The Complexity of Language

When I was in high school, a teacher assigned a project in which we could only pick one career as our topic. One of my classmates asked her what she should do if she had three careers in mind. For the sake of the project, the teacher told her that she could choose only one of her dream careers.

Looking back at my choice of career (teacher), I always wondered where I would be had I chosen one of the other careers I was interested in my last year of high school. Graphic designer, web designer, and nutritionist were some of the other careers of interest. A few years later, the career of a linguist also interested me because I’m fascinated with language and words.

Photo by Ian Taylor(CC BY-SA 2.0)

The other day, I was reading a passage from the book 1984 by George Orwell that was comical to me. In a conversation with the main character Winston, Syme describes how the Newspeak language will have less words in the future. Syme is a specialist in Newspeak and works on updating the Newspeak dictionary. He says the following:

It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. If you have a word like ‘good,’ what need is there for a word like “bad”? “Ungood” will do just as well…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’…’Plusgood’ covers the meaning , or ‘doubleplusgood’ if you want something stronger still.” (Orwell 45-46).

from 1984

This passage is comical because when I am writing, I love the process of picking the perfect word to explain myself. Earlier in this post I wrote I am fascinated with language, but I could have chosen intrigued or interested over fascinated. Even though some words have the same meaning, some are more musical or crisper. I can’t imagine using the word doubleplusgood. It feels robotic. Maybe I’d feel more comfortable using this word if I grew up using the language.

In Newspeak you find words like thoughtcrime and unperson. Thoughtcrime is when a person has thoughts against Big Brother and the ideas he stands for. Unperson is a person who has never existed. People become unpersons when they commit thoughtcrime.

Just by looking at the language, one learns of the the society it was created in. Newspeak was created in a society in which thought is closely monitored through people’s actions, their facial expressions, and the use of telescreens and microphones. If a person is found guilty through the monitoring, the person doesn’t disappear or is murdered, the person was simply never even born.

I admire Orwell for taking me into this dystopian world through the language Newspeak.

What do you like about language? What do you think about Newspeak?

6 thoughts on “The Complexity of Language

  1. From a young age I’ve been exposed to more than 1 language. I do consider myself fortunate because of that, even though there are people who are fluent in so many more languages. As a kid, I would get offended by the translations, because by being able to read the original and the translated one, I knew that the second one was not the same as the first. I thought it was almost criminal to twist the author’s words. Often times I still think that. However, I am not more aware of cultural accents. Like Cariss said – things can be differently expressed in different languages. It depends on the culture, the idioms, etc. Like Andrea, I know that translated jokes lose their meaning more often than not.

    What your post made me think of most of all is the present time. Orwell’s reality is often seen as “out there”, or “insane”, but if you look closely, there is so much truth to what he wrote. What do you think about texting? About everyone using acronyms and shortening words. About emojis? Isn’t all of that contributing to the degradation of our spoken language?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I get really frustrated with translations too. It’s amazing how even just a simple change in the translation changes the intended meaning. And now that I think of it, watching the movie Shrek was not the same experience in English as it is in Spanish. In either language some of the humor can’t be translated.

      I love your connection to the present time. I don’t mind the acronyms or shortening of words in informal situations. When I read a book or a poem though, I look for the weight of the words, the sound of them. This makes me think about the differences in syllables and stresses of the acronyms versus the phrases they stand for. I wonder how that makes a difference in a poem. I think about the times I’ve replied with ty and np, and I know that sometimes I do this because it feels easier, especially if I’m in a hurry. So when people take their time to type up the words, thank you, it feels more genuine. As for emojis, I wouldn’t like for them to replace our language. Sometimes I get frustrated with how I don’t know what some emojis mean, and even more when depending on what type of device you’re using they end up looking different 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. On an almost daily basis I am exposed to 4 languages (Dutch, English, Croatian and Danish). It’s a lot and sometimes my brain becomes overloaded, but very interesting.

    I mostly appreciate humor in a language. It’s very unique.
    I like to think I am little funnier than others because of these 4 languages 😉
    But the bad thing is that I cannot show it, because translating a joke doesn’t sound funny at all.

    Newspeak is very interesting!
    So George Orwell made up this language?

    Liked by 2 people

    • I envy you for knowing so many languages. Being multilingual has always been a dream of mine, but I lack discipline for it.

      I hadn’t thought of the humor aspect of language. I’ve definitely been there before trying to translate a joke only to end up with no laughs.

      Yes, George Orwell made up Newspeak. There’s a chapter called “The Principles of Newspeak” in the book’s appendix. I’m hoping to learn more from the language when I get to that chapter 🙂


  3. To me, language is interesting because it’s inseparably intertwined with culture. A language’s message runs from how its natives make jokes to how its speakers build their mindset. Also I love so much language’s bonus product, quotes!
    I haven’t read the book of Orwell that you talked about though. But it’s in my 2019 reading plan!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Carissa, thanks for commenting! This reminds me of how I sometimes feel frustrated when I talk with my grandma in Spanish. As I translate something that happened to me in English, the anecdote loses its meaning in Spanish, and in the end I feel like the anecdote doesn’t have the same meaning it would have had I explained it in English. I agree with you on quotes. I love how one sentence or two can have so much meaning and impact.

      Liked by 1 person

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