Newspeak: the language created by George Orwell in his novel 1984.

Its a language designed for the ideological needs of Big Brother. The Ministry workers had the task of cutting down the English language to the bone and ¬†getting rid of any superfluous adjectives, verbs or nouns. The best example of Newspeak is probably the word good. They destroyed the word ‘bad’ and replaced it with ‘ungood’. They got rid of any adjectives such as excellent, fantastic etc., and brought in ‘plusgood’ or ‘doubleplusgood’, and instead of terrible or horrible, there was ‘plusungood’ or ‘doubleplusungood’. The whole concept of good and bad was brought down to 6 words (or one if you count the extensions as prefixes), instead of the multitudes the English language currently contains.

I was struck dumb halfway through 1984 when Syme describes his job. He is employed to help write the Newspeak dictionary and instead of creating new words, his main job is to destroy unnecessary words.

The whole point of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought so that the comrades under Big Brother cannot speak or think any words that oppose the ideological ambitions of Big Brother. The slogan is ‘war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength’, but in the predicted future, these words will not exist, and therefore the concept these words describe will not exist.

I found that idea fascinating: that without the words to describe a concept, that concept will not exist. The more our language is restricted, the less control we will have. If we cannot access words to describe our opposition to a government, or even pinpoint what is wrong with it, we cannot rebel. We cannot even have our own opinions.

I found the propaganda of the Nazi period hugely interesting purely because of the persuasive power it held through the images and language it used, but Orwell’s description of a destruction of words incites far more fear in me than anything else could (except maybe Big Brother’s constant rewriting of history). Can you imagine a world in which you cannot have an opinion? Not just a world where you are forced to involve yourself in a movement, regardless of your opinions, because you are punished for rebelling against it (like the world created by the Nazis), but a world in which you cannot think for yourself because the words simply do not exist to allow you to think anything but what Big Brother wants you to think.

I believe that Orwell has managed to latch one of everyone’s biggest fear, in a way that no horror writer I have encountered has managed to do. There is no scarier prospect than having your mind completely controlled and having no possible way of thinking for yourself.

When it all comes down to it, the one and only thing we are dependent on for our freedom is language. And at the same time, language has the most power to restrict us.