1984 or 1998?

Karen von Hardenberg - Copy Editor

In his essay, "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell writes of the English Language, "it becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." Slovenly language makes for "doublethink," a term used in his novel 1984. In the novel, the Party utilizes doublethink as a manner of confusing the masses through words. As an explanation of this concept, Orwell writes, "and if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed,if all records told the same tale,then the lie passed into history and became truth. "Who controls truth," ran the Party slogan, "controls the future: who controls the present controls the past" All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory. "Reality control, they called it; in Newspeak, doublethink." Orwell describes the phenomenon of intertwining words in a way such that no one understands the meaning. Today, the debate transforms from the grammar of Newspeak into a discussion of the ideology surrounding it. Orwell, through his essay "Politics and the English Language" and his appendix to 1984 "The Principles of Newspeak," attempts to argue that minimizing language provides for effective mind control. However, an analysis of these two articles and present day articles proves that mind control through use of elaborate language affects people to a greater degree while simultaneously acting in a more subtle manner.

According to "The Principles of Newspeak," the purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and the mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible." As a theory, Newspeak seems to work. By not thinking about the meaning of the word spoken, the individual no longer uses his or her mind. Lack of expansion of the mind causes it to atrophy. Like all other muscles, the brain needs constant stimulation to be able to continue to function. Orwell states "it was perceived that in thus abbreviating a name one narrowed and subtly altered its meaning, by cutting out most of the associations that would otherwise cling to it." Through control of the language, the Party attempted to control the use of the mind.

In theory, the idea of Newspeak seems brilliant. However, in looking at the individual words of the language, the Party never really alters the brain's function. "Newspeak," for example, sounds similar to "news speak." As a homonym, the term takes on a new meaning. Instead of being a new way of speaking, Orwell implies that newspaper and other media sources began this process of "dumbing down" the population of readers. Similarly, terms for the various Ministries, "Minipax" and "Minilove," contain expanded meanings found upon utilization of the mind. Although "Minipax" refers to the war department, the implication of the term to Party members "meant almost the exact opposite of what they appeared to mean." In Winston's world, although the Ministry conducted war, the Party meant the individual to see it as a manner of keeping the peace. However, in referring to it as "Minipax," the word intimates the opposite. Taken apart, the term become "mini pax" which means small peace. Therefore, the Ministry of Peace undoubtedly conducted non-peacekeeping missions. Similarly, "Minilove," which supposedly inspires love of Big Brother, implies that little love exists, mini-love. After witnessing Winston's experience behind the Ministry's walls, one sees that the party inspired hate -- hate of individuals. Thus, the title "Minilove" means more than simply love of Big Brother.

In Newspeak, the most important manner of mind control comes from "doublethink." This word implies, in our world, the term double-talk. Through a manipulation of words, the Party created slogans that contradict themselves. These contradictions caused the people to feel inadequate, because a lack of understanding existed. One of the main slogans, "ignorance is strength" exploited this idea perfectly. Initially one sees the contradiction to the common phrase "knowledge is power." Through "doublethink," the terms commonly held as true suddenly mean nothing. In confusing the populace, much as fast-talkers confuse their listeners through double-talk, the Party hoped to make the individual feel unintelligent. How can ignorance equal strength when the knowledgeable traditionally survive? Through a rearrangement of the truth by continually playing with words, the Party confused people to the point where they no longer knew what to believe. While the words themselves may be simple, they do not discourage thinking, as the Party would have hoped. The associations people still make using these abbreviations and phrases ruin the simplification process that the party tries to undertake.

In reading Orwell's essay "Politics and the English Language," the author lays out many of Newspeak's tenets. However, while in "The Principles of Newspeak" Orwell implies a certain evil to these tenets, in "Politics and the English Language" he applauds much of the simplification of language. While many of his points refer to grammatical simplification, his section on pretentious diction mirrors the use of Newspeak. The words he cites "are used to dress up a simple statement and give an aire of scientific impartiality to biased judgments." Writers use many of the words included in this category. Orwell discusses common words such as phenomenon, individual, effective, constitute, and eliminate. These words infiltrate our language, obscuring meanings, according to Orwell. Thus, we should remove them from our writing. However, in removing these words, writers limit the meaning of their words. Orwell feels that "the result, in general, is an increase in slovenliness and vagueness." However, when used correctly, these words merely vary the sound of the sentences. In writing classes, professors teach students to write using varied sentence structure to make their works interesting. Students then use the words to which they have access. Thus, many of the aforementioned words creep into papers. So long as the individual understands the topic about which he writes, the words used should be ones that create the intended imagery. "Phenomenon" often connotes something larger, something out of reach. However in saying the "event" or the "thing," the author creates an equal amount of obscurity in his writing. Phenomenon simply gives an impression of size or the impression of lack of understanding. Both of Orwell's arguments for minimizing language prove that in removing words, the reader still makes associations. While his theory of Newspeak worked in 1984, one must remember the fictional content of the story. Although he felt that world would occur, it did not.

However, in today's world, the media uses language as a manner of controlling people's emotions. In 1998, the most prevalent use of language occurs in stories concerning President Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. The L.A. Times published a story on Monday, September 21, 1998 entitled "For Lewinsky, Silence Could Prove Golden" (see attached). Word choice throughout the article subtly yet effectively creates a particular image of Monica. With only a rumor supporting the article's thesis, the writer discusses the possibilities surrounding Lewinsky's releasing her story for money. The first paragraph alone utilizes the connotations of language to create an image of the girl who has said nothing since her grand jury testimony. The author writes, "Monica S. Lewinsky, insecure girl from Beverly Hills turned most notorious woman in the world, is trolling for a new life." Rather than saying "Monica Lewinsky tries to rebuild her life," the article creates a bias through the use of elaborate language. In using the words "notorious" and "trolling" the author creates an image of Lewinsky based on the connotations of the words. Both these words imply Lewinsky not only wants to create a life after the fiasco, but that her scheming personality will direct her. Later in the article, the reporter states, "the notoriety that has shattered Lewinsky's life also has put her in a league of her own." Again, the author's word choice shows the bias. Although she dramatizes that the fame "shattered" Lewinsky's life, the reporter also makes the distinction that the ex-intern is "in a league of her own." Rather than continuing on the poor Monica with the shattered life mode, the writer subtly moves to a new idea. By placing Lewinsky in a league of her own, the author of the piece suddenly shifts the reader's mindset, making the woman into something not to be pitied. Through a simple shift of language, the article affects how the individual views Lewinsky. Instead of seeing her as a pitiable character whose life has been "shattered," the article forces the reader to see her as the "most notorious woman in the world." Through the expansion of language, writers influence the image a reader creates in his mind. Rather than the simplification of language, the innuendo and complexities of language, as in this article, mold people's thinking.

Orwell continually proposes the benefits of mind control through the use of limited language. Although his article on "Politics and the English Language" discusses the decline of the English language through increased jargon, Orwell never makes the distinction concerning power that he makes in his "Principles of Newspeak." However, through an analysis of the two, several comparisons can be made. In doing so, one sees that Orwell's idea of inflated language necessitates a simpler, more concise use of words. Through the gentle handling of words, an author can mold the reader's thoughts. Expanded language and the correlations one makes in his mind cause Orwell's theory from 1984 to lose validity. No matter how contracted language becomes, the individual will continually draw conclusions and connotations. Through elaborate language and the connotations of words, those who wish to have power over others can triumph