Friday, September 27, 2013
1984 and Newspeak
If we listen to the daily news we know that the world is "going to hell in a handbasket." Although I tremble at how these events will affect my children and grandchildren, I tremble even more at God's judgement on a people who have learned to call good evil and evil good. (Isaiah 5:20) What better example in literature is there than Orwell's 1984 in which the government teaches, "War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength"?
Orwell's book gives glimpses of a world gone mad, where people are not allowed to think or believe anything outside the party line. It is a world of re-written history books, broken families, and moral poverty. Call me nuts, but what struck the most terror into my soul was Orwell's vision of a world without beautiful words.
In the appendix to the novel, Orwell explains the intricacies of "Newspeak", the language meant to abolish all possibility of thinking deep thoughts. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought (a thought diverging from the principles of the government) should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as though is dependend on words. (p. 299)
Vocabulary was divided into three groups. "Group A" consisted of words needed for every day life (hit, run, dog, tree, sugar). But all ambiguities and shades of meaning had been purged out of them. So far as it could be achieved, a Newspeak word of this class was simple a staccato sound expressing one clearly understood concept. (p. 300) The words "warm" and "bad" were replaced by "uncold" and "ungood."
"Group B" consisted of compound words invented for political purposes. Expressions such as "orthodoxy" and "exchange of ideas" were replaced by words such as "goodthink, crimethink, and oldthink." The words honor, justice, morality, democracy, science and religion simply ceased to exist. (p. 304)
The intention was to make speech, and especially speech on any subject not ideologicallly neutral, as nearly as possible independent of consciousness... A Party member called upon to make a political or ethical judgment should be able to spray forth the correct opinions as automatically as a machine gun spraying forth bullets... Ultimately it was hoped to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centers at all. (p. 307)
"Group C" involved words having to do with science and technology and were known only to the men and women who used them in their field of study.
The overall purpose of truncated language was to inhibit any thinking that would go against the reigning powers. With powerless words the worst thing one could say against Big Brother was that he was "ungood". Furthermore, as "Oldspeak" became more and more a thing of the past, literature and history books written in previous centuries (with their richness of language and thought) would become unintelligible.
Even more than the rest of the book, the appendix to 1984 gave me much to ruminate over. It's been three months since I read it and yet whenever I come to a potent word in a book I'm reading, I think to myself, "This wouldn't exist in Orwell's world."
I even started a list on my Kindle notepad of words that would be lost forever: languid, luscious, copious, salient, piety, virtue, indefatigable, petulant, steadfast.
It's enough to break your heart.