ORWELL—AMBIGUITY AND FREEDOM. George Orwell pointed out the value of ambiguity in preserving free thought. In Orwell’s 1984, Newspeak is the language invented by the totalitarian state to limit thought. A key to achieving this goal is to eliminate ambiguity in the meaning of individual words. Wikiquotes quotes chapter 5 of 1984 here: “Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. 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.” Limiting thought is also achieved by limiting the number of words. Again, from Wikiquotes: “It’s a beautiful thing, the destruction of words. Of course the great wastage is in the verbs and adjectives, but there are hundreds of nouns that can be got rid of as well. It isn’t only the synonyms; there are also the antonyms. After all, what justification is there for a word which is simply the opposite of some other word? A word contains its opposite in itself.”

The notion that language can shape thought is controversial. I posted here that: “I am a Whorfian; that is, I think it is possible that language can shape thought.” So, evidently, was Orwell.

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