Newspeak is the fictional language of Oceania, a totalitarian superstate that is the setting of the 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. The "Principles of Newspeak" is an appendix to the novel. Like "Big Brother" and "Thoughtcrime," Newspeak is one of the enduring ideas and terms that remain relevant.
In the novel, the Party created Newspeak to meet the ideological requirements of Ingsoc (English Socialism) in Oceania. Newspeak is a controlled language of simplified grammar and restricted vocabulary designed to limit the individual's ability to think and articulate "subversive" concepts such as personal identity, self-expression and free will.
1984, published in 1948, is the story of Winston Smith living in the totalitarian super-state of Oceania. Oceania is Orwell's vision of a future word dominated by Stalinism. The country itself is massive, spanning roughly a third of the globe. The other two-thirds are controlled by Eurasia and East Asia, two equally oppressive (and possibly fictional) super-states, with which Oceania is purportedly in a state of perpetual war. In Oceania, every aspect of life is subject to severe and often surreal regulation and control. In every room of every house there is a telescreen, a sort of TV-in-reverse, which allows the ministers of Oceania's Thought Police to monitor the daily lives of every one of its citizens. If a citizen tried to obscure the telescreen with some furniture to obtain even the slightest degree of privacy the Thought Police would descend upon the citizen in a matter of moments.
The story of the novel is Winston Smith's rebellion against the suffocating oppression of his world, his brief escape, and his ultimate capture at the hands of the Thought Police. Smith is a clerk for the Ministry of Truth, Oceania's perverse department of archives and propaganda. His job is to write and rewrite the history of Oceania as The Party sees fit. Newspeak is designed to prevent thoughts that run counter to the official ideology. Such concepts are criminalized as thoughtcrime since they contradict the prevailing Ingsoc orthodoxy.
In "The Principles of Newspeak," Orwell's appendix to the novel, he explains that Newspeak follows most of the rules of English grammar, yet is a language characterized by a continually diminishing vocabulary; complete thoughts are reduced to simple terms of simplistic meaning. The political contractions of Newspeak—Ingsoc (English Socialism), Minitrue (Ministry of Truth), Miniplenty (Ministry of Plenty)—are described by Orwell as similar to real examples of German and Russian contractions in the twentieth century. Neologisms like Nazi (Nationalsozialist), Gestapo (Geheime Staatspolizei), politburo (Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union), Comintern (Communist International), kolkhoz (collective farm), and Komsomol (Young Communists' League), already used contractions that provided the model for in Newspeak. These syllabic abbreviations, are supposed to have a political function already in virtue of their abbreviated structure. Nice sounding and easily pronounceable, their purpose is to mask all ideological content from the speaker.
Orwell and Newspeak
Orwell was interested in linguistic questions and questions pertaining to the function and change of language. He addresses the subject in his essay "Politics and the English Language" (1946) as well as in the Appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four. The perceived decline and decadence of the English Language is a central theme in Nineteen Eighty-Four. In the essay, Orwell criticizes standard English, with its perceived dying metaphors, pretentious diction, and high-flown rhetoric, which he would later satirize in the meaningless words of doublespeak, the product of unclear reasoning. The conclusion thematically reiterates linguistic decline: "I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this may argue that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development, by any direct tinkering with words or constructions."
Orwell's main objection against this decline of the English language is not so much based on aesthetic grounds, but rather that for him the linguistic decline accompanies a decline of thought, the real possibility of manipulation of speakers as well as listeners and eventually political chaos. The recurring theme in Nineteen Eighty-Four of a connection between authoritarian regimes and (authoritarian) language is already found in "Politics and the English Language":
When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer. I should expect to find - this is a guess which I have not sufficient knowledge to verify - that the German, Russian and Italian languages have all deteriorated in the last ten or fifteen years, as a result of dictatorship. But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.
Newspeak is a constructed language, of planned phonology, grammar, and vocabulary, similar to the system of Basic English, proposed by Charles Kay Ogden in 1930. Orwell showed interest in it while working at the BBC during the Second World War (1939–1945). Basic ('British American Scientific International Commercial') English was a controlled language and designed to be an easy-to-learn English with only 850 core words. Like Newspeak, the Basic vocabulary is classified into three categories, two of them with two subcategories. The classification systems between the two, however, do not coincide.
The political purpose of Newspeak is to eliminate the expression of the shades of meaning inherent in ambiguity and nuance from Oldspeak (Standard English). In order to reduce the language's function of communication, Newspeak uses concepts of simple construction, such as pleasure vs. pain and happiness vs. sadness. Additionally, goodthink and crimethink linguistically reinforce the State's totalitarian dominance of the people of Oceania. The Party's long-term goal is for every member of the Party and society, except the Proles—the working-class of Oceania—to exclusively communicate in Newspeak by C.E. 2050.
In Newspeak, English root words function as both nouns and verbs, which reduces the vocabulary available for the speaker to communicate meaning. For example, think is both a noun and a verb, thus, the word thought is not functionally required to communicate the concepts of thought in Newspeak and therefore is not in the Newspeak vocabulary.
As personal communication, Newspeak is to be spoken in staccato rhythm, using words that are short and easy to pronounce. The Party intends to make speech physically automatic and intellectually unconscious in order to diminish the possibility of critical thought occurring to the speaker. English words of comparative and superlative meanings and irregular spellings were simplified into regular spellings; thus, better becomes gooder and best becomes goodest. The prefixes plus- and doubleplus- are used for emphasis (for example, pluscold meaning "very cold" and doublepluscold meaning "extremely cold"). Adjectives are formed by adding the suffix –ful to a root-word, e.g. goodthinkful means "Orthodox in thought." Adverbs are formed by adding the suffix –wise, e.g. goodthinkwise means "In an orthodox manner."
The intellectual purpose of Newspeak is to make Ingsoc-approved thoughts the only expressible thoughts. As constructed, Newspeak's vocabulary communicates the exact expression of sense and meaning that a member of the Party could wish to express. It excludes secondary denotations and connotations. The linguistic simplification of Oldspeak into Newspeak was realized with neologisms, the elimination of ideologically undesirable words, and the elimination of the politically unorthodox meanings of words.
The word free still existed in Newspeak, but only to communicate the absence of something. For example, "The dog is free from lice" or "This field is free of weeds." The word could not denote free will, because intellectual freedom was no longer supposed to exist in Oceania. The limitations of Newspeak's vocabulary enabled the Party to effectively control the population's minds, by allowing the user only a very narrow range of spoken and written thought; hence, words such as: crimethink (thought crime), doublethink (accepting contradictory beliefs), and Ingsoc communicated only their surface meanings.
In the story of Nineteen Eighty-Four, the lexicologist character named Syme discusses his editorial 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.
Newspeak words are classified by three distinct classes: the A, B, and C vocabularies.
The words of the A vocabulary describe the functional concepts of daily life (e.g. eating and drinking, working, and cooking). It consists mostly of English words, but they are very small in number compared to English, while for each word, its meanings are "far more rigidly defined" than in English.
The words of the B vocabulary are deliberately constructed for political purposes to convey complex ideas in a simple form. They are compound words and noun-verbs with political significance that are meant to impose and instill upon Oceania's citizens politically correct mental attitudes required by the Party. In the appendix, Orwell explains that the very structure of the B vocabulary (the fact that they are compound words) carries ideological weight. The large number of contractions in the B vocabulary is not done to simply to save time. The Ministry of Truth is called Minitrue, the Records department is called Recdep, the Fiction Department is called Ficdep, the Teleprogrammes Department is called Teledep. They are patterned after the examples of compound words in the political language of the 20th century—Nazi, Gestapo, Politburo, Comintern, Inprecor, Agitprop, and many others. Orwell remarks that the Party believed that abbreviating a name could "narrowly and subtly" alter a word's meaning. Newspeak is supposed to make this effort a conscious purpose:
[...]Comintern is a word that can be uttered almost without taking thought, whereas Communist International is a phrase over which one is obliged to linger at least momentarily. In the same way, the associations called up by a word like Minitrue are fewer and more controllable than those called up by Ministry of Truth. This accounted not only for the habit of abbreviating whenever possible, but also for the almost exaggerated care that was taken to make every word easily pronounceable.
The B words in Newspeak are supposed to sound at least somewhat nice, while also being easily pronounceable, in an attempt to make speech on anything political "staccato and monotonous" and, ultimately, mask from the speaker all ideological content.
The words of the C vocabulary are scientific and technical terms that supplement the linguistic functions of the A and B vocabularies. These words are the same scientific terms in English, but many of them have had their meanings rigidified. Like Vocabulary A, it is an attempt to prevent speakers from expressing anti-government thoughts. Distribution of the C vocabulary is limited, because the Party want the citizens of Oceania to know only a select few ways of life or techniques of production. Hence, the Oldspeak word science has no equivalent term in Newspeak; instead, these words are simply treated as specific technical words for speaking of technical fields.
Newspeak's grammar is greatly simplifed compared to English. It has two "outstanding" characteristics: Almost completely interchangeable linguistic functions between the parts of speech (any word could function as a verb, noun, adjective, or adverb), and heavy inflectional regularity in the construction of usages and of words. Inflectional regularity means that most irregular words were replaced with regular words combined with prefixes and suffixes. For example, the preterite and the past participle constructions of verbs are alike, with both ending in –ed. Hence, the Newspeak preterite of the English word steal is stealed, and that of the word think is thinked. Likewise, the past participles of swim, give, bring, speak, and take were, respectively swimmed, gived, bringed, speaked, and taked, with all irregular forms (such as swam, gave, and brought) eliminated. The auxiliaries (including to be), pronouns, demonstratives, and relatives still inflect irregularly. They mostly follow their use in English, but the word whom and the shall and should tenses were dropped, whom being replaced by who and shall and should by will and would.
- "Un–" is used to indicate negation, as Newspeak has no non-political antonyms. For example, the standard English words warm and hot are replaced by uncold, and the moral concept communicated with the word bad is expressed as ungood. When appended to a verb, the prefix "un–" communicates a negative imperative mood, thus, the Newspeak word unproceed means "do not proceed" in Standard English.
- "Plus–" is an intensifier that replaces very and more; thus, plusgood replaced very good and English words such as great.
- "Doubleplus–" is an intensifier that replaces extremely and superlatives; thus, the Newspeak word doubleplusgood replaced words such as fantastic and excellent.
- "Ante–" is the prefix that replaces before; thus antefilling replaces the English phrase "before filling."
- "Post–" is the prefix that replaces after.
In spoken and written Newspeak, suffixes are also used in the elimination of irregular conjugations:
- "–ful" transforms any word into an adjective, e.g. the English words fast, quick, and rapid are replaced by speedful and slow is replaced by unspeedful.
- "–d" and "–ed" form the past tense of a verb, e.g. ran becomes runned, stole becomes stealed, drove becomes drived, thought becomes thinked, and drank becomes drinked.
- "–er" forms the more comparison of an adjective, e.g. better becomes gooder.
- "–est" forms the most comparison of an adjective, e.g. best becomes goodest.
- "–s" and "–es" transform a noun into its plural form, e.g. men becomes mans, oxen becomes oxes, and lives becomes lifes.
- "–wise" transforms any word into an adverb by eliminating all English adverbs not already ending in "–wise", e.g. quickly becomes speedwise, slowly becomes unspeedwise, carefully becomes carewise, and words like fully, completely, and totally become fullwise.
The Oldspeak sentence "He ran extremely quickly" would become "He runned doubleplusspeedwise".
Like many of Orwell's terms, such as "Big Brother," "2+2=5," "Thought Police," "Doublespeak," and "Ministry of Truth," or Minitrue, the word "Newspeak" has made its way into the English language. It is sometimes used in contemporary political debate as an allegation that one tries to introduce new meanings of words to suit one's agenda.
On April 27, 2022 the United States Department of Homeland Security announced the creation of a Disinformation Governance Board to provide guidance to department agencies about purported misinformation or disinformation considered detrimental to national security. The Board was immediately attacked as a kind of Ministry of Truth. On May 18, 2022 the Board was paused and its Director, Nina Jancowicz resigned.
List of Newspeak words
Note: The novel says that the Ministry of Truth uses a jargon "not actually Newspeak, but consisting largely of Newspeak words" for its internal memos. As many of the words in this list (e.g. "bb", "upsub") come from such memos, it is not certain whether those words are actually Newspeak.
- ante — The prefix that replaces before
- artsem — Artificial insemination
- bb — Big Brother
- bellyfeel — The blind, enthusiastic acceptance of an idea
- blackwhite — To accept whatever one is told, regardless of the facts. In the novel, it is described as "...to say that black is white when [the Party says so]" and "...to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary". (See also 2 + 2 = 5)
- crimestop — To rid oneself of or fail to understand unorthodox thoughts that go against Ingsoc's ideology
- crimethink — Thoughts and concepts that go against Ingsoc such as liberty, equality, and privacy, and also the criminal act of holding such thoughts. Frequently referred to by the standard English “thoughtcrime”.
- dayorder — Order of the day
- dep — Department
- doubleplusgood — The word that replaced Oldspeak words meaning "superlatively good," such as excellent, fabulous, and fantastic
- doubleplusungood — The word that replaced Oldspeak words meaning "superlatively bad," such as terrible and horrible
- doublethink — The act of simultaneously believing two, mutually contradictory ideas
- duckspeak — Automatic, vocal support of political orthodoxies
- facecrime — A facial expression which reveals that one has committed thoughtcrime
- Ficdep — The Ministry of Truth's Fiction Department
- free — The absence and the lack of something. "Intellectually free" and "politically free" have been replaced by crimethinkful.
- fullwise — The word that replaces words such as fully, completely, and totally
- goodthink — A synonym for "political orthodoxy" and "a politically orthodox thought" as defined by the Party
- goodsex — Sexual intercourse only for procreation, without any physical pleasure on the part of the woman, and strictly within marriage
- goodwise — The word that replaced well as an adverb
- Ingsoc — English Socialism (the political ideology of The Party)
- joycamp — Labor camp
- malquoted — Inaccurate representations of the words of Big Brother and of the Party
- Miniluv — The Ministry of Love, where the secret police interrogate and torture the enemies of Oceania (torture and brainwashing)
- Minipax — The Ministry of Peace, who wage war for Oceania
- Miniplenty — The Ministry of Plenty, who keep the population in continual economic hardship (starvation and rationing)
- Minitrue — The Ministry of Truth, who manufacture consent by way of lies, propaganda, and distorted historical records, while supplying the proles (proletariat) with synthetic culture and entertainment
- Oldspeak – Standard English
- oldthink — Ideas from the time before the Party's revolution, such as objectivity and rationalism
- ownlife — A person's anti-social tendency to enjoy solitude and individualism
- plusgood — The word that replaced Oldspeak words meaning "very good," such as great
- plusungood — The word that replaced "very bad"
- Pornosec — The pornography production section (Porno Sector) of the Ministry of Truth's Fiction Department
- prolefeed — Popular culture for entertaining Oceania's working class
- Recdep — The Ministry of Truth's Records Department, where Winston Smith rewrites historical records so they conform to the Party's agenda
- rectify — The Ministry of Truth's euphemism for manipulating a historical record
- ref — To refer (to someone or something)
- sec — Sector
- sexcrime — A sexual immorality, such as fornication, adultery, oral sex, and homosexuality; any sex act that deviates from Party directives to use sex only for government approved procreation
- speakwrite — A machine that transcribes speech into text
- Teledep — The Ministry of Truth's Telecommunications Department
- telescreen — A two-way television set with which the Party spy upon Oceania's population
- thinkpol — The Thought Police, the secret police force of Oceania's government
- unperson — An executed person whose existence is erased from history and memory
- upsub — An upwards submission to higher authority
- "Newspeak" Merriam Webster. Retrieved October 24, 2022.
- Tom McArthur (ed.), The Oxford Companion to the English Language (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1992), 693.
- "Moellerlit Newspeak dictionary". Retrieved October 24, 2022.
- George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (London, UK: Secker and Warburg, 1949, ISBN 978-0452284234), 309.
- Orwell, 310-318.
- George Orwell, "Politics and the English Language," New Republic 114(24) (June 17, 1946): 872–874.
- Johann Köberl, "Der Sprachphilosophische Hintergrund von Newspeak: Ein Beitrag zum 100.Geburtstag von Albert Einstein," AAA: Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik 4(2): 171–183.
- Howard Fink, "Newspeak: the Epitome of Parody Techniques in 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'," Critical Survey 5(2) (1971): 155–163.
- Orwell, 309.
- Orwell, 310.
- Orwell, 309-310.
- Orwell, 56.
- Orwell, 318.
- Orwell, 309-323.
- Orwell, 311.
- Peter Foster, "Peter Foster: Sustainable Newspeak by 2050," Financial Post, January 5, 2021. Retrieved October 24, 2022.
- Richard Weintraub, Esq., "Trump's use of 'Newspeak' to explain away virus puts Americans at risk | For What It's Worth," Pocono Record, November 19, 2020. Retrieved October 24, 2022.
- Nicole Sganga, "What is DHS' Disinformation Governance Board and why is everyone so mad about it?" CBS News, May 6, 2022. Retrieved October 30, 2022.
- Hannah Getahun, "DeSantis calls DHS Disinformation Governance Board a 'belated April Fool's joke'," Business Insider, April 30, 2022. Retrieved October 30, 2022.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Fink, Howard. "Newspeak: the Epitome of Parody Techniques in 'Nineteen Eighty-Four'," Critical Survey 5(2) (1971): 155–163.
- Foster, Peter. "Peter Foster: Sustainable Newspeak by 2050," Financial Post, January 5, 2021. Retrieved October 24, 2022.
- Getahun, Hannah. "DeSantis calls DHS Disinformation Governance Board a 'belated April Fool's joke'," Business Insider, April 30, 2022. Retrieved October 30, 2022.
- Köberl, Johann. "Der Sprachphilosophische Hintergrund von Newspeak: Ein Beitrag zum 100.Geburtstag von Albert Einstein," AAA: Arbeiten aus Anglistik und Amerikanistik 4(2): 171–183.
- McArthur, Tom (ed.). The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1992.
- Orwell, George. "Politics and the English Language," New Republic 114(24) (June 17, 1946): 872–874.
- Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four, London, UK: Secker and Warburg, 1949. ISBN 978-0452284234
- Sganga, Nicole. "What is DHS' Disinformation Governance Board and why is everyone so mad about it?" CBS News, May 6, 2022. Retrieved October 30, 2022.
- Weintraub, Richard. "Trump's use of 'Newspeak' to explain away virus puts Americans at risk | For What It's Worth," Pocono Record, November 19, 2020. Retrieved October 24, 2022.
- Burgess, Anthony. Nineteen Eighty-Five. Boston, MA: Little Brown & Co, 1978. ISBN 0316116513 Anthony Burgess discusses the plausibility of Newspeak.
- Green, Jonathon. Newspeak: a dictionary of jargon. London, UK and Boston, MA: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1985. ISBN 0710206739
- Klemperer, Victor, and Roderick H. Watt. LTI - Lingua Tertii Imperii]]: A Philologist's Notebook. Lewiston, ID: E. Mellen Press, 1997. ISBN 077348681X An annotated edition of Victor Klemperer's LTI, Notizbuch eines Philologen with English notes and commentary by Roderick H. Watt.
- Klemperer, Victor. The language of the Third Reich: LTI - Lingua Tertii Imperii: A Philologist's Notebook. translated by Martin Brady, London, UK and New Brunswick, NJ: Athlone Press, 2000. ISBN 0485115263
- Young, John Wesley. Totalitarian Language: Orwell's Newspeak and Its Nazi and Communist Antecedents. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia Press, 1991. ISBN 0813913241
All links retrieved November 14, 2022.
- An independent compilation of the Newspeak language
- The Principles of Newspeak
- George Orwell's 1984
- New Examples of Newspeak
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