“Newspeak”, the Systematic Deterioration of Language as a Means of Truth

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The systematic deterioration of language as a medium of truth, e.g. “War is peace,” “freedom is slavery.” Why do the people in the novel accept these so-called truths? How are they used as tools to manipulate opinion and reinforce the total dominance of the state? Can you find examples in our own day of the corruption of language as a dependable reflection of reality?

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““Newspeak”, the Systematic Deterioration of Language as a Means of Truth”

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There seems to be a certain benchmark in the construction of the regime in Orwell’s Nineteen-Eighty-Four – a regime that prioritizes a linguistic purification in the pursuit of a doctrinally predicated social configuration that is unlike any other in the universe of English Literature. Indeed, Orwell’s synthesis of the language of Oceania, Newspeak, as spawned by the doctrinal ideology of Big Brother, sheds light on its inherent parallel with standpoints exhibited by French philosopher Michael Foucault. Such perspectives upheld by Foucault discussed the dissemination of power through a social medium, wherein language facilitates power through social discourse and language, where Foucault asserted that “the circuits of communication are the supports of an accumulation and a centralization of knowledge; the play of signs defines the anchorages of power”. (Foucault, 1977, p. 88) . 

Ideologically determined power is perhaps at the heart of newspeak, wherein the notion of language and thought as inseparable concepts is an ever-pervasive idea in the novel. Indeed, for it is not the powerful “Thought-Police” that constitutes the novel’s most frightening aspects, and neither is it the irrational and illogical malice exhibited by the inhabitants of Orwell’s classic dystopia. It is, rather, that corrupted language is used as a medium for truth – an idea that becomes progressively more important with modern-day society, for it can indeed be stated that the insight that Orwell’s novel exhibits looms over much over the contemporary debates transpiring around language and political ideologies.Indeed, for by perverting language, the 

Party’s newspeak regiments the thoughts of Oceania’s inhabitants by prescribing socially-acceptable bulwarks in their framework of mind. Indeed, for perhaps Orwell’s insight that language is inherently intertwined with man’s fundamental nature is possibly at the heart of the novelist’s dystopian society. Subsequently, it is through this lens, that the corrupted language of Newspeak, as transmogrified from Oldspeak, not only serves as an authorial reminder of how through language restriction, one’s thought and thus individuality is regimented, but that Newspeak denotes a stagnation in mankind – our descension into mindless beings. Indeed, it can be argued that this is the Party’s primary objective with the inhabitants of Oceania, for the Party is not preoccupied with mediation of a geographical region, but alternatively the minds of that region’s citizens. 

Newspeak not only acts as the textual manifestation of Orwell’s preoccupation with his attempts to engage the reader into his dystopian universe, but, and perhaps more intrinsically, a chilling reminder of mankind’s chambers of thought. The novel, subsequently, is rendered a monetary tale concerning the startling effects of totalitarianism, and it is through Orwell’s synthesis of this fictional dystopian language that underscores the ever present assault on language in contemporary society as a means to control the many’s personal freedom.

Perhaps what endows Newspeak as a startlingly revolutionary language is that the novel’s narrator supposedly grounds the Orwellian tale in the Oldspeak “past”, acting as a pre-linguistic paradigm to the “present” of the Party’s Newspeak. This concept takes on a symbolic resonance in Winston Smith’s “secret” diary wherein he can write down his innermost thoughts with his “archaic Instrument” – a pen -on “creamy paper …that had not been manufactured for at least forty years past”. Indeed, through Orwell’s notably implicit insinuation of the time before (the “past”)he Party’s upsurge serves as an authorial intrusion that underscores the disparities between two eras wherein the linguistic utilisation is vastly different. 

The antithetical “past” as alluded to by the novel’s narrator may also serve as a textual and thematic subversion to the Newspeak “present”. From a readership’s perception, the Oldpeak narrator enables a reader to analyse the perversion of language in the form of Newspeak much more objective. Indeed, for the Party’s ever-narrowing linguistic paradigm that means to restrict thought is reflected in the textual manifestation with the abbreviated and constricted titles of “Miniluv”, “Miniplenty”, “ Minipax” and “Minipax”. However, the Party is not only concerned with perverting language but destroying it as well, with Syme referring to the “destroying” of “words”. O’Brian informs Winston that power exists in “tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in shapes of your own choosing”. Indeed, this new “shape” is one enforced by the Party and certainly not one of Winston’s “own choosing”, for the Party’s linguistic rules are intended to do the exact antithesis – which is to restrict autonomous human thought. 

The belligerence and hostility of Orwell’s language utilisation here in “tear” and “pieces” is arguably representative of the Party’s relentless assault on language as a means to dictate avenues of consciousness. Winston actually adopts the Party’s principles and rules, as exemplified when he contends that he detests “goodness” and that he does not want virtue “to exist anywhere” and that “[he] want[s] everyone to be corrupt to the bones”. This idea takes on a more extensive level in the daily Two minutes of hate, which Smith describes to be “creat[ing] a hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness” that transforms “one..against their own will into a grimacing screaming lunatic”. In his essay Language and Ideology in Orwell’s 1984, Blakemore asserts that “the Party’s linguistic imperialism injects itself into Winston’s consciousness so that he uses words as the Party intends them”.

 This concept, on further exploration, can be extended as to perceive Winston Smith, subsequently, as a microcosm for the widespread psychological domination of Oceania’s inhabitants. Indeed, for Oceania’s inhabitants believe the Party’s supposedly antithetical and contradictory statements: War is Peace; Freedom is Slavery; Ignorance is Strength. Blakemore goes on to suggest that there is also perhaps an irony prevalent in Winston’s stream of consciousness, wherein what Winston deems as “goodness” is in fact corrupt and his perceived corruptness is in fact “good”. Indeed, it is at first an enigma when seeking to answer as to why Oceania’s inhabitants accept these so-called truths, and yet language is indeed the answer. For indeed, by perverting language, Ingosac not only regiments autonomous human thought, but, through this, limits the potentiality for rebellion.

The limits placed on individual or communal rebellion takes a textual manifestation in a dual format – with both discourse and written text curtailing personal freedom. For the latter, perhaps the text that exemplifies this the most palpable is the recurring “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU”, placing the inhabitants of Oceania in a sort of linguistic prison wherein they are inseparable from the ever-present watch of Ingsoc, as underscored by the pronoun “you”. Indeed, the almost omniscient existence of the “telescreen” which “receives and transmits simultaneously” endows Oceania with a chilling realism that only reinforces the psycholinguistic facet of Newspeak as a means of subsiding personal and intimate thoughts. This makes the inhabitants of Oceania not only susceptible to adopting the Party’s systematic deterioration of language, but the values on which the Party is predicated upon. 

In terms of discourse, the way in which language is utilised to suppress thought can be examined through the discourse that transpires between O’Brian and Winston. After Smith is “tortured inexorably” and is destroyed in his ability of “arguing and reasoning”, O’Brian asserts the declarative statement “you are afraid”, acting, at least through a linguistic lens, as a perturbing parallel to the aforementioned “you” in “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU”. Indeed, this instance can be perceived as a way in which linguistics are used as a means to ontrict thought as O’Brian’s assertion leaves no room for Smith’s response. Indeed, O’Brian’s final assertion in the description is “That is what you are thinking, is it not, Winston?, which leaves no room at all for Winston to speak his mind, and only serves for Winston to supposedly confirm O’Brian’s assertions.

The world of Oceania is shrouded in an extensive list of misused epithets. Exemplary of this are the names of Ministries. For instance, Winston Smith’s role in the Ministry of Truth is to edit newspapers into what Ingosac intends the Inhabitants of Oceania to believe. Indeed, for the ministries are named contradictory to their purpose of operation, and thought is subsequently controlled among the many. This extends to the other ministries and their subsequent objectives. The Ministry of truth promulgates lies and falsifies physical text, The Ministry of Peace appertains to war, the ministry of Love concerns itself with torture, and the Ministry of Plenty concerns itself with starvation..

 These discrepancies are certainly deliberate, and perhaps serve as an authorial reminder that Ingosac is inherently corrupt. Indeed, the Ministries’ names perhaps also serve as a startlingly familiar parallel to the names, euphemisms, epithets, and maxims utilised in contemporary times wherein they are used as hollow titles. An example of this would be political language which Orwell defined “ [as] designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”. In an ever- evolving world of Politics, political discourse and language perhaps needs further examination. Words such as ‘Brexit’, ‘Leaver’ and ‘Remainer’ regularly appear in today’s headlines, papers and articles but would have been alien and unknown a couple of years ago. Indeed, it is also analogous with people who characterize themselves as “left-wing” and “right-wing”, for those who did the same many decades ago would be defined by very different ideas. Indeed, there are other prescribed titles prevalent in modern times. Such is the case with many fraudulent commercial advertisements which attempt to persuade onlookers to purchase a product or service. Indeed, the reasons people believe in such things are, however, different to why Oceania’s inhabitants believe in the contradictory statements posed by the Party. Indeed, for in his essay.

At the end of the novel, though, Winston has been tortured and broken; he has been remodeled into a model citizen (Orwell 1949). His desire for freedom of action and the same right for others has been destroyed by his re-education and he actively seeks to violate the negative face of those around him and overall in his society, as can be seen in his daydreams: “He was in the public dock, confessing everything, implicating everybody” (Orwell 1949: 244-5). At this point, his mind naturally leads him to undermine his negative face, but he does not view this as wrong or a violation of what is expected of him. Instead, he is thankful for this part of himself and believes it to be correct as compared to his original beliefs: 

“He had won the victory over himself” (Orwell 1949: 245). He is now congruent with the cultural expectations of society; he is now typical in that he has no negative face nor does he expect anyone else to have it. In this pseudo-rebirth, Winston has gained a semblance of lien in that he has now been integrated into the society and consequently has obtained a certain aspect of face automatically granted through this entry. He is a member of INGSOC, and he is a fanatic of Big Brother. Through these criteria he has a certain standing within the society. In a discourse action, he is given a certain amount of respect because he is a part of this society, but this also places a strain on him in that he is a representative of this society so he must simultaneously fulfil the expectations of the situation and act as a representative of them. His actions in accordance with those expectations—societal norms and customs—are what keep him as part of the society.

The exploitation of language in Nineteen-eighty-four illustrates the grim realism of Orwell’s fictional dystopian world, and the Machiavellian scheme of control to machinate the human mind remains intrinsic in dominating the inhabitants of Oceania.

References

  1. Language and Ideology in Orwell’s 1984 – Steven Blakemore, Social Theory and Practice, Vol. 10, No. 3, A Special Issue: Orwell’s 1984 (Fall 1984), pp. 349-356
  2. Orwell, G. (1977). Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: Signet Classic.
  3. LANGUAGE AS THE DEVICE FOR PSYCHOLOGICAL MANIPULATION IN GEORGE ORWELL’S NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR: A PSYCHOLINGUISTIC ANALYSIS Md. Mozaffor Hossain
  4. Orwell in English and Newspeak: A Computer Translation Joseph Foley and James Ayer, College Composition and Communication, Vol. 17, No. 1 (Feb., 1966), pp. 15-18
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"Newspeak", the systematic deterioration of language as a means of truth. (2021, Nov 29). Retrieved February 7, 2023 , from
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