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Newspeak is the fictional language in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, written by George Orwell. It is a controlled language created by the totalitarian state as a tool to limit freedom of thought, and concepts that pose a threat to the regime such as freedom, self-expression, individuality, and peace. Any form of thought alternative to the party’s construct is classified as "thoughtcrime".
Newspeak is explained in chapters 4 and 5 of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and in an appendix to the book. The language follows, for the most part, the same grammatical rules as English, but has a much more limiting, and constantly shifting vocabulary. Any synonyms or antonyms, along with undesirable concepts are eradicated. The goal is for everyone to be speaking this language by the year 2050 (the story is set in the year 1984 — hence the title). In the meantime, Oldspeak (current English) is still spoken among the Proles — the working-class citizens of Oceania.
Orwell was inspired to invent Newspeak by the constructed language Basic English, which he promoted from 1942 to 1944 before emphatically rejecting it in his essay "Politics and the English Language." In this paper he deplores the bad English of his day, citing dying metaphors, pretentious diction or rhetoric, and meaningless words, which he saw as encouraging unclear thought and reasoning. Towards the end of the essay, Orwell states: “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."
Newspeak's contracted forms, such as Ingsoc and Minitrue, are inspired by the Russian syllabic abbreviations used for concepts relating to the government and society of the USSR, such as politburo, Comintern, kolkhoz ("collective farm") and Komsomol ("Young Communists' League"), many of which found their way into the speech of Communists in other countries.
The aim of Newspeak is to remove all shades of meaning from language, leaving simple concepts (pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness, goodthink and crimethink) that reinforce the total dominance of the State. Newspeak root words serve as both nouns and verbs, further reducing the total number of words; for example, "think" is both a noun and verb, so the word thought is not required and can be abolished. The party also intends that Newspeak be spoken in staccato rhythms with syllables that are easy to pronounce. This will make speech more automatic and unconscious and reduce the likelihood of 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" became "plusgood", and "excellent" and "splendid" become "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 understand 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.
Some of the constructions in Newspeak, such as "ungood", are 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.
According to Orwell, "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." The idea that language influences worldview is linguistic relativity.
For example, the word "free" still existed in Newspeak but could only be used in terms of something not being possessed as in, "the dog is free from lice" or, "this field is free from weeds." It could not be used in terms of being able to do as one pleases, as in "free choice" or "free will" since these concepts no longer existed. Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum. Any redundancies in the English language were removed.
As Orwell further states (through the character of 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."
Some examples of Newspeak from the novel include crimethink, doublethink, and Ingsoc. They mean, respectively, "thought-crime", "accepting as correct two mutually contradictory beliefs", and "English socialism"—the official party philosophy. The word Newspeak itself also comes from the language.
Generically, Newspeak has come to mean any attempt to restrict disapproved language by a government or other powerful entity.
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").
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...Only 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
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 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 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 good 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 is any form of sex considered acceptable by the Party. Specifically, this refers only to married heterosexual sex for the exclusive purpose of procreation. All other forms of sex are considered sexcrime.
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.
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 their name, or even speaking of his past existence, is thoughtcrime; the concept that the person may have existed at one time and has disappeared cannot be expressed in Newspeak.
"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. 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".
(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.)
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.
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.
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".
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.
Limiting language limits more than just words—it limits thought. Without the means to express thoughts beyond "I feel good or ungood", people lack the means to commit a thought crime. Even if it were committed, it is unlikely that people would understand enough to take action. Free speech diminishes as the dictionary slims down with each new edition. There is not much difference between this action and reducing the population that could actually read the word "dictionary" if the book was placed in front of them. Without the ability to read or write, one is unaware of the concept of "free speech" and unable to know how to prevent its erosion.