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Language in George Orwell's 1984 Is of Great Moment

Updated on July 26, 2015

Language in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, is of great moment. It is controversial whether language shapes thought, but the realization that language widens the range of thinking seems incontestable and irrefutable. It is this realization that prompts the Inner Party in Oceania to take on a deliberate course of destroying and corrupting language, the result of which would be a new deliberately constructed language. Newspeak, as is called by the Inner Party, has this prime purpose within. It is the limitation of meaning and thought which motivates this unnatural manipulation of a thing which is always considered spontaneous and natural. Language is thus targeted because it is infinite and limitless, and therefore conveys unnecessary meanings which go beyond the intended principles and Ideologies of Ingsoc. Newspeak comes therefore to satisfy the ideological needs of the Party, which always strives to subjugate and keep its followers under control. But the purpose of Newspeak is not reduced to providing an alternative mode of expression which speaks of the perspectives and mental habits typical of the supporters of the Party; its main aim is to make any other mode of reflection or speculation unattainable. It is a language constructed to limit the range of thought and curb any unnecessary word associations that may bring about more connotations, more heretical thoughts.

Lexical and content words have connotations suggestive of additional associations to superfluous meanings. This built-in characteristic of vocabulary broadens the scope of thought and is therefore liable to produce unorthodox ideas which contravene the ideologies of Ingsoc. The party, therefore, constructs a vocabulary that has exact and scant definitions of every word it contains. New words are invented by eradicating unwanted words or simply by stripping them of unhealthy and unorthodox meanings. This is done by using words in very specific and limited contexts to restrict their meanings to only what is orthodox and proper to the ideologies of the Party. Words like free, for example, would be used only in contexts that have nothing to do with freedom, emancipation or free will. The dictionary of Newspeak, as a result, would be so concise as to carry only few words and few contexts. This would help the devotees of the Party to behave according to the doctrines and principles of the Ingsoc. In this way, they would eschew trouble and thought crimes. The party helps them out by cutting off unnecessary words or their unnecessary superfluous meanings, and proving instead of them words that describe everyday activities. Newspeak, in such a perverse way, is the only language whose vocabulary is shrinking and diminishing. This preserve and deliberate destruction of vocabulary is seen by the Party as a decisive course of action that would make its controlling of the masses easier and trouble-free. Language is corrupted for the sole purpose of diminishing the range of thought, and for making it impossible for the masses to rise and revolt. The corruption of language by the destruction of vocabulary is an incredibly intelligent, yet a viciously malicious practice of mind control. Language is a natural instrument that expresses our thoughts and reactions to the world around, and any corruption of it is a corruption of what distinguishes us as human beings.

Tarik Arbaoui


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