How is language used in 1984 to allow the government to control their citizens??

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yairhoffman2's profile picture

yairhoffman2 | (Level 1) Adjunct Educator

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George Orwell clues us into the thinking process of totalitarian governments through the use or rather the discouragement of the use of a high vocabulary. 

Totalitarian governments fear the intelligentsia.  They will therefore arrest and or murder the college professors, the media, and the thinkers.

In 1984, Big Brother attempts to stop the thinking processes of individuals in society by degrading the vocabulary.  The less words that are used, the more Big Brother can control.

Orwell uses this concept as a paradigm.  In a sense he exaggerates the implementation of this idea to convey the greater truth that totalitarian governments wish to retard thinking and intelligent thought.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In his essay "Politics and the English Language," written in 1946, George Orwell wrote of the reciprocity of language and thought:

It [language] becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, yet the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts. 

In his novel 1984, what Orwell called the "reversible" properties of language and thought are at play in the barren futuristic society. By diminishing the language, thought can likewise be diminished in this society; in other words, one cannot have great thoughts without a great vocabulary. Therefore, Newspeak that diminishes words by eliminating the connotative meanings of other forms of those words or their synonyms and antonyms suppresses thought. There is no refinement of language, no nuances of meaning, no musicality, no precision, no abstractions, no emotion--all these shades and refinements of language have been eliminated, reducing thoughts to simplistic, shallow levels. By reducing the words that one can use to express oneself, the government, thus, diminishes thoughts and controls them.

In addition, there is a select vocabulary designed specifically for political purposes. That is, these words not only have a specific political implication, but they also are designed to direct the thoughts and attitudes of the speaker. These were called "B words" and were combinations of other words; for instance the word goodthink, meaning "to think in an orthodox manner." This word, then, can be manipulated into various parts of speech, such as the adjective goodthinkful. 

Of course, some words have been eliminated as subversive or otherwise offensive. Words such as justice, morality, democracy, science, religion, and honor no longer exist. Such words that are associated with liberty and equality have simply been grouped in the one word, crimethink.

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