Published in 1949, the dystopian novel Ninenteen-Eighty-Four is the conclusion of George Orwell’s writing; what is more, it is the conclusion of almost everything that Orwell had written since 1936. In Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwell created a totalitarian universe, Oceania, with its own history and inner mechanism and became so famous that it gave gay to a new term known as “Orwellian” which has come to describe actions or organizations reminiscent of the totalitarian society depicted throughout the novel.
In this essay, I am going to explain the different examples about ‘manipulation of language as a weapon of mind control and abuse of power’ that we can find in the novel, that is to say, the different methods the author uses to show us this.
George Orwell’s writings are focused basically against Fascism. The situations he live throughout his life made him reject any kind of totalitarian society. He lived terrible moments which shocked him, like for example when he travelled to Catalonia during the civil war. At this moment it was when he really realised the dangers of totalitarism. The Word War II also affected him very much indeed. Orwell was against the war because he thought it would lead to some kind of fascism in England. To him it was a repetition of Spain where some people during the civil war wanted to fight Franco in the name of bourgeois democracy.
He thought that Totalitarian societies and specially the one portrayed in the novel wanted to turn humans into machines, to replace the organic by the inorganic, to create synthetic happiness by eradicating all that may evoke natural passions and personal inclinations. They want in this single state all buildings have walls of glass so that the actions of the occupants are visible. Only during sex are the curtains drawn for a brief moment, sexual behaviour being strictly controlled by the Sexual Bureau. This soulless society is ruled by a dictator, the Benefactor, who is supported and helped by a political police (who in this case would be The Big Brother), the Guardians, that hover above the cities with surveillance equipment. Confessions are extracted by torture and criminals are simply liquidated. Informing, even on family members and friends, is a sacred duty.
This is basically what is about Ninenteen-eighty-Four; but what is important here is the way they achieve so, the way they get to control people. They make use of plenty of techniques such as control of information and history, psychological manipulation, physical control, technology, etc, but the ones I going to deal with in depth in my essay are those related to mind control, the ways in which they manipulate people’s minds.
Orwell believed that totalitarianism and the corruption of language were connected. He focused especially on political language where you distorted events and concepts by calling them something else. You said things in such a way that you avoided producing an inner picture of them. As an example, in Politics and the English Language. He said that ‘If thoughts can corrupt language, language can also corrupt thoughts. ‘ This idea would eventually lead to Newspeak.
This mentioned forms of manipulation are harder to fight against because they are aimed at the mind. First, the entire system is based on falsification of history – for two purposes. Outwardly the Party is infallible and is forced to change all information when it has been wrong in some connection or other. The falsification of history takes place in the Ministry of Truth where Winstonworks. Of course he knows what he is really doing, but that does not worry him because so many changes have already been made that he is just replacing one lie with another. The second purpose is to eradicate memory from the minds of people. The only reason why people put up with their miserable conditions is that they have been told that it was much worse before the revolution. And as no correct information about the past exists, nobody knows if it is true. Perhaps it really was worse before, and then you shouldn’t complain.
Language as Mind Control
One of Orwell’s most important messages in 1984 is that language is of central importance to human thought because it structures and limits the ideas that individuals are capable of formulating and expressing. If control of language was centralized in a political agency, Orwell proposes, such an agency could possibly alter the very structure of language to make it impossible to even conceive of disobedient or rebellious thoughts, because there would be no words with which to think them. This idea manifests itself in the language of Newspeak, which the Party has introduced to replace English. The Party is constantly refining and perfecting Newspeak, with the ultimate goal that no one will be capable of conceptualizing anything that might question the Party’s absolute power.
When it is necessary to manipulate with history and your own memory it is equally necessary to forget that you have done so. This is accomplished with a mental technique, which in Oldspeak was called reality-control and in Newspeak is called doublethink:
“To know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancelled out, knowing them to contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it, to believe that democracy was impossible and that the Party was the guardian of democracy, to forget whatever it was necessary to forget, then draw it back into memory again at the moment when it was needed, and then promptly to forget it again: and above all, to apply the same process to the process itself. That was the ultimate subtlety: consciously to induce unconsciousness, and then, once again, to become unconscious of the act of hypnosis you had just performed. Even to understand the word ‘doublethink’ involved the use of doublethink.” [NEF pp. 31-2]
Newspeak is the official language of Oceania and its purpose is to fulfil the ideological demands of Ingsoc. In 1984 no one employs Newspeak as the only means of expression, but it is expected that Newspeak will have replaced Oldspeak around year 2050. Newspeak consists of abbreviations, and Orwell writes in his Appendix to Nineteen Eighty-Four on Newspeak that already early in the twentieth century abbreviations were part of political language. It was especially widespread in totalitarian countries and organisations. As examples he mentions Nazi, Gestapo, Komintern, Inprecorr, Agitprop. From a totalitarian viewpoint the advantage of abbreviations like these is that their meaning is limited and altered so that all associations are removed.
The purpose of Newspeak is not only to be a medium for the ideas and worldview of Ingsoc; it is also meant to make all other ways of thinking impossible and thus remove all heretical thoughts.
” ’Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. […] Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that. […] In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.’ ” [NEF pp. 45-6]
At a point Winston writes in his diary that he understands how but not why. This why George Bowling already asked in Coming up for Air in 1939, and in Nineteen Eighty-Four O’Brien gives him the answer.
“The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. […] Power it not a means, it is an end.” [NEF p. 211]
First of all you have to realise, O’Brien says, that power is collective. The individual only has power if he ceases to be an individual. Alone and free man will always suffer defeat. It has to be this way because man is mortal. But if the individual can subject himself completely, if he can escape from his identity, if he can let himself be engulfed so much by the Party that he is the Party, then he is all-powerful and immortal. Next, you have to realise that power is power over people, over the body and especially over the mind.
” ’If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever.’ ” [NEF p. 215]
The Thought Police have telescreens in every household and public area, as well as hidden microphones and spies in order to catch potential thought criminals who could endanger the sanctity of the Party. Children were carefully brainwashed from birth to report any suspected thought criminal, even their parents.
Newspeak is a fictional or artificial language. At the end of the novel there is an appendix on Newspeak (the artificial language invented and, by degrees, imposed by the Party to limit the capacity to express or even think “unorthodox” thoughts), in the style of an academic essay, and explains how the language is designed to standardise thought to reflect the ideology of Ingsoc; that is, by making “all other modes of thought impossible”.
By means of the creation of this newspeak, what they want to achieve is a language that does not allow any bad though or even contrary to the Party. By eliminating any thought contrary to the Party they make sure that they all love it and cannot destroy it.
This suited the totalitarian regime of the Party, whose aim was to make subversive thought (“thoughtcrime”) and speech impossible.
The Newspeak term for the existing English language was Oldspeak. Oldspeak was supposed to have been completely eclipsed by Newspeak by 2050.
The genesis of Orwell’s Newspeak can be seen in his earlier essay, Politics and the English Language, (which is explained much more in deep here) where he laments the quality of the English of his day, citing examples of dying metaphors, pretentious diction or rhetoric, and meaningless words – all of which contribute to fuzzy ideas and a lack of logical thinking. Towards the end of this essay, having argued his case, Orwell muses:
I said earlier that the decadence of our language is probably curable. Those who deny this would argue, if they produced an argument at all, that language merely reflects existing social conditions, and that we cannot influence its development by any direct tinkering with words or constructions.
Thus Newspeak is possibly an attempt by Orwell to describe a deliberate intent to exploit this decadence with the aim of oppressing its speakers.
A comparison to Newspeak may arguably be seen in political rhetoric, where two opposing sides string together phrases so empty of meaning that they may be compared to the taunts young children toss back and forth. The arguments of either side ultimately reduce to “I’m good; he’s bad.”
Charges of Newspeak are sometimes advanced when a group tries to replace a word/phrase that is politically unsuitable (e.g. “civilian casualties”) or offensive (e.g. “murder”) with a politically correct or inoffensive one (e.g. “collateral damage”). Some maintain that to make certain words or phrases ‘unspeakable’ (thoughtcrime), restricts what ideas may be held (Newspeak) and is therefore tantamount to censorship. Others believe that expunging terms that have fallen out of favour or become insulting will make people less likely to hold outdated or offensive views. The intent to alter the minds of the public through changes made to language illustrates Newspeak perfectly.
Either way, there is a resemblance between political correctness and Newspeak, although some may feel that they differ in their intentions: in Nineteen Eighty-Four, Newspeak is instituted to enhance the power of the state over the individual; politically correct language, on the other hand, is said by supporters to free individuals from stereotypical preconceptions caused by the use of prejudicial terminology. It is this attempt to change thought through changing (or eliminating) words that earns political correctness the connection to Newspeak. The main distinction is that politically correct language is often inspired only by politeness, while Newspeak has a more explicit limiting political motivation.
However, there exist striking instances where Orwell’s speculation have matched with reality. Orwell suggested that all philosophies prior to Ingsoc (English Socialism) would be covered under the term ‘oldthink,’ bearing with it none of the nuances of these ideologies, but simply a connotation of badness. Since the Cold War, a similar effect has been wrought on the word ‘communism,’ where it no longer bears with it, to most people, the doctrines of Marx, Engels, or Lenin, but rather a general bad connotation. (Much the same could be said about ‘fascism,’ perhaps with even more accuracy.)
Two examples unrelated to political correctness are Basic English, a language which prides itself on reducing the number of English words, and E-Prime another simplifed version of English.
Political groups often avail themselves of the principles behind Newspeak to frame their views in a positive way. Thus the term “estate tax” was replaced by the “death tax.” A similar effect may be observed in the abortion debates where those advocating restrictions on abortion label themselves “pro-life,” leaving their opponents presumably “anti-life.” Conversely, those advocating greater availability of abortion call themselves “pro-choice,” and the opposition “anti-choice,” to engender similarly positive emotions.
Another common use of Newspeak today is the overuse of abbreviations. To quote from the 1984 Appendix “It was perceived that in thus abbreviating a name one narrowed and subtly altered its meaning, by cutting out most of the associations that would otherwise cling to it.” Attention is also drawn to the use of such abbreviations by totalitarian regimes prior to World War II.
Even more powerful are acronyms like “Ofcom,” “AIDS,” “OPEC” and “NAFTA,” which can be pronounced as if they were proper words. This is most vividly seen in an acronym like “laser,” which today is nearly always written in lowercase. Acronyms contain less information than the full term and tend not to trigger spontaneous associations; this also makes them ambiguous and therefore vulnerable to misuse.
*Basic principles of newspeak (short summary)
The Party barrages its subjects with psychological stimuli designed to overwhelm the mind’s capacity for independent thought. The giant telescreen in every citizen’s room blasts a constant stream of propaganda designed to make the failures and shortcomings of the Party appear to be triumphant successes. The telescreens also monitor behavior—everywhere they go, citizens are continuously reminded, especially by means of the omnipresent signs reading “BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU,” that the authorities are scrutinizing them. The Party undermines family structure by inducting children into an organization called the Junior Spies, which brainwashes and encourages them to spy on their parents and report any instance of disloyalty to the Party. The Party also forces individuals to suppress their sexual desires, treating sex as merely a procreative duty whose end is the creation of new Party members. The Party then channels people’s pent-up frustration and emotion into intense, ferocious displays of hatred against the Party’s political enemies. Many of these enemies have been invented by the Party expressly for this purpose.
The idea of “doublethink” emerges as an important consequence of the Party’s massive campaign of large-scale psychological manipulation. Simply put, doublethink is the ability to hold two contradictory ideas in one’s mind at the same time. As the Party’s mind-control techniques break down an individual’s capacity for independent thought, it becomes possible for that individual to believe anything that the Party tells them, even while possessing information that runs counter to what they are being told. At the Hate Week rally, for instance, the Party shifts its diplomatic allegiance, so the nation it has been at war with suddenly becomes its ally, and its former ally becomes its new enemy. When the Party speaker suddenly changes the nation he refers to as an enemy in the middle of his speech, the crowd accepts his words immediately, and is ashamed to find that it has made the wrong signs for the event. In the same way, people are able to accept the Party ministries’ names, though they contradict their functions: the Ministry of Plenty oversees economic shortages, the Ministry of Peace wages war, the Ministry of Truth conducts propaganda and historical revisionism, and the Ministry of Love is the center of the Party’s operations of torture and punishment.
Just in order to understand better what doublethink means, it is necessary to give an example like “blackwhite”. Like so many Newspeak words, this word has two mutually contradictory meanings. Applied to an opponent, it means the habit of impudently claiming that black is white, in contradiction of the plain facts. Applied to a Party member, it means a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the ability to believe that black is white, and more, to know that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary. This demands a continuous alteration of the past, made possible by the system of thought which really embraces all the rest, and which is known in Newspeak as doublethink.
The same happens at the end of the novel, when the protagonist does not believe in the Party and the members make them a brainwash and he finally says that he believes but it is not true. For them, it is not enough to say that you believe on the Party, Actually you have to believe it, to be sure that you love it, even although it means to betray what you previously thought.
It could be said that Doublethink is an integral concept of George Orwell’sdystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four and the word doublethink is part of Newspeak.
Orwell explains that the Party could not protect its iron power without degrading its people with constant propaganda. Yet, knowledge of this brutal deception, even within the Inner Party itself, could lead to collapse of the State from within. Though Nineteen Eighty-Four is most famous for the Party’s pervasive surveillance of everyday life, this control means that the population of Oceania—all of it, including the ruling élite—could be controlled and manipulated merely through the alteration of everyday thought and language. Newspeak is the method for controlling thought through language; doublethink is the method of directly controlling thought.
Newspeak incorporates doublethink, as it contains many words that create assumed associations between contradictory meanings, especially true of fundamentally important words such as good and evil; right and wrong; truth and falsehood; justice and injustice.
In the case of workers at the Records Department in the Ministry of Truth, doublethink means being able to falsify public records, and then believe in the new history that they, themselves, had just written. As revealed in Goldstein’s Book, the Ministry’s name is itself an example of doublethink: the Ministry of Truth is really concerned with lies. The other ministries of Airstrip One are similarly named: the Ministry of Peace is concerned with war, the Ministry of Love is concerned with torture and the Ministry of Plenty is concerned with starvation.
Moreover, doublethink’s self-deception allows the Party to maintain huge goals and realistic expectations: If one is to rule, and to continue ruling, one must be able to dislocate the sense of reality. For the secret of rulership is to combine a belief in one’s own infallibility with the power to learn from past mistakes. Thus, each Party member could be a credulous pawn, but would never lack relevant information. The Party is both fanatical and well-informed, thus unlikely either to “ossify” or “grow soft” and collapse. Doublethink would avoid a “killing the messenger” attitude that could disturb the Command structure. Thus, doublethink is the key tool of self-discipline for the Party, complementing the state-imposed discipline of propaganda, and the police state. Together, these tools hid the government’s evil not just from the people, but from the government itself, but without the confusion and misinformation associated with primitive totalitarian regimes.
Doublethink is critical in allowing the Party to know what its true goals are without recoiling from them, avoiding the conflation of a regime’s egalitarian propaganda with its true purpose.
Paradoxically, during the long and harrowing process in which Winston is systematically tortured and broken, he contemplates using doublethink as the ultimate recourse in his rebellion—i.e. to let himself become consciously a loyal party member while letting his hatred of the party remain an unconscious presence deep in his mind, and let it surface again at the very moment of his execution so that “the bullet would enter a free mind” which the Thought Police would not have a chance to tamper with again.
Since 1949 (when Nineteen Eighty-Four was published), the word doublethink has become synonymous with relieving cognitive dissonance by ignoring the contradiction between two world views—or even of deliberately seeking to relieve cognitive dissonance. Some schools of psychotherapy, such as cognitive therapy, encourage people to alter their own thoughts as a way of treating different psychological maladies (see cognitive distortions).
Orwell’s “Doublethink” is also credited with having inspired the commonly used “Doubletalk“, which itself does not appear in Orwell’s book.
And for an excellent overview of political language and doublespeak in general, Michele Damon, a technical writing graduate from UCF has created a Doublespeak site that takes a very comprehensive close look at the misuse of language to corrupt and mislead thought.
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The book's Appendix provides a detailed discussion of Newspeak, the official language of Oceania. Interestingly, the Appendix is written in the past tense, as though a historian is examining a past culture. Some argue that this tool suggests that the Party eventually falls.
The Appendix details the underlying principles of Newspeak. Essentially, the language was designed to limit the range of thought. The word classes are detailed as follows:
The A vocabulary consisted of everyday words used in the expression of simple thoughts, usually involving concrete objects or physical actions.
The B vocabulary consisted of words created to hold political connotations and impose a politically desirable state of mind upon the user. Such words include compound words, like "Ingsoc" or "doublethink." Many meant the opposite of what they really were, in keeping with the concept of doublethink.
The C vocabulary consisted of scientific and technical terms, which behooved no one but scientists and technicians to use.
The grammar of Newspeak had two notable characteristics. First, there was an almost complete interchangeability between different parts of speech. A noun and a verb were basically the same, and formed the root for all other forms of the word. Adjectives were formed by tacking "-ful" onto the end of the word, i.e. "goodthinkful"; adverbs, by adding the suffix "-wise." Any word could be negated by the prefix "un-," and other prefixes like "plus-" and "doubleplus-" could strengthen the word, i.e "pluscold" and "doublepluscold." Second, the grammar was exceedingly regular, with very few exceptions. All past tenses were formed using "-ed," all plurals with "-s" or "-es," and comparatives with "-er" and "-est."
Euphony was privileged above everything except precision of meaning, because the end goal was to produce words that could be spoken so quickly that they would not have the time to prompt thought. In other words, people would be able to speak without thinking at all. The meanings of Newspeak words were carefully controlled so that in many cases most connotations were destroyed. For instance, the word "free" still existed, but only in the sense of something being "free from" something else, e.g. "This field is free from weeds." It could not be used with reference to political freedom, as this meaning had been drilled out of the word.
Newspeak therefore also precluded the ability to argue heretical opinions. Although it would have been possible to say "Big Brother is ungood," the words necessary to defend or argue this assertion did not exist. Through this process, Oldspeak (standard English) would become obsolete and impossible to understand or translate, since the meanings of its words would be impossible to express in Newspeak. As Winston's friend Syme states, in explaining how Newspeak will support the Party's goals, "Orthodoxy means not thinking - not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness."
Some Newspeak words highlighted in the text include:
Ingsoc - English Socialism
Doublethink - The ability to simultaneously think two opposing thoughts.
Thoughtcrime - Anti-Party thoughts
Facecrime - Occurs when the face reveals the existence of thoughtcrime (either lacking in anti-Party vigor, or expressing distaste for Party actions).
Goodthinkful - Describes a person who thinks just as the Party wishes. Winston describes Katharine this way.
Speakwrite - A machine that transposes spoken word into written word.
Unperson - Someone the Party has vaporized; someone that no longer exists.
Doubleplusungood - Extremely bad.