Monday, February 12, 2007


“By 2050—earlier, probably—all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed... Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like “freedom is slavery” when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.”

George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four

“Set a watch, O Lord, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips."

Psalm 141:3

My first foray into the world of Newspeak was when, at the tender age of nine, I was the recipient of a literary award from the Moonee Valley Library for an essay in which in the misguided naivety of my youth, I postulated that we could bring an end to wars simply by forcibly expunging all words dealing with aggression and conflict from all world languages. Next on my agenda, though this I never disclosed, was the removal of all words pertaining to work, so that humanity could be restored to its previous relaxed, Arcadian existence.
Little did I know at that time, that my ‘novel’ idea had already been anticipated by George Orwell, whose explorations as to the nature of totalitarianism and its effects upon language in his seminal novel ‘Nineteen Eighty Four,’ led him to create such a linguistic medium, ‘Newspeak.’ In ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four, Newspeak is presented as being “the only language in the world whose vocabulary gets smaller every year.” It was closely based on English but had a greatly reduced and simplified vocabulary and grammar. This suited the totalitarian regime of the ruling Party, headed by the infamous Big Brother, whose aim it was to make any alternative thinking (“thoughtcrime”) or speech impossible by removing any words or possible constructs which describe undesirable concepts such as freedom or debate.
The underlying theory of Newspeak is that if something can't be said, then it can't be thought. One question raised in response to this is whether we are defined by our language, or whether we actively define it. For instance, can we communicate the need for freedom, assert a conviction or express our dissent, if we do not have the words for either? Ludwig Wittgenstein’s proposition, “The limits of my language mean the limits to my world,” certainly do encapsulate the Newspeak philosophy.
Vocabulary based upon Newspeak principles has existed for a long time. In Stalinist Russia, the Party “liquidated the kulaks” rather than having engaged in acts of genocide, while the Nazis “resettled,” rather than having exterminated the Jews. Even today, our newsreporters inform us of instances of “collateral damage” and “civilian casualities” rather than badly aimed bombing, anti-abortionists are recast as “pro-life” whereas supporters of abortion cast themselves not as “anti-life”, but rather, as “pro-choice.” And of course, in Bushspeak, anyone who does not agree with the Planetarch’s policies is guilty of ‘terrortactification’ and shall be ‘obliterfried.’ In Businesspeak, a close corollary of Newspeak, problems are referred to as ‘obstacles’, ‘challenges’ or even ‘opportunties.’ The apogee of such speak is the name that EnergySolutions, one of several companies responsible for storing nuclear waste in Utah's West desert, chose to call itself. Before merging with other companies in 2006 and changing its name, that company was called “Envirocare.”
In Australia, we have our own homegrown brand of Newspeak, Ozspeak. Ozspeak has had an interesting linguistic development, ever since the promulgation of the “relaxed and comfortable Australia” (Ozpeak for “I wish Mr Menzies was still PM) doctrine. One of its very early linguistic manifestations can be found in the replacement of the words “refugees” and “boat people” with “queue jumpers.” Prisons for illegal immigrants came to be renamed: “Immigration Reception and Processing Centres,” and according to Newspeak Principles, whereby “it was perceived that in thus abbreviating a name one narrowed and subtly altered its meaning, by cutting out most of the associations that would otherwise cling to it,” the AFL, hitherto signifying the Australian Football League, came in popular consciousness to denote the slogan: “Australians, Football, Like.” Attempts to apply Ozspeak principles to soccer and have it appropriate all football connotations to itself, have largely been unsuccessful owing to the introduction of velar plosives which inhibit the illegal introduction of foreign fricatives unless they have first been processed by an Australian consulate. Thus while the FFA may purport to stand for “Football Federation of Australia,” in popular Ozpeak it denotes: “Foreigners Flooding Australia.”
That extrinsic influences upon Ozspeak do exist can be most clearly evidenced by the fascinating linguistic reforms brought about by India-based employees of Australian telecommunication companies. Thanks to their tremendous efforts, phrases like “this won’t take long” and “I won’t ask you anything personal,” have come to denote telephone surveys that take fifteen to twenty minutes, in which everything from your marital status to your income and sexual orientation is requested.
The most exciting Ozspeak development has only come about recently with the official federal discarding of the word “multiculturalism” from the previously titled “Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs,” and its replacement with the word “Citizenship.” For by so discarding multiculturalism from official parlance, our august Prime Minister, Big Brother of the Barbeque, Custodian in Chief of the Stubby, Waltzer of the Matilda and Lord Protector of the Pies, has taken our particular branch of Newspeak to its logical conclusion and to that point which I envisaged in my demented youth so many years ago: not just the simplification of vocabulary so as to limit thought but the eradication of vocabulary so as to extirpate the thought of it, all together.
Our Prime Minister (Ozspeak: Big Mate, Standard SouthOzspeak: Big Maate) waxes lyrical about the importance of a “shared national identity.” While he says he does not abjure multiculturalism, he pronounces in a mixture of Ozspeak and Oldspeak that shows that the final refinement of Ozspeak still has someway to go: “The premium must be upon, the emphasis must be upon, the dominant consideration must be, the integration (Ozpeak: n. Anglosaxinofication) of people (Ozspeak: n. taxpayers; or economic units) into the Australian family (Ozspeak: n. imperium).” While noting in passing the curious and rather quaint repetitive sentence structure required by Ozspeak syntax for gentle-to-the-stomach, easy absorption, we should not gasp at this latest linguistic metatrope, as it has been a long time in coming. Was it not Mate Andrew Robb, Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (Ozspeak: Bloke who’s lookin’ after the wogs an’ that) who told a conference last November that some Australians were worried that the term “multicultural” had been transformed by interest groups (this is Ozspeak for hardworking and local migrant communities) into a philosophy that put “allegiances to original culture ahead of national loyalty, a philosophy which fosters separate development, a federation of ethnic cultures, not one community.” He also added: “A community of separate cultures fosters a rights mentality, rather than a responsibilities mentality. It is divisive. It works against quick and effective integration.”
Now let us pause and reflect for a moment. Placing the terms ‘Immigration’ and ‘Multiculturalism’ together connots the idea that the multiculturalism is the natural outcome of immigration. Contrarily, by placing the words ‘Immigration’ and ‘Citizenship’ together, the relevant Ministry hints at migrants being porblematic citizens, even more problematic in fact than those model non-migrant citizens who are members of the Australia First Party and who are reportedly urging the good citizens of Townsville to rise up against their local council and obstruct the settlement of Sudanese refugees in their racially pristine motherland.
The eradication of the word multiculturalism from Ozspeak is timely. For of late, the use or rather misuse of the term, especially by semi-assimilated self-interested personages makes even the most jaded Ozspeak lexicographer cringe. The doctrine of multiculturalism may appear to have had its inception in the genuine desire of benign governments to accommodate, embrace and make sense of the various nationalities that arrived on their doorstep. Corollary to this, it also emerged as a method to regulate and control those ethnic communities and set the limits and boundaries up to which they could perceive and manifest their own ethnic character. Once the faculty for creating social ideology is voluntarily permitted to pass from each community and surrendered to the government of the day, is it not futile and rather silly to then lament unfavourable shifts in policy?
In truth, most ethnic communties, satisfied by official lip service paid to multculturalism in the past, have been rather lax in ensuring its continued existence and indeed, by thoughtless conflicts and displays of nationalist machismo from time to time, have provoked the ire of the majority of citizens in this country, to whom multiculturalism was always a state-imposed construct, that was never entirely accepted. To use Mate Andrew Robb’s words, we thought we had a “right” to multiculturalism. Now that we realise that we don’t, we are as sore and as vulnerable as the Arab Christians who have spent the past fifty years vociferously advocating Pan-Arabism as a way to legitimise their own existence to their muslim brothers, only to discover to their detriment that this ideology was never accepted among them and that in a radicalised world, their presence is compromised.
What lessons do we draw then from the exciting new developments in Ozspeak? Possibly that the only entities that truly have an interest in preserving our own unique cultural identities are our own comumunities and that we should set upon this task making use of our own efforts and not relying on extrinsic assistance, though making use of it when it is offered. We can no longer afford to be lax about who we are or expect that our preconceived ideas of our place in society have widespread acceptance. Some one hundred years since our arrival in this country, we are still being told that we owe it to our hosts (this is GrOzspeak for Australian Government) to be good citizens and our task lies in searching for ingenious ways in order to put their mind at rest in this regard. Quite possibly, if we continue to be good citizens, we may even be able to achieve this in two hundred years time. Even more significantly, as a community, we need to delve deeply and find the strength to retain our integrity and identity intact, regardless of the prevailing official or societal ideology. Diatribe (Ozspeak: Talkin’ the hind leg off a donkey) takes leave of you this week, with the pious hope that we all adopt the Ozspeak slogan: “Do it yerself, coz no one else can do it yerself.” God save the Crowned Sheila.


First published in NKEE on 12 February 2007