Izzit? – ​George Orwell on Newspeak in his 1984 dystopia

In the wake of the rise of setting out “alternative facts” as US government practice, and Amazon’s reported sell-out of George Orwell’s dystopian classic 1984 days after it became their number-one seller, Josh Jones at Open Culture delves into “Newspeak” – the official language of Oceania, the totalitarian future state in which 1984 is set.

Orwell’s novel is the origin of the now famous phrase “Big Brother is watching you.” In it’s opening pages, as the clocks strike thirteen, we are introduced to Winston Smith, protagonist, and his place of work, the Ministry of Truth, a giant pyramidal building with the three slogans of the all-encompassing Party “picked out on its white face in elegant lettering”:

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH 

(Very alt-facty this Newspeak.)

Jones is less concerned with the novel itself than with Orwell’s appendix to it, entitled “The Principles of Newspeak,” where the author lays out the background to how the Party uses Newspeak

a language designed by the government to influence the way people think through the words available to them. The language, which limits free thought and prevents ‘thought crimes,’ is promoted by the Ministry of Truth, a government department responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism.

“The Principles of Newspeak” is not a long document, but if you’re not going to read it right now, Jones provides a useful overview. Sometime soon though you ought to read 1984 itself.

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