Definitions

Newspeak

Newspeak

[noo-speek, nyoo-]
Newspeak is a fictional language in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the novel, 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 – or speech impossible by removing any words or possible constructs which describe the ideas of freedom, rebellion and so on. One character 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.

Thus forcing the use of Newspeak, according to Orwell, describes a deliberate intent to exploit this degeneration with the aim of oppressing its speakers.

Basic principles of Newspeak

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. (See duckspeak.) 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" or "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 which Orwell derides, such as replacing "bad" with "ungood", are in fact characteristic of agglutinative languages, although foreign to English. It is also 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 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.
The underlying theory of Newspeak is that if something can't be said, then it can't be thought.

Examples of Newspeak, from the novel, include: "crimethink"; "doubleplusungood"; and "Ingsoc" .They mean, respectively: "thought-crime"; "extremely bad"; and "English Socialism", the official political philosophy of the Party. The word "Newspeak" itself also comes from the language. Note that 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.

See also

References

Further reading

NB: Cf. ELECTRONIC EDITIONS WARNING.

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