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Newspeak, 1984, and Big Brother

Orwell’s 1984 ends with an in depth record of Newspeak, the language imposed upon citizens by the novel’s fascist government.
Examples are:
1) ‘renaming’ words (such as ‘concentration camp’ being changed to ‘joycamp’)
This is interesting to analyse in light of the social theories which speak of how language constructs reality – if we refer to a concentration camp as a ‘joycamp’ for long enough, does that change the way we think of it? (eg. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which suggests that the structure of language shapes the speaker’s worldview or cognition/ Wittgenstein’s famous ‘the limits of my language mean the limits of my world’/etc)

2) reconstructing words to make them ‘noun centric’, such as eliminating the words ‘cut’/’cutting’/etc, and making them ‘knifing’/’knifed’ and so on.
Not only does this reduce the number of words we have at our disposal, it also limits the flexibility of language. To give a basic example, ‘cutting edge’ is an adjective that highlights the word succeeding it – ‘knifing edge’ instead places the focus on the knife. In due time, it is likely that ‘cutting edge’ as a concept itself may become obsolete in the absence of the word ‘cut’.
These ideas are relevant in most linguistic analysis, but there may be scope to analyse them in the light of current corporate and social structures. For instance,
– ‘Sending a message’ is a phrase that has largely given way to ‘inboxing’ or ‘DM’ing. Does this restrict the way we think of communication at large? Is there a potential future where written communication becomes unthinkable without monopolies such as Meta intermediaries? What of ‘Googling’ or ‘Xeroxing’ (instead of ‘looking for information’ or ‘making a photocopy’)?

– Do the words corporates use modify our understanding of social structures? When Facebook switches the name for a user’s personal page from ‘profile’ to ‘timeline’, do we think of the personal page as less static and virtual, more a tangible piece of our lives?

– Censorship in both mass media and private social media. Instagram and Google by default blur out posts containing certain words and images (‘Safe Search’) – there is little regulation as to what these words/images must be. Is the possibility that by routinely hiding these terms and visuals, the user’s reality is reconstructed to erase certain perspectives and realities?

  • Thanks! Edited for clarity and given a specific thesis and some examples. – Janhabi Mukherjee 6 months ago
  • This is a really interesting topic! The complex linguistic concepts you note are ones that are not so readily and commonly explored in pieces that I have read about 1984, and I think they could make for a very fruitful article. This is just a bit more of a general question about where you see or intend these concepts to be rooted: is 1984 a lens through which you think your potential thesis should be explored, or was it just a springboard for more generalized questions? Either would still make for a great analysis! I was just wondering what role 1984 is meant to play in such analysis. – mmclaughlin102 6 months ago
  • Thanks! I honestly think either approach could be taken dependiong on what the author wanted to focus upon. I was thinking of it as more of a springboard (beginning with the 1984 dictionary and taking up questions of language, reality and social structures) initially. But usingit as a lens to focus on more specific examples or instances (eg. how do 1984's lingustic concepts play out in situations like the current multiple antitrust lawsuits against Google) could also be a fruitful analysis. – Janhabi Mukherjee 6 months ago