The Power of Language Essay
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George Orwell, the writer of many highly regarded literary works, is extremely interested in the power of language, mainly how it is abused. By analyzing two of his works, 1984 and Politics and The English Language, it is clear that Orwell is using his writing to bring awareness to the dangers of the manipulation, misuse, and decline of language. In 1984 he demonstrates how language can be used to control thought and manipulate the past. This is proven throughout the novel by examining the language of Newspeak and how it is key to controlling the totalitarian state, and how using language to alter and manipulate history can shape reality.
In his essay Politics and the English Language Orwell once again demonstrates the ubiquitous power of language by exemplifying how bad English is making a less intelligent population, and how when it is used in politics it can play a huge role in influencing the truth. In 1984 Orwell warns of the manipulation of language in a totalitarian state.
He emphasises the importance of language in the superstate of Oceania; and how its government, known as the Party, is able to control the state because of their control over the language. The Party’s main goal is to eliminate any opposition to their power, even if it just a thought of opposition. To achieve this goal the Party developed a new language called Newspeak, that will eventually replace modern English or Oldspeak. The opposition that the Party aims to eliminate is often carried out through the act of Thoughtcrime, which is one of the worst offenses a person can commit and is punishable by death. Since the party can’t read people’s minds they analyze their facial expressions to tell if they are thinking anything against the norm. To solve the problem of thoughtcrime they developed the ultra-political language of Newspeak.
Newspeak’s main goal is to restrict vocabulary to the point where thoughtcrime is impossible. Syme, one of the newspeak engineers says “ We’re cutting the language down to the bone. . . Newspeak is the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year!” (Huxley, 55) By manipulating the language the Party aims to change the way people think. Since without language thought is nearly impossible the party believes that by altering the language they can impose their untrue reality. They will be able to restrict it to the point that even a person’s thoughts are manipulated; things such as individualism and imagination will cease to exist.
Which ultimately will give the Party total control over society. The newspeak engineer also goes on to state “ In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible because there will be no words in which to express it.” (55) This quote proves how vital control of language is to the party, it is the key to becoming a controlled state. By creating the element of Newspeak in 1984 Orwell is warning against the potential consequences of manipulating language to benefit people in power and how this can eventually lead to a totalitarian state.
In 1984 Orwell also warns of the misuse of language and how it can shape reality. He demonstrates how the Party is extremely skilled at changing reality through language, especially when it is related to the past. The Party has the ability to alter any piece of literature or writing that doesn’t coincide with their desired robotic society. This constant altering of the past makes finding a true reality impossible because reality is undergoing constant change. Winston, the protagonist of the book, worked at the ministry of Truth and his job was, ironically, to rewrite the past to make the Party look best in the present. He was told to rewrite papers, books, and posters and to change them to something that would better suit the Party’s interests at the time. Orwell described this process “ Day by day almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment ever allowed to stay on record.” (42)
In this quote Orwell demonstrates the dangers associated with the abuse of language. Writing is a tool that is supposed to open and clear the mind, but when the language is used to do the opposite the consequences can be severe. Using language as a tool to secure power is a scary thought, especially when it blurs the lines between reality and fiction. By getting the Party to alter the past in 1984 Orwell is warning of the potential consequences that could arise when language is misused to alter consciousness and shape reality. In Politics and the English Language Orwell warns of the potential danger of a more dense population due to the decline of language. He claims that English is currently being “abused” and forgetting that all people are different and that everything changes with time, even language itself. Orwell goes onto state “A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect…But you are not obliged to go to all this trouble.
You can shirk it by simply throwing your mind open and letting the ready-made phrases come crowding in.” (Orwell, George. Politics and the English language: an essay. New York: Typophiles, 1947) In this quote Orwell is showing the modern trend of laziness when it comes to language. Instead of people asking themselves the four questions listed above and coming with their own powerful statements they are relying on phrases and sayings that are overused to describe how they feel. Orwell uses words like “decline,” “ugly,” “inaccurate,” “foolish” and “slovenliness” to describe the English language in its current state. This laziness when it comes to language is making our generations thought capacity smaller compared to our predecessors and therefore less intelligent. Orwell noticed this trend in modern language and used his writing to warn against this inevitable progression. He realized Everything changes with time, the phrases that are repeatedly used over and over to describe our thoughts and feelings will to expire. Once they are no longer relative the population will have lost so much mental capacity from not thinking thoroughly with their own language that they will no longer be able to come up with ones to replace them.
Throughout Politics and the English Language Orwell is warning people that if they do not stop this declining trend in language that the population will start to become less and less intelligent with each generation, therefore making them more vulnerable to all sorts of dangers. In Politics and the English Language Orwell also warns of the potential danger of eliminating truth due to manipulative political language. Governments since the beginning of time have been able to manipulate and gain support of the population through numerous tactics, all of which are directly related to language. Throughout his essay Orwell exemplifies the dangers that can occur when language is in the hands of the government; he states that “One ought to recognize that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language.” This statements shows how the decline of language is making people more vulnerable to political extortion and therefore less aware of the truth. Orwell goes onto state that “Political language… is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”(Orwell, Politics and the English Language)
In this quote Orwell is clearly warning about the true amount of power that political language possesses. He demonstrates how something completely morally wrong such as murder can be justified if a politician knows how to manipulate the language to make it appear right. This is a clear warning about the extent of which the government will go to secure their power. This manipulation of the truth and justification for lies makes the truth very hard to distinguish. Since the English language is declining people are becoming more vulnerable to the government’s proposed propaganda and falsifications, the truth will become more and more scare.
Throughout his essay Politics and the English Language Orwell is trying to bring to attention that the manipulation of language by the government will eventually make truth a irrelevant idea. Orwell’s literary works carry a well-founded warning about the potential dangers associated with the manipulation, misuse, and decline of language. He demonstrates how language can be manipulated by the government to make way for a totalitarian society, how it can be used to alter reality, how the decline of language is making a less intelligent population, and how political language is making truth a irrelevant idea. Language is one of the greatest tools mankind possesses and throughout 1984 and Politics and the English Language Orwell shows that when the reverence for language fades, it can easily become the downfall to human consciousness.