by George Orwell
1984 Theme of Language and Communication
(Click the themes infographic to download.)
In 1984, language is of central importance to behavior control. The major proposition is that if control of language were centralized in a state, then the possibility of rebellion or disobedience would be eliminated. This book devotes significant time to examining the centrality of language – explicitly, through Goldstein’s manifesto, or contextually, as in when Syme and Winston speak of the Newspeak dictionary – to history, culture, life, behavior, thoughts, concepts, and power.
Questions About Language and Communication
- Can you really narrow the range of thought by narrowing vocabulary, as the Party seeks to do? What does that mean for people with small vocabularies – would they think less? Why does the Party think so? Can you think of counterexamples to the Party’s proposition?
- What is the role of slang in a society adopting a systematized language base? How and why does some slang make it into the dictionary?
- Why does the English language have many vernaculars and colloquialisms? What is the purpose for each? Do you have an argument for why they should be eliminated or encouraged?
- What is the role of synonyms and antonyms in language, if, as Syme and Winston reasoned, all they are good for is taking up space in the dictionary?
Chew on This
Even if people communicate solely in Newspeak, and the control of language is centralized in Oceania by the Party, it would not be possible to narrow the range of thought to eliminate the possibility of subversion. Therefore, the Party’s ambitions are impossible.
Language limits thought, and thought is dependent on language. Indeed, no thought can be had without the right words with which to express it. Therefore, the Party’s ambitions are attainable.