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Political Communication - Lessons from George Orwell

Political Communication - Lessons from George Orwell

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Emily Turley. Originally submitted for Political Communication at University College Dublin, with lecturer Colum McCaffery in the category of International Relations & Politics
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Emily Turley. Originally submitted for Political Communication at University College Dublin, with lecturer Colum McCaffery in the category of International Relations & Politics

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 29, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Figure 1
Do George Orwell’s essay, Politics and the English Language, and later his novel, 1984,which features “Newspeak”, inform present day concerns over the quality of political
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses isan important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of societyconstitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. ...We are governed, ourminds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This isa logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beingsmust cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. ...In almostevery act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or ourethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons...who understand the mentalprocesses and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.(Bernays, New York, 1928)
In an attempt to answer the above question, this essay intends to explore conceptionsof propaganda, misinformation, manipulation and the deterioration and distortion of language,and the doctrine of fear as a means of control, as it seems that these ideas were of concern toOrwell when writing
Politics and the English Language
. It is these same conceptsthat characterize modern criticism of political communication or lack thereof. A brief look willbe made at the
of political communication.
In his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ Orwell
tells the reader of some of theproblems he sees with modern communication; laziness, staleness, ugliness, imprecision,indifference to meaning, vagueness, pretentiousness, obfuscation. What appears most important,
Not sure if Orwell would be pleased with this as a new word -
‘New Words’ (Orwell, 1940) – 
or consider it aslovenly and lazy attempt to express an idea without going to the trouble of finding an appropriate English word.
in the essay, is the interrelationship between language and thought. Of the English languageOrwell writes;It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of ourlanguage makes it easier to have foolish thoughts. (Orwell, 1946)Earlier, in the paragraph, he cites politics as a cause for deterioration of language. In 1984
 part of ‘Ingsoc’ political strategy to keep party members loyal was the shrinking of language
,reducing not only the number of words in the dictionary but limiting or redefining their meaning.
In ‘ The Principles of Newspeak, An
to 1984’
, an example is made of the word
‘free’where in ‘Newspeak’
political meaning associated with the concept of liberty was eradicatedalong with all conception of intellectual or political freedom.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, but to make all other modes of thoughtimpossible. (Orwell, 1984)
The New Scientist recently published findings that ‘
provide (s) the strongest supportyet for the controversial hypothesis that the language available to humans defines ourthoughts.
(New Scientist, August, 2004) A
worry of Orwell’s
and of some contemporarypolitical commentators is the ambiguous or misleading presentation of information by use of fact-defying euphemisms. If language does indeed define our thoughts, a logical hypothesis,the use of euphemism to describe atrocities, by way of making them acceptable, must
Although, in his essay ‘Politics and the English Language’, Orwell does advocate the ‘the scrapping of every wordor idiom which has outworn its usefulness’. This was recommended, presumably, in an effort to
invigorate language.
s unfortunate how similar the recommendation is to the doctrine of Newspeak.

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