02-Mentalese - 3 Mentalese The year 1984 has come and gone,...

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3 Mentalese The year 1984 has come and gone, and it is losing its conno- tation of the totalitarian nightmare of George Orwell's 1949 novel. But relief may be premature. In an appendix to Nineteen Eighty-four, Orwell wrote of an even more ominous date. In 1984, the infidel Winston Smith had to be converted with imprisonment, degradation, drugs, and torture; by 2050, there would be no Winston Smiths. For in that year the ultimate technology for thought control would be in place: the language Newspeak. The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc [English Socialism], but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought—that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ing- soc—should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever. To give a single example. The word free still existed in Newspeak, but it could only be used in 55
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5 6 THE LANGUAGE INSTINCT such statements as "This dog is free from lice" or "This field is free from weeds." It could not be used in its old sense of "politically free" or "intellectually free," since political and intellectual freedom no longer existed even as concepts, and were therefore of necessity nameless. . . . A person growing up with Newspeak as his sole language would no more know that equal had once had the secondary mean- ing of "politically equal," or that free had once meant "intellectually free," than, for instance, a person who had never heard of chess would be aware of the secondary meanings attaching to queen and rook. There would be many crimes and errors which it would be beyond his power to commit, simply because they were nameless and therefore unimaginable. But there is a straw of hope for human freedom: Orwell's caveat "at least so far as thought is dependent on words." Note his equivocation: at the end of the first paragraph, a concept is unimaginable and therefore nameless; at the end of the second, a concept is nameless and therefore unimaginable. Is thought dependent on words? Do people literally think in English, Cherokee, Kivunjo, or, by 2050, Newspeak? Or are our thoughts couched in some silent medium of the brain—a language of thought, or "mentalese"—and merely clothed in words whenever we need to communicate them to a lis- tener? No question could be more central to understanding the lan-
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This note was uploaded on 03/19/2012 for the course BA 232 taught by Professor Anishkoshy during the Spring '12 term at Faculty of English Commerce Ain Shams University.

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02-Mentalese - 3 Mentalese The year 1984 has come and gone,...

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