Newspeak and expression


So I am probably about the last adult on earth to get around to reading George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, but I finally did (after some not so subtle urging). I knew the general premise and had heard of many of the words and phrases made commonplace by the book (Big Brother, doubleplusgood (meaning extremely good), the adjective Orwellian), but I obviously really needed to read the book.

Orwell brings up a lot of issues that are still – or even more – relevant today than in the 1940s when the book was written. The most interesting of these, to me, being the use of Newspeak, a completely cut-down version of English that the totalitarian government introduces to reduce the ability of the general populace to think outside a very small sphere of knowledge.

Some of the changes that are made seem logical, such as standardising superlative forms (good, gooder, goodest). Then the changes become bigger. Synonyms and antonyms are removed, and bad becomes ungood. Why have more than one word for the same thing? Other words are shortened to remove any connotations the original words might have, e.g. the word Ministry becomes mini, removing the feeling of government. All words deemed unnecessary by the government are removed altogether.

What is left is a collection of words that are functional but not descriptive. Many concepts we rely on (freedom, democracy) are deleted altogether, leaving a society that couldn’t think for itself even if it knew that were possible. Of course, people can imagine things that don’t exist, but it is much harder to distribute your ideas when you can’t even describe them.

Do you think the spread of Newspeak would have achieved its government’s aims? How does lack of language affect lack of concepts in a culture, even today?