Newspeak

Newspeak is a fictional language in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. The term was also used to discuss Soviet phraseology. In the novel by Orwell, it is described as being “the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year”. Orwell included an essay about it in the form of an appendix in which the basic principles of the language are explained. Newspeak is closely based on English but has a greatly reduced and simplified vocabulary and grammar. This suits the totalitarian regime of the Party, whose aim is to make any alternative thinking—”thoughtcrime”, or “crimethink” in the newest edition of Newspeak—impossible by removing any words or possible constructs which describe the ideas of freedom, rebellion and so on. One character, Syme, says admiringly of the shrinking volume of the new dictionary: “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words.”

The Newspeak term for the English language is Oldspeak. Oldspeak is intended to have been completely eclipsed by Newspeak before 2050.

The genesis of Newspeak can be found in the constructed language Basic English, which Orwell promoted from 1942 to 1944 before emphatically rejecting it in his essay “Politics and the English Language”. In this paper he laments the quality of the English of his day, citing examples of dying metaphors, pretentious diction or rhetoric, and meaningless words – all of which contribute to fuzzy ideas and a lack of logical thinking. Towards the end of this essay, having argued his case, Orwell muses:

“I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words or constructions.”

Basic principles

To remove synonyms and antonyms
The basic idea behind Newspeak is to remove all shades of meaning from language, leaving simple dichotomies (pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness, goodthink and crimethink) which reinforce the total dominance of the State. Similarly, Newspeak root words served as both nouns and verbs, which allowed further reduction in the total number of words; for example, “think” served as both noun and verb, so the word thought was not required and could be abolished. A staccato rhythm of short syllables was also a goal, further reducing the need for deep thinking about language. Successful Newspeak meant that there would be fewer and fewer words – dictionaries would get thinner and thinner.

In addition, words with opposite meanings were removed as redundant, so “bad” became “ungood”. Words with comparative and superlative meanings were also simplified, so “better” became “gooder”, and “best” likewise became “goodest”. Intensifiers could be added, so “great” became “plusgood”, and “excellent” and “splendid” likewise became “doubleplusgood”. Adjectives were 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). In this manner, as many words as possible were removed from the language. The ultimate aim of Newspeak was to reduce even the dichotomies to a single word that was a “yes” of some sort: an obedient word with which everyone answered affirmatively to what was asked of them.

Some of the constructions in Newspeak, such as “ungood”, are in fact characteristic of agglutinative languages, although foreign to English. It is possible that Orwell modeled aspects of Newspeak on Esperanto; for example “ungood” is constructed similarly to the Esperanto word malbona. Orwell had been exposed to Esperanto in 1927 when living in Paris with his aunt Ellen Kate Limouzin and her husband Eugène Lanti, a prominent Esperantist. Esperanto was the language of the house, and Orwell was disadvantaged by not speaking it, which may account for some antipathy towards the language.

To control thought

“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.”

Some examples of Newspeak from the novel include crimethink, doublethink, and Ingsoc. They mean, respectively, “thoughtcrime”, “accepting as correct two mutually contradictory beliefs”, and “English socialism” (the official political philosophy of the Party). The word Newspeak itself also comes from the language. All of these words would be obsolete and should be removed in the “final” version of Newspeak, except for doubleplusungood in certain contexts.

Generically, Newspeak has come to mean any attempt to restrict disapproved language by a government or other powerful entity.

Vocabulary
The “A” group of words are for simple concepts, such as “eating” and “drinking”. Groups of words such as the “B” group convey more complicated topics. The only way to say “bad” is with ungood. Something awful or extremely terrible is called “doubleplusungood”. The “C” group is for very technical vocabulary. Since the Party does not want people to be intelligent in multiple fields, there is no word for “science”. There are separate words for different fields.

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