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What Is Newspeak in 1984?

Instructor: Liz Breazeale
For his popular novel, ''1984,'' George Orwell crafted a completely new language called Newspeak. In this lesson, you'll learn exactly what this bizarre language is and why Orwell created it, and you should be able to quiz yourself with a few questions (in regular old English--promise).

Intro to the World of 1984

In 1949, George Orwell published his most famous work, titled 1984. This novel turned out to be his masterpiece, and because of its insightful, passionate satire of the post-World War II world, it is still a resounding success to this day. As a satire, Orwell's novel uses humor and exaggerated situations to poke fun at what the author saw as extreme injustices in his world.

1984 takes place in a dystopian future in the year, you guessed it, 1984. As a dystopian work, this novel takes place in a horrific, nonexistent version of the future. In Orwell's year 1984, there are no totally sweet '80s films, no rockin' hair bands. No, the characters of Orwell's novel will never know the wonder of the Star Wars trilogy. And that's because they exist in a world completely different from our own. The novel itself centers on the life of ordinary man, Winston Smith, who holds a low-level position in the Ministry of Truth (or Minitrue) in Airstrip One (what used to be Great Britain and is now a province of the supercountry Oceania). People living in harmony in huge countries; that doesn't sound so bad. So where does the dystopian stuff come in?

First edition cover of

The Origins of Newspeak

When writing 1984, you might imagine George Orwell slumped over his typewriter, gnashing his teeth and pulling his hair, wondering how could he make this world memorably awful. One of the answers that came to him was developing a fictional language called Newspeak. He drew from the grammar rules of English and the Russian manner of abbreviating government-related terms (like politburo and komsomol) for the basic structure of Newspeak.

Now, most people would probably say that our ability to speak, to form sentences and communicate our thoughts, sets humans apart from other animals because it allows us to hear and understand other viewpoints than our own. Our minds are freed by language. But the basic idea behind Newspeak is the complete and total opposite. In the world of 1984, Newspeak was created by the totalitarian overlords of Oceania, with its fictional leader known as Big Brother, in order to actually limit free thought and free speech. In totalitarian governments, those in charge try to control every aspect of citizens' lives, even down to personal habits. For the citizens of fictional Oceania, this control extends to the very language they use in an attempt by the government to control their very thoughts. So how, exactly, do these scary people make something so impossible actually happen? What's so different about Newspeak?

The Newspeak Dictionary

The vocabulary that makes up Newspeak in the world of the novel constantly shifts. This is because the powers that be constantly decide there are words that must be stopped, as those words allow individuals to exercise freedom of thought or freedom of speech. The basic idea behind Newspeak is to basically erase all deeper meaning from language. The shades of language are gone, leaving only the most basic, black-and-white ideas for people to think, and, in turn, feel.

For example: there is no 'bad,' because negative words are deleted from existence. So 'bad' becomes 'ungood.' The weirdest part of this is that, going the other way, there is no 'very good.' That term becomes 'plusgood,' or even 'doubleplusgood.' Big Brother, of course, would be 'doubleplusgood.' Can you imagine how fast everyone would start sounding completely idiotic? No wonder people in 1984 go about their daily lives without communicating very much.

The word 'free' does exist in Newspeak, but of course the concept of 'freedom' doesn't. You can't have your populace knowing what freedom is if you want to control their every thought! Big Brother would not approve. The word 'free' can only be used in terms of something being 'free' of something else. For example, the sentence 'My mind is free of my own thoughts' would work, because it's talking about the fact that something does not exist in your brain.

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