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Essay: Comparison of “Newspeak” in 1984 and reality in North Korea

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Constructing the Language of Tyranny; How Aspects of Newspeak and North Korean Language Enforce Totalitarianism

The human perspective is malleable by features of language, as the process of thought relates directly to speech. For instance, countless variants of formal speech riddle South Korean language, rendering South Koreans sensitive to subtle differences in class. Indonesia lacks time-indicating tenses, hence punctuality is disregarded among most citizens. While these linguistic qualities are incidental in most languages, George Orwell explores how language may be exploited to corrupt thought by creating “Newspeak”, a language imposed upon citizens in his dystopian novel, 1984. In 1984, “Newspeak” examines language’s ability to shape paradigms, a capacity exploited in reality by dictatorships such as North Korea, in which the suppression of language manifests actual social consequences, constructing a tyrannical reality.

Newspeak eliminates subsidiary definitions and connotations to suppress social overtones and independent interpretation, a feature parallel to the societal oppression manifesting in North Korean language. In Orwell’s 1984, The Ministry of Truth makes Newspeak entirely out of neutral words, slightly modified with the addition of prefixes and intensifiers, to eliminate the development of societal undertones, which are essential to a progressive nation because they express the shift of societal values overtime. For instance, the notion of goodness is solely expressed by “good,” “plusgood,” and “ungood,” dismissing words like honorable, virtuous, and ethical, which express goodness in the context of honor and virtue. Subsidiary definitions, linguistic instruments that create these societal connotations by associating two ideas, are indirect facets of expression that threaten the Party. For example, in English,“Free” refers to physical liberation, but also to political freedom, tying politics to the notion of liberty, an idea divergent from Big Brother’s totalitarianism. Therefore, in “Newspeak”, “Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.” (Orwell 64) The language of North Korea also feature similar restrictive features. For instance, “Father” is exclusively used to address the Supreme Leader Kim Jung Eun, so there is no word to describe a male parent. “There is no Father’s Day in North Korea, as the concept of celebrating a male parent does not exist. Such a day would not conform to North Korean ideals,” said a North Korean refugee during an interview. (Hong) By entirely replacing the concept of a genetic father with Kim Jung Eun, North Korea renders loyalty to the family leader nonexistent, instead focusing the people’s loyalty on the country. Because there are no subsidiary definitions to “Father” other than Supreme Leader, it leaves no question to Kim Jung Eun’s authority and position. By removing secondary definitions and connotations, totalitarian regimes cut out associated concepts that would otherwise cling to words, ensuring that everything is interpreted in the context that conforms rigidly to ideals.

Ingsoc and North Korea remove emotion-pertinent phrases in order to disable an individual’s ability to recognize primitive sensation as an instance of directed emotion. Language is a fundamental element in emotion that constitutes both emotion experience and perception, yet no amount of manipulation can alter what psychologists call internal and external sensory information – the five senses, and other inputs of information that stimulate reactions. The Party’s inability to manipulate instinctual sensations is apparent. Even after the Party brainwashes Winston to revere Ingsoc, when Winston hears “‘Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me—’ The tears welled up in his eyes.” (Orwell 348) A nursery rhyme of the time Winston grew up in triggers his tears, but Winston perceives his reaction as a false memory. The prestigious James-Lange theory asserts “that the self- perception of changes in the body produce emotional experiences.”(Lee 5) Sadness is nonexistent as a concept in Oceania, because there exists no term to describe such a state, rendering Winston unable to recognize his reaction as an emotional experience. The Two Minute Hate demonstrates the Party’s ability to manipulate incomplete emotional experiences into passionate hatred: “the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.” The dupable vagueness of sentiment enabled by an absence of expressive vocabulary is parallel with how North Korea renders many emotions amorphous by challenging what it means to feel a certain way. Most North Korean phrases indicating emotions are reminiscent of doublespeak: feeling pity is “an-seulpuda”, which means “not”(“an”) “sad”(“seul puda”). (“Official North Korean Linguistic Database”) If “not sad” defines pity, the oddity challenges the nature of pity, as well as the reality of happiness and sadness. However, contrary to personal emotions such as pity, sadness, or anger, vocabulary pertinent to patriotic sentiments are clean of ambiguity. Kim Jung Sook, a linguistic professor at the University of Seoul, theorizes that the distortion of emotional reality renders North Korea’s internal propaganda effective, because it directs the people’s vague mass of sentiment towards the few distinct emotions available to them. (Nam 2) The incomplete emotions experienced in the absence of expressive terms are exploited to suppress certain sentiments and define them as others.

Newspeak and North Korean language construct xenophobic and individualistic hostility through linguistic peculiarities, while South Korean language facilitates interaction. Ingsoc forbids “the knowledge of foreign languages. If he were allowed contact with foreigners he would discover that they are creatures similar to himself and that most of what he has been told about them is lies.”(Orwell 234) The Party removes archaic stems of Latin that relate English to other romantic languages, and forbid knowledge of these sister languages in order to foster international isolation and hostility. Similarly, North Korea’s deeply xenophobic nature is reflected in how no words of Mandarin or English origin are used, divergent from the plethora of English and Mandarin originating South Korean vocabulary. “Almost 90% of South Korea’s vocabulary is derived from traditional mandarin, and it is estimated that over 550 words in the Korean dictionary are verbatim English words, such as ice cream, sofa, or truck.” (Nam 1) Furthermore, while the undertone of Newspeak and North Korean Language manifest hostility, South Korean language encourages interaction. Ingsoc “cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman.”(Orwell 316), by removing nouns with which one distinguishes friend or family, such as mother, father, or friend; instead, one addresses all people as “comrade”, rendering all relationships alliances based in patriotism. The “child heroes” of Ingsoc, children who denounce their parents as traitors, are consequences of the diminished value of love in relationships. Akin to the purposes of Newspeak, according to the assimilation facilities in South Korea, North Koreans regularly use words or phrases that are considered indescribably rude and aggressive in South Korea, which promotes individualism and nurtures a societal system that segregates based on rank and class. Contrary to the belligerent nature of North Korean speech, South Korean dialogue uses indirect speech to soften the impact of words, and formal speech to enforce respect towards others. While South Korean facilitates international and societal interaction, Newspeak and North Korean constructs xenophobic and individualistic hostility by using aggressive undertones, and distancing themselves from sister nations and personal relations.

The Newspeak dictionary severs the link between language and consciousness and encourages mindlessness by overusing unsophisticated words and diminishing perception with abbreviations. Language is the link between thought and expression, and impairing it deters the progression and publicization of opinion. To accomplish this breach, Newspeak words are “easy to pronounce, simple, and designed to make articulate speech issue from the larynx without involving the higher brain centres at all.”(Orwell Appendix) Most Newspeak words are one syllable, concrete words such as “cat, house, run, cut”, that encourage a gabbling style of monotonous speech. “The intention was to make speech, and especially speech on any subject not ideologically neutral, as nearly as possible independent of consciousness.”(Orwell Appendix) The same can be said with the use of abbreviations. Communist international is bound to trigger a lingering thought, if not an image of specific political figures and ideas, while Comintern can be easily said without knowing what it stands for. The use of abbreviations in totalitarian regimes is extremely common for this purpose, as seen with “Nazi, Gestapo, Imprecorr, and Agitprop” (Boroditsky 3). The excessive usage of abbreviations and one syllable words is not applicable to North Korea, as the basic structure of Korean language can not incorporate such features. However, North Korean severs the link between language and consciousness by doing the opposite: making words extremely literal. By describing the definition of the word in the word itself, North Korea disables analytical thinking and the need for complex cerebration. “Helicopter” is defined as “a machine with propellers that flies up then out”, and “the president” is “the great one who rules all”. (“Official North Korean Linguistic Database”) In addition to eliminating analytical thinking, the cumbrous length of North Korean words discourage sophisticated speech. Newspeak and North Korean language both encourage mindlessness by diminishing the need for analytical thought; Newspeak constitutes speech out of concrete one-syllable words and abbreviations, and North Korean language puts emphasis on spelling out all concepts within the words themselves.

In 1984, “Newspeak” demonstrates how language can shape paradigms to suit tyrannical principles, utilising linguistic features comparable to those observed in modern dictatorships such as North Korea. Language influences the formation and interpretation of ideas and emotions, as well as interactions, attitudes, and the sophistication of thought. Without sophisticated language, humans would be utterly incapable of changing, or even understanding a detrimental situation. Realizing the potence of language, many dictators exploit language to administer tyranny, yet the manipulation often goes unnoticed in society because it is accepted as the norm. Hence, understanding the power language has over thought is crucial. The knowledge may lead a nation away from Orwell’s dystopia.


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