Newspeak: Wikis


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Newspeak is a fictional language in George Orwell's novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. The term was also used to discuss Soviet phraseology. [1] In the novel by Orwell, it is described as being "the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year". Orwell included an essay about it in the form of an appendix[2] in which the basic principles of the language are explained. Newspeak is closely based on English but has a greatly reduced and simplified vocabulary and grammar. This suits the totalitarian regime of the Party, whose aim is to make any alternative thinking—"thoughtcrime", or "crimethink" in the newest edition of Newspeak—impossible by removing any words or possible constructs which describe the ideas of freedom, rebellion and so on. One character, Syme, says admiringly of the shrinking volume of the new dictionary: "It's a beautiful thing, the destruction of words."

The Newspeak term for the English language is Oldspeak. Oldspeak is intended to have been completely eclipsed by Newspeak before 2050.

The genesis of Newspeak can be found in the constructed language Basic English, which Orwell promoted from 1942 to 1944 before emphatically rejecting it in his essay "Politics and the English Language".[3] In this paper 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.


Basic principles

To remove synonyms and antonyms

The basic idea behind Newspeak is to remove all shades of meaning from language, leaving simple dichotomies (pleasure and pain, happiness and sadness, goodthink and crimethink) which reinforce the total dominance of the State. Similarly, Newspeak root words served as both nouns and verbs, which allowed further reduction in the total number of words; for example, "think" served as both noun and verb, so the word thought was not required and could be abolished. A staccato rhythm of short syllables was also a goal, further reducing the need for deep thinking about language. (See duckspeak.) Successful Newspeak meant that there would be fewer and fewer words – dictionaries would get thinner and thinner.

In addition, words with opposite meanings were removed as redundant, so "bad" became "ungood". Words with comparative and superlative meanings were also simplified, so "better" became "gooder", and "best" likewise became "goodest". Intensifiers could be added, so "great" became "plusgood", and "excellent" and "splendid" likewise became "doubleplusgood". Adjectives were formed by adding the suffix "-ful" to a root word (e.g., "goodthinkful", orthodox in thought), and adverbs by adding "-wise" ("goodthinkwise", in an orthodox manner). In this manner, as many words as possible were removed from the language. The ultimate aim of Newspeak was to reduce even the dichotomies to a single word that was a "yes" of some sort: an obedient word with which everyone answered affirmatively to what was asked of them.

Some of the constructions in Newspeak, such as "ungood", are in fact characteristic of agglutinative languages, although foreign to English. It is possible that Orwell modeled aspects of Newspeak on Esperanto; for example "ungood" is constructed similarly to the Esperanto word malbona. Orwell had been exposed to Esperanto in 1927 when living in Paris with his aunt Ellen Kate Limouzin and her husband Eugène Lanti, a prominent Esperantist. Esperanto was the language of the house, and Orwell was disadvantaged by not speaking it, which may account for some antipathy towards the language.[2]

To control thought

By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron—they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like "freedom is slavery" when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.[4]

The underlying theory of Newspeak is that if something can't be said, then it is hugely more difficult to think it. (See Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.) There is substantial argument in favor of this notion, in that most humans think by carrying on a dialogue in their heads. They tend to subvocalize their thoughts as they form them and manipulate them; most thought is actually a dialogue with oneself. When new and complex developments come along, new words are invented (or old words adapted) to hold the meme as a gestalt. This is why specialist vocabularies are particularly common – if instead one shrank the vocabulary, one would substantially reduce the memes available to manipulate during this thinking/vocalizing process.[citation needed] The antithesis is, of course, that there are many natural languages, such as Finnish, whose corpus of words is very small, but which easily neologize new words and concepts by agglutinization. This is typical for all agglutinative languages.

Some examples of Newspeak from the novel include crimethink, doubleplusungood, and Ingsoc. They mean, respectively, "thoughtcrime", "extremely bad", and "English socialism" (the official political philosophy of the Party). The word Newspeak itself also comes from the language. All of these words would be obsolete and should be removed in the "final" version of Newspeak, except for doubleplusungood in certain contexts.

Generically, Newspeak has come to mean any attempt to restrict disapproved language by a government or other powerful entity.[5]


The "A" group of words are for simple concepts, such as "eating" and "drinking".[6] Groups of words such as the "B" group convey more complicated topics. The only way to say "bad" is with ungood. Something awful or extremely terrible is called "doubleplusungood". The "C" group is for very technical vocabulary. Since the Party does not want people to be intelligent in multiple fields, there is no word for "science". There are separate words for different fields.

See also


  1. ^ Benedikt Sarnov,Our Soviet Newspeak: A Short Encyclopedia of Real Socialism., Moscow: 2002, ISBN 5-85646-059-6 (Наш советский новояз. Маленькая энциклопедия реального социализма.)
  2. ^ a b Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four, "Appendix: The Principles of Newspeak", pp. 309–323. New York: Plume, 2003.
    Pynchon, Thomas (2003). "Foreword to the Centennial Edition" to Nineteen Eighty-Four, pp. vii–xxvi . New York: Plume, 2003.
    Fromm, Erich (1961). "Afterword" to Nineteen Eighty-Four, pp. 324–337. New York: Plume, 2003.
    Orwell's text has a "Selected Bibliography", pp. 338–9; the foreword and the afterword each contain further references.
    Copyright is explicitly extended to digital and any other means.
    Plume edition is a reprint of a hardcover by Harcourt. Plume edition is also in a Signet edition.
  3. ^ Illich, Ivan; Barry Sanders (1988) (in English language). ABC: The Alphabetization of the Popular Mind. San Francisco: North Point Press. pp. 109. ISBN 0-86547-291-2. "The satirical force with which Orwell used Newspeak to serve as his portrait of one of those totalitarian ideas that he saw taking root in the minds of intellectuals everywhere can be understood only if we remember that he speaks with shame about a belief that he formerly held... From 1942 to 1944, working as a colleague of William Empson's, he produced a series of broadcasts to India written in Basic English, trying to use its programmed simplicity, as a Tribune article put it, "as a sort of corrective to the oratory of statesmen and publicists." Only during the last year of the war did he write "Politics and the English Language", insisting that the defense of English language has nothing to do with the setting up of a Standard English."" 
  4. ^ Orwell, George (1949). Nineteen Eighty-Four.
  5. ^ OED: any corrupt form of English; esp. ambiguous or euphemistic language as used in official pronouncements or political propaganda.
  6. ^ 1984- notes: summary and analysis. Barnes & Noble.

Further reading

NB: Cf. Electronic Editions Warning.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

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Alternative spellings

  • newspeak


new + speak, coined by George Orwell in the 1949 novel Nineteen Eighty-four.

Proper noun




  1. The fictional language devised to meet the needs of Ingsoc in the novel Nineteen Eighty-four (George Orwell, 1949). Designed to restrict the words, and hence the thoughts, of the citizens of Oceania.
  2. The mode of talk by politicians and officials using ambiguous words to deceive the listener.
  3. A highly dynamic and reflective programming language descended from Smalltalk, supporting both object-oriented and functional programming.


See also

Simple English

Newspeak is a concept from the book 1984 by George Orwell. It Is the language that was created by Oceania and is the only language whose vocabulary grows smaller each year.

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