1984 Newspeak

As English language students, you've likely heard of, if not read, the novel 1984 (1949) before, but have you ever paid much attention to the fictional language used in the novel?

1984 Newspeak 1984 Newspeak

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Table of contents

    George Orwell created his own language, Newspeak, to draw parallels between the deterioration of free thought and language in societies under authoritarian dictatorships and to explain how language can be used to control and influence the vulnerable.

    Newspeak is more than just a few words or quotes and is, in fact, a complete language that was designed to replace Oldspeak (Standard English).

    George Orwell's 1984

    Before we delve into the world of Newspeak, let's look at a basic introduction and some background information on George Orwell's novel 1984.

    1984 was published in 1949 and is now considered one of the most famous and influential dystopian novels of all time.

    Dystopian: An imagined state or society, usually in the future, where there are significant injustices.

    The novel follows the protagonist Winston who lives in Air Strip One (which used to be England) in Oceania, Orwell's fictional "superstate." The premise of the novel is that the whole world is at war and has subsequently been divided into three superstates; Oceania (comprising the Americas, Britain, Australia, and Southern Africa), Eurasia (comprising Europe and Russia), and Eastasia (comprising northern Asia), the "ownership" over the rest of the world was disputed. All three superstates are under a totalitarian dictatorship (i.e., they require complete subservience from the general population) and are in differing states of war against each other.

    The grouping of these countries was not coincidental and reflected the global political divisions of the world during the Cold War 1947-1991.

    The leading party of Oceania is INGSOC, i.e., English socialism (notice how INGSOC is a portmanteau word of ING- taken from England and -SOC taken from socialism — this is your first taster of Newspeak). Not much is known about the ideology of Ingsoc, except it is an authoritarian party that uses propaganda, the Thought Police (spies), and the all-seeing eye of Big Brother to keep the working classes submissive and the party in power. Within Oceania, the political structure is split into three:

    • The Inner Party: The top ruling 2%.

    • The Outer Party: The educated working class.

    • The Proletariats: The uneducated working class.

    Although Orwell never explicitly states these divisions are related to the social classes we see in places like the UK, most scholars agree his intentions were clear.

    War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength - INGSOC's party slogan in chapter 1, 1984.

    Within the INGSOC party, there are four ministries: the Ministry of Truth, the Ministry of Peace, the Ministry of Love, and the Ministry of Plenty. The name of the ministries is rather contradictory as the ministry of truth deals with lies, the ministry of peace with war, the ministry of love with torture, and the ministry of plenty with starvation. These contradictory names are purposeful and were based on government names in the UK and the USA during World War 2 (e.g., Britain's Ministry of Food oversaw rationing.) The contradictory nature of these names is an example of doublethink, the acceptance of two opposing things being true (we'll cover this more shortly).

    Newspeak 1984, Image of George Orwell, StudySmarterFig 1. - George Orwell.

    1984 Newspeak Explained

    You might be wondering if all the background information is important for an explanation on 1984's Newspeak; well, we think so. From a linguistic perspective, language has the power to normalize and cement the dystopian realities you've just read about.

    Language can be used to create new realities, hide or twist the truth, confuse or scare the general public, create influential and instrumental power, and more.

    For example, throughout the novel, the protagonist and the reader are invited to question whether or not the whole world is genuinely at war or whether this is propaganda used to keep workers afraid and, therefore, obedient. In essence, 1984 is a novel about a man struggling to maintain a sense of truth and reality under the control of power and propaganda.

    Propaganda: The communication of ideas that tries to promote a certain agenda or ideology.

    Orwell and Language

    Throughout his career, Orwell spoke a lot about language and released several essays about the decline of the English language, most notably Politics and the English Language (1946). In the essay, Orwell suggested that as free thought suffered, language must also suffer under oppressive regimes, such as the Communist Party. From this line of thought, he concluded in the essay that "If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought."

    Orwell created Newspeak to show the role language can play when it comes to societies being taken over by authoritarian and totalitarian dictatorships and to reflect the language used by politicians across the world.

    1984 Newspeak Defined

    Now we have a good idea about the reasoning behind the creation of Newspeak for the novel 1984, let's have a closer look at a definition.

    Newspeak: The fictional official language of Oceania, Orwell's dystopian superstate. The language was created to replace Oldspeak (that's Standard English to you and me) and shares mostly the same vocabulary and grammar as English. However, Newspeak is marked by linguistic techniques, such as circumlocution, euphemisms, and contradictions. Morphologically, Newspeak contains a lot of affixes, contractions, blended and compounded words, and has standardized spelling. Newspeak has a very restricted vocabulary.

    Let's take a look at some of those more complex terms:

    Circumlocution: The use of unnecessarily large and complex words and indirect speech to confuse the listener and avoid getting to the point.

    Euphemisms: Using more pleasing-sounding words to describe things that may be deemed upsetting or offensive. E.g., "The company downsized." instead of "The company fired everyone."

    Newspeak was designed to be spoken quickly and allow for whole thoughts to be reduced into short, simple terms, meaning the speaker and the listener aren't allowed much time to think.

    Do you know the phrase, "Think before you speak"? Well, Newspeak encouraged the opposite.

    One way Newspeak reduces the role of language in thinking is by restricting vocabulary. Any words that could be used to question or criticize the party are removed, and the semantic meaning behind certain words has slowly been removed.

    The word free is still present in Newspeak, but only in terms of free from, e.g., The tea is free from sugar. The word can no longer be used in relation to liberty.

    Removing certain words not only restricts what people can say but also promotes a narrowing of thought, making people easier to influence and control.

    A final priority of Newspeak was euphony, i.e., being pleasant sounding on the ear. The pleasant-sounding nature of words like Mintrue (The contracted version of Ministry of Truth) helps to mask the ideology they carry. Orwell took the inspiration to contract words in this way from the Nazis and the Communist Party and their words, such as comintern (Communist International).

    Although Newspeak was designed to replace Oldspeak (Standard English), in the novel, the transition was not yet complete, and the party hoped to see a complete removal of Oldspeak by the year 2050 (a very quick turnaround considering linguistic shifts usually happen gradually over thousands of years!)

    1984 Newspeak, Propaganda image, StudySmarterFig 2. - Big Brother is watching.

    Examples of Newspeak in 1984

    Now we have a good idea behind the reasoning and purpose of 1984's Newspeak, let's look at some examples. We'll start with grammar, as this largely dictates and explains how new words are created, and we'll finish with some vocabulary and quotes.

    Newspeak Grammar

    Although the grammar of Newspeak is much the same as Standard English, there are a few differences that set it apart. The key differences revolve around standardization, contractions, and the use of affixes.

    • Comparatives and superlatives are created with the prefixes plus- and doubleplus-, e.g., cold, pluscold, doublepluscold. They can also be created in a standardized way by adding the suffixes -er and -est.

    • All words can be negated with the prefix -un, which helps with the removal of negative or critical words. The prefix un- is also used to talk about things that no longer exist., e.g., unperson means a dead person.

    • Use of contractions and blends - Many phrases, especially those that carry political ideology, are contracted into a singular word to make them easier to say and more pleasing to the ear. E.g., The Ministry of Truth is contracted into Minitrue.

    • Standardized spelling to show grammatical forms, such as tense, aspect, number, and person. For example, thought becomes thinked, children becomes childs, and drunk becomes drinked.

    • Interchangeability of parts of speech, i.e., nouns, verbs, and adjectives, can play the same role in a sentence and can all serve as a root word that receives affixes.

    • Adjectives are created by adding the suffix -ful. For example, uglyful.

    • Adverbs are created by adding the suffix -wise. For example, fully becomes fullwise, quickly becomes speedwise, and carefully becomes carewise.

    • Use of the prefixes ante- and post- to mean before and after. E.g., antework and postwork means before work and after work.

    Doublespeak and Doublethink

    Two terms that are essential in understanding the creation of Newspeak are doublespeak and doublethink.

    Doublespeak is a linguistic technique that uses lots of euphemisms and ambiguous, indirect language to disguise what is really being said. INGSOC's party slogan, "War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength," is an example of doublespeak.

    Doublethink is a term coined by Orwell and describes the ability to believe that two conflicting ideas can be true at once. For example, the word joycamp, the Newspeak word for a forced-labor camp, is an example of doublethink.

    Newspeak Vocabulary

    We will now look at the vocabulary according to Orwell's own classifications. In the appendix for 1984, Orwell included a document entitled "The Principles of Newspeak," in it, he outlines the "perfected" form of Newspeak, i.e., the completed language. He states that all vocabulary will be classified into three categories: Class A, B, and C.

    Class A Words

    The class A words were used to describe everyday life. These are English words that have been widely restricted, and additional meaning is often expressed with affixes. The root words typically describe concrete objects and physical actions, and anything negative or theoretical has been removed.

    • Ungood - bad
    • Good - good
    • Plusgood - very good
    • Doubleplusgood - the best
    • Plusungood - very bad
    • Doubleplusungood - the worst

    Class B Words

    The class B words are politically charged words that serve the primary function of indoctrinating the general public into following the party's ideology. They have been constructed in such a way that they present complex ideas in a short, pleasant-sounding, and easy-to-pronounce way. Techniques used include doublethink, doublespeak, euphemisms, and the use of contractions and compound words.

    • Thoughtcrime - Thinking thoughts outside of the party's ideology
    • Facecrime - A facial expression that gives away the fact someone had "unpure" thoughts
    • Thinkpol - The thought police
    • Blackwhite - A conceptual word to show acceptance that two opposite things are actually the same thing
    • Unperson - Someone who has been "vaporized" (presumably murdered)
    • Artsem - artificial insemination
    • Joycamp - a forced labor camp
    • Goodsex - sex purely for procreation that involves no physical pleasure, especially for women — the only type of sex permitted
    • Sexcrime - any sexual interaction that doesn't fit with the above description
    • Minluv - the Ministry of Love, which is responsible for torturing and brainwashing enemies
    • Minipax - The Ministry of Peace, which is responsible for war
    • Miniplenty - The Ministry of Plenty, which is responsible for ensuring Oceania is in constant economic hardship
    • Minitrue - The Ministry of Truth, which is responsible for dispersing propaganda, rewriting history books, and keeping the proletariats entertained with synthetic culture

    Class C Words

    These are words to do with the sciences and are only readily available to those who need them, i.e., those working within a scientific field. Much like class A words, they have been heavily restricted.

    Newspeak Quotes

    To finish our section on Newspeak examples, let's look at some quotes about Newspeak from the novel 1984:

    Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end, we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it. - Syme in chapter 5, 1984.

    All beliefs, habits, tastes, emotions, and mental attitudes that characterize our time are really designed to sustain the mystique of the Party and prevent the true nature of present-day society from being perceived. - Goldstein in chapter 9, 1984.

    1984 Newspeak - Key takeaways

    • Newspeak is a fictional language used in the novel 1984. It is the official language of Oceania, a dystopian superstate.
    • The language was created by the ruling party of Oceania to replace Oldspeak (Standard English).
    • Newspeak is similar to Standard English, except it is marked by linguistic techniques such as euphemisms and contradictions and morphologically contains a lot of suffixes, contractions, and compound words.
    • Newspeak was designed to be spoken quickly and allow for whole thoughts to be reduced into short, simple, and pleasant-sounding terms. This means the speaker and the listener aren't allowed much time to think.
    • Doublethink and Doublespeak are important elements of Newspeak.
    Frequently Asked Questions about 1984 Newspeak

    What is Newspeak in 1984?

    Newspeak is a fictional language used in George Orwell's novel 1984. Newspeak is the official language of the dystopian superstate Oceania and was created to replace Oldspeak (Standard English).

    What are some examples of Newspeak in 1984?

    Some example words of Newspeak in 1984 include:

    • Thoughtcrime
    • Thinkpol
    • Joycamp
    • Unperson
    • Sexcrime
    • Ungood
    • Plusgood
    • Doubleplusgood

    How does Newspeak control society?

    One of the main aims of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought of the general public. By restricting the vocabulary and reducing complex thoughts to short terms, Newspeak encourages its users not to think too much, making them vulnerable to oppressors. 

    What are the three levels of Newspeak?

    The vocabulary of Newspeak is divided into three classes; class A, B, and C.

    • Class A contains everyday words.
    • Class B contains words that promote the INGSOC party's ideology.
    • Class C contains scientific vocabulary. 

    What is the aim of Newspeak?

    Arguably, the main aim of Newspeak is to create a subservient general public that accepts the ruling party's ideology.  

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Which phrase is an example of a euphemism?

    In Newspeak, what part of speech does the suffix -wise create?

    In Newspeak, what part of speech does the suffix -ful create?

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