The purpose of the language is to reduce “unnecessary” words and those that might lead the citizens of Oceania into thought patterns the Party wants to avoid. They believe if they can rid the English language of troubling words, then there will be no way that anyone can conceive of the concepts without them.
It is a language that is still under construction as the novel’s plot is playing out. There are various iterations of the Newspeak dictionary, and one of Winston Smith’s associates, Syme, is working on the text. The language reduces words to syllables and combines them together to create new, unusual words.
When constructing this language, Orwell was influenced by real-life examples in Germany and Russia. The term “Nazi” is a reduction of “nationalsozialist” and “Gestapo” is a reduction of “Geheime Staatspolizei.” These syllabic abbreviations come from a human willingness to make complicated things easier. Today, the term “Newspeak” is applied in contemporary life when someone tries to introduce a new word into the vocabulary, particularly when politicians do so.
George Orwell wrote a great deal about language, including his essay “Politics and the English Language,” published in 1946. He also included an appendix at the back of 1984 that deals with the concepts of Newspeak.
When writing about Newspeak, Orwell defined it in the appendix as:
Newspeak was the official language of Oceania and had been devised to meet the ideological needs of Ingsoc, or English Socialism. In the year 1984 there was not as yet anyone who used Newspeak as his sole means of communication, either in speech or writing.
The development of the language, he continues on to say, was to make “all other modes of thought impossible.”
Newspeak is a controlled, simplified version of English. It removes “subversive” concepts from the language that the Party wants its citizens to avoid.
These include expressions of personal identity, free will, or anything resembling a rebellion. It focuses on the ideology of INGSOC and the belief that the Party is all-knowing.
Through the use of Newspeak, the Party is attempting to control what one is capable of thinking. It is one of the three tenants of INGSOC. The other two are doublethink and the mutability (or changeability) of the past.
Orwell writes about Newspeak several times, stating that the language had a very specific purpose that complimented the use of doublethink.
It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought—that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc—should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words.
The Party sought to eliminate undesirable words and strip those words of “all secondary meanings whatever.” Orwell cites “free” as a good example. The word exists in Oceania but only in the context of something being “free” of trouble. For example, “The dog is free from lice.” There is no secondary meaning, such as “intellectually free.”
List of Newspeak Words
Below are a few of the many Newspeak words Orwell invented.
He wrote that Newspeak was designed to:
not to extend but to DIMINISH the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum.
The alphabet was divided into different vocabularies, such as the “A” vocabulary that included words needed for “the business of everyday life.” This included words for eating, working, drinking, and riding in vehicles. These were words like “run” and “tree.”
Words, Orwell noted, were also interchangeable. For example, adjectives were created by adding “ful” to the end of terms. For example, “speedful” means fast or rapid.
Examples of Newspeak in 1984
The Ministry Names
The four ministries: The Ministry of Peace, The Ministry of Plenty, The Ministry of Truth, and The Ministry of Love, are introduced at the beginning of the novel. Their Newspeak abbreviations are some of the first Newspeak words that the reader is exposed to. They are Minitrue, Minipax, Miniluv, and Miniplenty, as described by the narrator.
Doublethink is one of the most essential Newspeak words in 1984. It refers to a type of cognitive dissonance where one is capable of bailing two things at once. These two things should, if one’s reasoning is clear, cancel one another out.
The party slogans are one of the clearest examples of doublethink. It purports that one thing is another, even though those reading/hearing the slogan know it means something else entirely. For example:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
Winston’s Work Messages
When Winston works at the Ministry of Truth, he’s responsible for revising old documents to make them fit the Party narrative. He receives simplified messages that instruct him on his task. Orwell writes:
Each contained a message of only one or two lines, in the abbreviated jargon—not actually Newspeak, but consisting largely of Newspeak words—which was used in the Ministry for internal purposes. They ran:
times 17.3.84 bb speech malreported africa rectify
times 19.12.83 forecasts 3 yp 4th quarter 83 misprints verify current issue
times 14.2.84 miniplenty malquoted chocolate rectify
times 3.12.83 reporting bb dayorder doubleplusungood refs unpersons rewrite fullwise upsub antefiling
Related Terms in 1984
- INGSOC: newspeak for English Socialism, the governing system used throughout Oceania.
- Doublethink: cognitive dissonance. Or the act of thinking two contradictory things at once. Or believing that the two things are true.
- Ministry of Love: responsible for brainwashing the citizens of Oceania.
- Ministry of Truth: the ministry responsible for changing history to suit the Party.
- Thought Police: the group responsible for arresting those charged with thoughtcrime.
- Room 101: a room to which Winston Smith, and others, are taken when they are within the Ministry of Love. It contains everyone’s worst fears. For Smith, this is rats.