Language

This is a passage from Chapter 4 of Orwell’s “1984”:

‘It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself. Take “good”, for instance. If you have a word like “good”, what need is there for a word like “bad”? “Ungood” will do just as well–better, because it’s an exact opposite, which the other is not. Or again, if you want a stronger version of “good”, what sense is there in having a whole string of vague useless words like “excellent” and “splendid” and all the rest of them? “Plusgood” covers the meaning, or “doubleplusgood” if you want something stronger still. Of course we use those forms already. But in the final version of Newspeak there’ll be nothing else. In the end the whole notion of goodness and badness will be covered by only six words—in reality, only one word. Don’t you see the beauty of that, Winston? It was B.B.’s idea originally, of course,’ he added as an afterthought.

A sort of vapid eagerness flitted across Winston’s face at the mention of Big Brother. Nevertheless Syme immediately detected a certain lack of enthusiasm.

‘You haven’t a real appreciation of Newspeak, Winston,’ he said almost sadly. ‘Even when you write it you’re still thinking in Oldspeak. I’ve read some of those pieces that you write in “The Times” occasionally. They’re good enough, but they’re translations. In your heart you’d prefer to stick to Oldspeak, with all its vagueness and its useless shades of meaning.

You don’t grasp the beauty of the destruction of words. Do you know that Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year?’

Winston did know that, of course. He smiled, sympathetically he hoped, not trusting himself to speak. Syme bit off another fragment of the dark-coloured bread, chewed it briefly, and went on:

‘Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we’re not far from that point. But the process will still be continuing long after you and I are dead. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. Even now, of course, there’s no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. It’s merely a question of self-discipline, reality-control. But in the end there won’t be any need even for that. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect. Newspeak is Ingsoc and Ingsoc is Newspeak,’ he added with a sort of mystical satisfaction. ‘Has it ever occurred to you, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?’

‘Except—-‘ began Winston doubtfully, and he stopped.

——————————

This is the most powerful articulation that I have come across yet of why Saussure was one of the most important thinkers of the 20th Century.

Our language determines our very conception & cognition of reality.

One response to “Language”

  1. hmmmm…. just when you were starting to write for the mass… thankfully you dont have a community in orkut of Saussure… that would have been doubleungood…

    but now that you mention it…. they are thinking about doing away with different words for a different tense… like instead of “ate”, they planning to use “eated”, or “swimmed” for “swum”…. not kidding… came in the paper… cant tell you which edition as am not that good with referring like you :)…

    but if language is all about communication, then ever wonder:
    thet hw ve cne reed nd undrstnd what we maen evne whtih splleing erors lkie this? 🙂
    then what is the purp[ose of spellings?

    and also, why is it necessary to learn the alphabets in that order?
    am not even close to Saussure, just an idle mind asking for direction…

    by the way… the vocab these engineers have here, think they are already into the 9th edition of Newspeak..

    and i loved the passage you wrote in your comment…

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