|Total speakers:||Unknown / unrevealed.|
|Genealogical classification:||A posteriori
|Basic word order:||SVO|
|Morphological type:||inflectional, prepositional|
You think that our chief job is inventing new words. But not a bit of it! We're destroying words -- scores of them, hundreds of them, every day. It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. The result of this politically motivated destruction of words, and the ideas behind them, is Newspeak, the constructed language used within the fictional dystopian culture of the super-state "Oceania" in George Orwell's 1984. More than a language, it is an entirely planned and guided way of thinking and understanding the world in a politically orthodox way that not only manipulates and guides the ruling class in proper ways of thinking but also prevents them from even conceiving of politically unorthodox ideas.
Newspeak is the constructed langauge intended for use by Party members (the ruling class who fully engage in the philosophy and politics of Ingsoc). At one and the same time, it is both a means of communicating ideas and a means by which ideas are eradicated and made to unexist. In its basic form, Newspeak is an intentionally evolved form of Standard British English (which in culture is refered to as Oldspeak). The basic design principle of Newspeak is reductionism -- new words for new ideas are not created. On the contrary, old words for politically incorrect ideas, such as "freedom" and "liberty", when they refer to any political or philosophical notion, are either eradicated from the lexicon or else their meanings are reduced to simplest terms. For example, the word "free" in English can range semantically from "costs nothing" to "not infested by" to "enjoy liberty of thought and exercise of opinion". In Newspeak, the word "free" has been purified of its politically incorrect meanings; so "I am free" is a perfectly good Newspeak sentence, but any Newspeak speaker would rightly assume that you are not being infested by fleas or similar.
Newspeak consists of three kinds or domains of vocabulary: A, B and C. A words are common words that everyone uses on a daily basis. Words involving basic actions, things, places and politically neutral ideas (colors, relative velocity of the tube, etc) are all A words. The meanings and usages of most A words remain unchanged. The process of reduction, though, has caused many ordinary English words to disappear from the Newspeak lexicon. B words are the politically and intellectually charged words. These are words that involve concepts that impinge on the Party's way of life -- Ingsoc (English Socialism) or words upon which the Party wished to impart a particular spin. These words have suffered the greatest changes at the hands of the Party's conlangers. Meanings are often comppletely reversed or severely altered to suit the aims of the Party and of Ingsoc. Other words are simply eradicated when they do not serve the aims of the State. Or when they might serve to undermine the political stability of the Party, or when they might allow an individual to express ideas contrary to those allowed by the State. C words comprise special lists of technical and scientific terms.
Speakers and Distribution
The culture of Oceania is divided into two castes. Party members (who themselves are divided into Inner and Outer Party members) are those people who make up the ruling class of Oceanic society. Inner Party members are those who participate in organising and ruling society; Outer Party members are those involved in the lower levels of the burocracy. Proles form the unthinking, unimportant bulk of society; they are the ruled majority. Newspeak is primarily the language of Party members, though some words filter down into the common language of all Oceanic people. It is not clearly stated in the novel, but Newspeak must be widely spoken by only perhaps ten to twenty percent of the population at the outside. It is not revealed what the population of Oceania is, but is probably some three or four hundred millions.
Oceania is said to comprise the former British Empire (apparently less India) and the Americas and some parts of Africa. It is not clear whether Newspeak is the language of all Party members in all these places, some of which do not natively speak English, or whether there is a "Spanish Newspeak" as well as a "Portuguese Newspeak" and perhaps even a "French Newspeak".
Newspeak is a "reduced langauge", which means that words, and the potentially unorthodox meanings they carry, are intentionally eradicated from the language. Also, words thought to be superfluous to orthodox communication are eradicated. This process of reduction eradicates one or other of many adjective pairs: no good / bad, the negative of which is supplied by prefixing un- to the other. So, good / ungood. Nouns and verbs are used interchangeably (just as they often are in modern English); and any different forms are reduced to a single form. Thus, there is no Newspeak word "cut", knife serving for both the noun and verb; also, pairs like thought / think are reduced to simply think. Adjectives can be made from substantives by suffixing -ful and adverbs by suffixing -wise: speedful = fast; speedwise = quickly. Any irregular word was replaced by a regular form: well becomes goodwise. Negation is shown by prefixing un- and emphasis by prefixing plus-: uncold = warm; plusgood = excellent. Other prefixes like ante-, post-, up-, down- etc can be added to any noun or verb to alter the basic meaning of the word and thus reducing the number of dinstinct words.
All verbs and nouns are regular. Lives (n.) becomes lifes, men becomes mans, took becomes taked, good / better / best becomes good / gooder / goodest, though of course, one could also say good / plusgood / doubleplusgood, though these are really emphatics rather than true comparison. Only pronouns and auxiliary verbs were left to inflect irregularly. Will / shall was replaced by a single form, will.
Sometimes extra letters are added for purposes of euphony.
War is Peace -- in Oldspeak, this would be seen as an oxymoron; in Newspeak, this is a fundamental truth of existence. It is only by balancing a perpetual state of war between the three super-states of the world that peace can exist between these states. None of them can ever get the upper hand, and therefore win the war, and therefore upset the balance of the ruling Parties. Thus, by waging a continual war in which unimportant territories inhabited by irrelevant people are constantly sacrificed, the peace inflicted by the State is maintained and perpetuated.
times 3.12.83 reporting bb dayorder doubleplusungood refs unpersons rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling -- could be rendered as "The reporting of Big Brother's Order for the Day in the Times of December 3rd 1983 is extremely unsatisfactory and makes references to nonexistent persons. Rewrite it in full and submit your draft to higher authority before filing."
Newspeak is enshrined in a few longer text samples, such as the above, plus a number of isolated uses of words scattered throughout the novel, such as "doubleplusungood" and "crimethinkful". Within the culture, much of the work of these state conlangers involved translating the literature of previous ages into Newspeak, a process that involves ideological transformation as much as fitting ideas to new words. Thus, not all old literature can be rendered into Newspeak. Unorthodox ideas simply can not be expressed in the language. Even if the words themselves are the same in both Oldspeak and Newspeak, such as "all men are created equal", the ideas behind the original can not be rendered into the target language. This sentence can only mean something like "all people have exactly the same attributes of size, height, etc." The notions of political equality and so forth can only be translated by the single word crimethink.
For your consideration, a translation of the Babel text has been made which I hope is sufficiently uncrimethinkful in nature!
Some Further Thoughts
We -- especially we conlangers and poets -- think of language as a means for describing things and ideas beyond imagining, for discussing deep things, for engaging the minds of our readers in thoughts far greater the mere sum of the words on the paper. Words on paper all have "simple meanings", but put em together in the right way and they take on a new life and are infused with a new meaning.
Take the words "form" and "people" and "order" and "the". All run of the mill words with simple meanings that any five year old should be able to grasp.
Now put em in the right order: "We the people ... in order to form a more perfect union..." Now you have some very deep meaning! This is all about the People of a land seizing political power away from the autocrat and his oligarchs and investing themselves with that power. Dangerous stuff!
I use this example as a preface to what Newspeak is and does. It is in many respects an ANTI-language. It is not so much a way for people to express deep and profound ideas, to broaden horizons and expand the understanding of others. On the contrary, Newspeak is a way for the government to shape, form and guide the thinking of the people and in every way possible to narrow horizons and diminish perspectives. This is done by selective and progressive culling of words and reduction of word meanings to simplest terms. As you read the book, you'll find that state conlangers are engaged not in word creation, but in word elimination. One boasts about how many words he and his colleagues have eradicated from the language, for example.
So for example, we take the word "people". Now, we can't be having with people thinking for themselves and engaging in any kind of political thought unless that thought is 100% aligned with the government program of social engineering. We do this by carefully altering what the word "people" means. Obviously, we have to reduce obviously heterodox definitions like "the entire body of persons who constitute a community, tribe, nation, or other group by virtue of a common culture, history, religion, or the like" because it is dangerous for people to think that there might be any kind of grouping other than what our government allows. We should probably also reduce the meaning "racial group", because this is also dangerous -- we can't have people engaging in political thought based on differences of skin tone or origin. That means we also need to reduce "the persons of any particular group". (This is not to say, of course, that no other humans live on the planet -- indeed, in the novel, our country is at constant war with other great powers, but they are dehumanised and spoken of only in terms of their inimicality. They are unhuman "enemies" that need to be bravely resisted, lest they overrun the whole world!)
This will do two things. First, it will leave us with these simplified definitions: "persons indefinitely or collectively" and "human beings, as distinguished from animals or other beings". Pretty safe and not likely to be politicised! Secondly, it becomes impossible to express the political statement "We the People..." because this phrase now can ONLY mean "We the living things that are not animals".
Newspeak is all about reducing the number of (especially politically dangerous) things people can licitly think about and express. You might now wonder, how on earth can they enforce this? Well, the answer is simple: psychological and physical torture, punishment for transgression. Everyone is a spy, an informer; equally, everyone lives in fear of being found out and informed on.
As time progresses, it becomes more and more impossible to express any idea that is not sanctioned by the State. The State controls the way people think, the State controls how people think and the State controls the way they express what they think. Every idea, every utterance that runs contrary to State sanctioned norms is a criminal act. It's not that saying the words are illegal -- what is illegal is any heterodox interpretation of words. The only possible translation for a document like the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence is "Crimethink" -- this word indicates any thought, any expression that runs contrary to the State sanctioned thought.
It all comes down, really, to State determined ideology imposed with force upon the minds and wills of the people in order to subdue their wills and suborn them to State direction. It's a way for a relatively small cadre of people to grab and hold power over a vastly numerically superior majority. Take away not only someone's thoughts but even the very basic means of expressing those thoughts and you have what could be argued is a perfect, wallless cage. People in this State are "free" (unencumbered) to go about their daily lives of waking up in their beds, eating breakfast, going to the shops, going to the park, reading the paper, etc. -- but not one of them is truly "free" (enjoying personal rights or liberty, existing under, characterized by, or possessing civil and political liberties, etc) Those concepts have simply been eradicated.