1984 is one of my most favourite books ever. It’s one of those books that leave a deep imprint on the psyche of a human mind. A reader after 1984 is a different reader than they were before. It is not a sedentary book. Page after page it forces you to think and understand. Most importantly it is timeless, 1984 was relevant when it was written, is relevant today and will forever be so.

What most intrigues me about this book, is Newspeak.

To control the minds of the people and direct the way they think, feel and experience, it is not necessary to surround them with propaganda or threaten them through force. All it requires is to physically restrict the capacity of thought.

It sounds like such a bizarre impractical idea. As if cutting words of from the Oxford Dictionary would impact life in any way. How would the world change if the word ‘furious’ did not exist.

To truly understand how language effects thoughts, let’s analyze the words we have for each object. English has only one word for snow, however the Inuit have more than thirty words to describe the phenomena. For the Inuit, snow is life and death. It is crucial for their existence, which explains why they have so many ways to describe it. Odia does not have a word for tomato as the fruit was not native to the area. The speakers of this language never required to describe the tangy fruit (it is botanically a fruit) and thus never created a word for it. Form follows function after all. But what if it happened the other way. If you didn’t have a word for an object would you not be able to understand it either?

The answer is yes.

Having more words for a particular object or thing allows us to visualise, interprete and understand the thing in multiple ways. Languages that are considered more poetic in nature, tend to have more words for emotions. For example Sanskrit has 96 words for love, the most of any language, while English has perhaps the least. Having words for each variant of affection allows a person to analyse its meaning. While Sanskrit has words for platonic love, love to parents, love to objects, love for life etc, English just depends on context. If the context is removed then the reach or scope of the word becomes non-existent. Without a word for a particular emotion, you are unable to understand its full scope and thus as a whole it reduces the ability of a speaker to express themselves.

And that’s exactly what Newspeak accomplishes. Newspeak denudes the ability to think. The word ungood takes the place of everything a person might have an aversion to. It takes a vast range of emotions and throws it into one box. Ungood encompasses sad, melancholy, bored, unwell, unsatisfactory, unlucky, regrettable, inadequate, unfair and thousands of other such words. How do you express the feeling of injustice if there is no word for it? You will feel the fury rise in your throat but there is no word out of your mouth. Slowly, you will lose the ability to understand or communicate the emotion. And you cannot fight against an emotion you can’t even describe.

Newspeak is designed to eliminate the shades of meaning inherent in ambiguity and nuance present in language. It removes the maybe and reduces everything to yes or no. The world is black or white and there is no in-between. In order to reduce the language’s function of communication, it strips the intricacies of language to simple construction.

As constructed, Newspeak’s vocabulary communicates the exact expression of sense and meaning that a member of the Party could wish to express. It excludes secondary denotations and connotations. The linguistic simplification of Old speak into Newspeak was realised with the elimination of ideologically undesirable words and their meanings. If there is no word that describes liberty, that idea ceases to exist as a whole.

“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy. ” If the extent of your thought can be manipulated, how do you defend the objective truth?

Newspeak is a powerful tool. And it influences the world as we know it today.

-Adyesha Singhdeo