Speakwrite

The speakwrite is a device that was invented by George Orwell for his novel, ‘1984.’ It is used instead of physical writing. 

Speakwrite

The Definitive Glossary for 1984

The speakwrite is a recording device Winston Smith uses at the Ministry of Truth. It records what Smith says and converts it to text on the telescreen at his desk. The speakwrite types as Smith dictates into it. The only time he uses it is when he’s at work. 


Speakwrite Definition

The speakwrite is an important device within the Ministry of Truth. Orwell describes Winston Smith’s work environment with the following line: 

In the long, windowless hall, with its double row of cubicles and its endless rustle of papers and hum of voices murmuring into speakwrites […] 

Everyone has a similar job to Winston Smith’s. He even suggests at one point that other people are likely being assigned the same tasks that he is. It’s Winston’s job to alter documents given to him by the ministry. He has to make the changes they request. 

He disposes of the messages he’s given as work assignments as soon as he finishes each job. Sometimes he consults the Newspeak dictionary on the shelf. He uses the “speakwrite” to write with, and he describes his job as the “greatest pleasure in [his] life.” It was “tedious,” but it had a routine that he enjoyed, one that he could lose himself in.

Orwell provides the following description of Winston Smith starting his “main job” on one particular day: 

Winston thought for a moment, then pulled the speakwrite towards him and began dictating in Big Brother’s familiar style: a style at once military and pedantic, and, because of a trick of asking questions and then promptly answering them (’What lessons do we learn from this fact, comrades? The lesson—which is also one of the fundamental principles of Ingsoc—that,’ etc., etc.), easy to imitate.


Examples of the Speakwrite in 1984

Winston’s Job at The Ministry of Truth 

The first time the speakwrite appeared in 1984 is in Chapter 4. Winston Smith is at work at the Ministry of Truth. Like the memory hole, the speak write is in easy reach of Winston’s desk. The passage reads: 

With the deep, unconscious sigh which not even the nearness of the telescreen could prevent him from uttering when his day’s work started, Winston pulled the speakwrite towards him, blew the dust from its mouthpiece, and put on his spectacles. Then he unrolled and clipped together four small cylinders of paper which had already flopped out of the pneumatic tube on the right-hand side of his desk.

The speakwrite is a standard device found within the Ministry of Truth and presumably within the other ministries. It prevents the workers from having any need to write themselves and perhaps find themselves thinking about writing something that they shouldn’t. When all their spoken words are recorded as writing, there is no way to hide anything. 

Also around Winston’s desk are: 

a small pneumatic tube for written messages, to the left, a larger one for newspapers; and in the side wall, within easy reach of Winston’s arm, a large oblong slit protected by a wire grating. This last was for the disposal of waste paper. 

The Ministry of Truth has provided the necessary things Smith needs in order to complete his job but nothing else. 

Tillotson at the Ministry of Truth

When describing the use of the speakwrite, Orwell writes about Tillotson, one of Winston’s work colleagues. He works across the hall into the corresponding “cubicle on the other side.” He notes how Tillotson had: 

his mouth very close to the mouthpiece of the speakwrite. He had the air of trying to keep what he was saying a secret between himself and the telescreen. He looked up, and his spectacles darted a hostile flash in Winston’s direction. 

He takes his job far more seriously, it appears, than Winston does. Or, he is simply suspicious that Winston is thinking something he shouldn’t be when he looks over.

FAQs 

What is a speakwrite in 1984

The speakwrite is a microphone used in various ministries by workers like Winston Smith. It is an essential piece of machinery that converts speech into text. This means that anything Smith says into the mouthpiece will appear as text on the screen. He has to be precise. 

How is the speakwrite used in 1984

Workers talk into the speakwrite, converting those words into text on a telescreen. It is a simple process that allows the workers to move efficiently from task to task. 

What does “speakwrite” mean? 

The word “speakwrite” is a Newspeak term. It combines the word “speak” and “write” to create a new noun, one given to a microphone. It is used for the express purpose its name suggests. 

Are speakwrites real? 

There are many different contemporary devices that convert text to speak, although none are quite the same as that described by Orwell in his novel, particularly because the speakwrite is used in order to prevent the works from accessing the potentially creative outlet of pens and paper or a keyboard. 


  • Big Brother: the leader of Oceania and the face of the Party. He’s desired as a war hero, inventor, and more. He may also not be real. 
  • INGSOC: newspeak for English Socialism, the governing system used throughout Oceania. 
  • Syme: a character in 1984 and the man responsible for the newest addition of the Newspeak dictionary. 
  • Doublethink: cognitive dissonce. Or the act of thinking two contradictory things at once. Or believing that the two things are true. 
  • Newspeak: the language used to diminish the range of thought in Oceania. 
  • Ministry of Love: responsible for brainwashing the citizens of Oceania. 


Other Resources 

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