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1984 Political Language Essay

“Political language [… ] is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. ” In George Orwell’s novel, 1984 and his essay “Politics and the English Language” there is a clear connection between politics, language, and expressing the truth. Politics aims to control people by altering and distorting language. George Orwell’s prescient view of society envisioned a future where government would suppress freedom through censorship and suppression of free thought.

The control of language is the most dangerous weapon a government can possess, because it allows for the ability to dictate how people communicate, think, and perceive their surroundings. One way politics influences language is by limiting the ways in which a person can convey an idea. In 1984, Orwell mimics this with the government controlled language Newspeak. Syme, a specialist on this, describes the purpose of the language to Winston as “We’re destroying words — scores of them, hundreds of them, every day [… 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 year [there are] fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always [becomes] a little smaller”(“1984” 52). By restricting what people can express and eliminating certain words, the ruling party has power over what people think and talk about. If there are no words for concepts like rebellion and freedom, a person can not easily think about them.

This controls dissent because people can not communicate to each other concepts and ideas which the government does not approve of. A public which can not question or speak out against the government will not be as much of a threat. Another result of simplifying the language is it eliminates independent thought. Newspeak eliminates words like “excellent” and “fantastic” in favor of “good” and “plusgood”(“1984″ 51). When a language is reduced to a handful of generic terms everyday speech becomes non-unique, as ideas lose their meaning and coalesce into the same generally vague format.

At that point what people say and think tends to be predetermined phrases. As Orwell puts it, “When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start [… ] the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you [… ] blurring or even changing your meaning” (“Politics” 169). In Newspeak trying to talk without a vivid idea results in reciting the stale inescapable jargon of Big Brother. In this society critical thinking becomes unnecessary, because the language is so simple.

When people become used to a lack of critical thinking, then they will fail to think twice the absurd lies the government tells them. Instead of truly understanding the content, it is easier for the party members to accept what they are told and believe propaganda without question, especially when it’s the only source of information they have ever known. The nature of politics is to limit the range and expressiveness of a national language and to restrict independent thinking and manipulate the people who depend on it.

Another way in which politics manipulates language is through obscuring or misrepresenting the meaning of a phrase. “[Political language] is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them [… ] blurring the outline and covering up all the details” (“Politics” 167). In political writing there is no imagery, and the point isn’t directly accessible. The main point in this kind of writing is not readily available. The truth is hidden under layers upon layers meaningless ostale phrases so overused that they have lost their exact meaning.

The purpose of this style of writing and speech is insincerity. Sentences are constructed so that the casual observer will see what they want to see; on closer observation there is no exact meaning or commitment to a specific idea of any sort, just a hollow meaningless phrase. 1984 embodies this perfectly when Winston sees a narrator on the screen elaborate, “Our forces in South India have won a glorious victory. I am authorised to say that the action we are now reporting may well bring the war within measurable distance of its end” (“1984” 28).

This is the perfect example of political writing, because it justifies a purely political move with a very vague promise that seems great at a glance but holds no substance. The justification here is filled with enough vague qualifiers(“may well”) and prepositions(“within measurable distance of’) that it means nothing. The advantage of writing or speaking like this is that even though it doesn’t mean anything, it seems like it does, making the above phrase very easy for people to accept and believe without needing to understand.

It grants the feeling of a promise without actually promising any of the things it implies to the reader. Equally effective is that political writing causes a chain reaction. So the same meaningless drivel that politicians use to pass unjust things by the people, people now use to justify these unjust things to themselves. As Orwell puts it very well, instead of stating, “Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air,” one can simply call this, “Pacification” (“Politics” 166).

By using broad, vague buzzwords one can convey the meaning without conjuring up vivid imagery. This also allows severely unjust acts to be referenced while ignoring the moral implications by distancing oneself from the meaning. Politicians use these methods to gain support for political moves and immoral acts by focusing on positives and hiding meanings within a mass of vague and inexact words. In 1984, George Orwell theorized a world where the manipulation of language means the control of people and he couldn’t have been closer to the truth.

Politics to this day still uses this tactic effectively. People accept this approach because the easiest, least stressful, option is conformity. Orwell knew it too, admitting the only way to truly fight this instinct is to be “constantly on guard against [political language)” (“Politics” 168). However, one can generally avoid being tricked by reading into every piece of news they receive and trying to find the deeper meaning and motivation in every story. As 1984 aptly shows, the truth can only die when critical thinking and the will of the people do.

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