It has been said that power is, in a certain sense, knowledge–"it is the explanation of how certain forms of knowledge come to exist.” In what way does language regulate the relationship...

It has been said that power is, in a certain sense, knowledge–"it is the explanation of how certain forms of knowledge come to exist.” In what way does language regulate the relationship between power and knowledge in Orwell’s 1984?

(A longer answer would be appreciated)

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

George Orwell once observed that a person is incapable of great thoughts without a great vocabulary.  How, indeed, can one express an idea without the words that are appropriate to this expression of thought? By the same token [if Orwell will forgive the cliché], if one does not possess an adequate vocabulary, how can he even formulate a thought of any depth? American literary and Marxist political theorist, Frederic Jameson, used a phrase that seems relevant to this idea: "the prison-house of language."

Further, in his essay "Politics and the English Language" Orwell addresses the issues of language, some of which are depicted in his novel 1984. For instance, Orwell comments upon Marxist writing, which consists for the most part of words translated from Russian, German, or French in contrast to the composition of a new word using Greek or Latin roots and the application to it of an affix that is more appropriate to meaning. The result of the composition of words in the Marxist manner, Orwell writes, is "an increase in slovenliness and vagueness." This vagueness, Orwell contends, often occurs as some words are used with variable meanings, such as bourgeois, equality, class, progressive.

In 1984, not only are words vague, they are also lifeless; and, a lifeless language corrupts and inhibits thought. Indeed, the purpose of Newspeak is not only to provide expression of the appropriate world view and thoughts requisite for the followers of Ingsoc, but this new language replaces others and the modes of thought that they have provided for so long; thus, there is an invention of words as well as a termination of others and of undesirable meanings. For example, the word free only denotes "without," as The screened-in porch is now free of mosquitoes. Some words in Newspeak are completely eliminated from the language, replaced by euphemisms that are "ideologically neutral." [e.g. joycamp for a forced-labor camp, the Ministry of War is called the Minipax, with -pax meaning peace in Latin). So, if a citizen does not really know what something is, he will not be aware of the cruelties and faults of his society. In short, Newspeak is a vehicle of thought-control, since--to re-iterate was has been stated above--without the word to express one's desires and feelings, and without appropriate words to describe the true meanings of ideas and things, how can veritable individual thought and expression occur? And, is there not, then, also a finiteness placed upon one's knowledge?  The success of the Two-Minute Hate Session seems to support this concept of the limitation of thought of the citizenry in Ingsoc.

With the "purging" of the nuances of speech, the usage of Newspeak and Doublespeak permits the limiting as well as the controlling of the thoughts of the people. The grammar of Newspeak is also reduced, first by an interchangeability of parts of speech. [e.g. the word thought no longer exists; instead think takes the place of both noun and verb]; to make and adjective of any word, -ful or -wise is added to the noun or verb. Secondly, any word can be negated by simply attaching the prefix un- before it; to strengthen a word the addition of plus or doubleplus as a prefix is made. Therefore, since words can be so easily reshaped, there is little power or specificity to their meanings, so that whatever thoughts are expressed lose any real impact. So often Winston and Julia are at a loss for the expression of their feelings; Julia turns to something her grandfather has told her long ago, and Winston must transfer his untranslatable feelings to images:

The paperweight was the room he was in, and the coral was Julia's life and his own, fixed in a sort of eternity at the heart of the crystal.

With the control of language as described in 1984, there truly is a "prison-house of language," as citizens are barred from profound and critical thought and from the redeeming outlet of expression of desire and emotion. There is a barbarism of the soul that does more to dehumanize the citizen and destroy all sense of individuality than any torture in Room 101.

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