becomes colored by the concept; the concept does not become freshened by the name".[12]

In expressing their opinions and concerns, the Party exercises the same rights librarians seek to protect when they confront censorship. In making their criticisms known, characters such as Winston and Julia who object to certain ideas are exercising the same rights as those who created and disseminated the material to which they object. Their rights to voice opinions and efforts to persuade others to adopt those opinions is protected only if the rights of persons to express ideas they despise are also protected.[13]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ George Orwell (1980) p. 917.
  2. ^ The Oxford Companion to the English Language, Tom McArthur, Ed. (1992) p. 693.
  3. ^ George Orwell (1980) p. 918.
  4. ^ George Orwell (1980) p. 917.
  5. ^ a b Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Secker and Warburg. ISBN 978-0-452-28423-4. 
  6. ^ a b c "The Principles of Newspeak". newspeakdictionary.com. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  7. ^ George Orwell (1980) p. 917.
  8. ^ "Newspeak". Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. September 2016. Retrieved 16 October 2016. 
  9. ^ George Orwell (1949). 1984. Arcturus Publishing (published 4 January 2014). pp. 229–. ISBN 978-1-78404-373-5. 
  10. ^ George Orwell (1980) p. 921.
  11. ^ "Pros and Cons of Censorship". buzzle.com. 12 July 2012. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  12. ^ "Bad Euphemisms, Political Correctness and Censorship". wordpress.com. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 
  13. ^ "Intellectual Freedom and Censorship Q & A". American Library Association. Retrieved 20 March 2013. 

Further reading[edit]