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?