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In 1984, newspeak is used to control thought, and to make certain ideas impossible to express, or even to think.

I'm imagining a future totalitarian state which develops custom languages which it forces segments of the population to learn from birth (say raised in creches), and exclusively. These would be designed to mold the thinking of the populations to be in line with their role in society.

There would also be a common language used for commerce and interactions between the classes.

Examples: Soldiers -- language to support fast efficient discussion of tactics & combat situations, as well as enforcing loyalty, patriotism, sacrifice, duty.

Scientists -- language to support intelligence, innovation, experimentation

Laborers -- language to support duty and contentment

Would something along these lines be plausible?

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    $\begingroup$ @sphennings Fixed to limit this to a single question about plausibility. I don't say anything about there being a singular way to do this so I'm not sure what you're referring to there. $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Mar 3, 2023 at 18:21
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    $\begingroup$ I’m voting to close this question because it fails "the book test": If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 3, 2023 at 18:35
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    $\begingroup$ @Daron I changed the question in the header from "How could..." to "Is it plausible that..." -- not a question that takes a book to answer. Is that enough for you to remove your close vote? $\endgroup$
    – Dave
    Mar 3, 2023 at 19:28
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    $\begingroup$ Plausible is a highly subjective criteria. What's plausible has far more to do with your audience and how you present information than any specific technical detail. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Mar 3, 2023 at 19:29
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    $\begingroup$ This question is entirely and very simply answered as it is written. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Mar 4, 2023 at 21:28

4 Answers 4

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The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis suggests exactly that. In essence, it states that humans have a hard time thinking thoughts that they can't put into words. This can be further expended to indicate that the words we use shape our thought patterns. It has been generally disproven that our language forces our thought patterns, however.

For a form of population control, if you deny people the words to express their anger, it won't make the anger go away. It'll just make it harder to resolve. Thus, it isn't a viable method of ensuring obedience for oppressors.

What it could do is to deny a population more advanced avenues of organization, thus enhancing information asymmetry, making the peoples' ideas easier to control.

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    $\begingroup$ But languages borrow vocabulary from each other, often in response to an idea entering the social stratum - consider the word detente in English (borrowed from French), or beisuboru in Japanese (borrowed from English). Even where there is linguistic prescriptionism, "unapproved" words may enter (or remain in) the language; consider that the Académie Française prescribes (le) courriel for "e-mail" - but how many francophones still call it "e-mail"? $\endgroup$ Mar 3, 2023 at 20:01
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    $\begingroup$ @JeffZeitlin, I'm presuming that the dystopia would keep the kids isolated in the creche until the language patterns have had time to cement, probably until just after puberty. After that, they would have to acclimate to how the language is REALLY used. I suspect that such level of information control would have more impact than the language. $\endgroup$ Mar 3, 2023 at 20:37
  • $\begingroup$ @RobertRapplean - It's not clear that even that would be enough; consider how isolated North Korea is (in terms of the general population, not necessarily the government), and even so, you get "evil" non-Communist ideas infiltrating the country. I suspect that the only way there'd be any chance of such control being successful would be if the society in question was wholly self-sufficient, and prevented outside trade entirely. $\endgroup$ Mar 3, 2023 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ @JeffZeitlin, IN the US, parochial schools are a half-hearted attempt at this. The failing there is that most of the people who send their kids there aren't truly invested. If the government sequestered the children, they would have better results. $\endgroup$ Mar 3, 2023 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ @BobaFit That is a silly metaphor. Once you have stolen someone's shoes, they cannot wear the shoes anymore. But once English takes a word from another language, the word still exists in another language. French people did not stop saying "ambiance" once the English adopted it. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Mar 3, 2023 at 20:58
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Two SF books that revolve around this idea, and in particular the strong form of the Sapir Whorf Hypothesis, are Native Tongue and The Languages of Pao. In the weak form of Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, language has an effect on how we interpret the world. This is an accepted premise in modern linguistics. The strong form, where language shapes (or controls) how we can think about things is seen more as a pseudoscience in modern linguistics. The modern culture wars in America have a significant basis on the weak form of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis.

Native Tongue started off as a thought experiment by the author. She was intrigued by the Klingon conlang as being a purely masculine language and proposed her own alternative conlang - Láadan - along with what ended up becoming a trilogy based on a hypothesized future where women were enslaved, with the language being a way to resist that slavery. She thought that her conlang would be useful enough to be used by women. When it was introduced, I was intrigued enough to get my own copy of the book.

The Languages of Pao addresses your question exactly:

In the novel, the placid people from the planet Pao rely on other planets for technological innovations and manufactured goods and they do not resist when an invading force occupies the land and levies heavy taxes. To expel the aggressors and make the planet more independent, three new languages are introduced. A scientific language induces its speakers to innovate more; a well-ordered language encourages its speakers to be industrious; and a warlike language induces competitiveness and aggression. The new languages change the culture and Pao ousts their overlords and develops a sophisticated modern economy.

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This is Already Happening

We already know that children can be taken and raised by the state for the state's purposes. Germany did it with the Lebensborn and Hitler Youth programmes. This I would characterise as a 'hard indoctrination' scheme, where the state literally seizes or breeds children. In the 21st century US, we have a 'soft indoctrination' scheme ongoing. This is where children are left in the home, but taught to think a certain way about certain things as a matter of school curriculum.

Language, as has been discussed in other answers, does affect thinking, but probably not quite as forcefully as you would want. At least, natural language does not. And again, we can see the effects of language manipulation at work in the US at the present time. Whichever false notion you like, from "social equity" to "gender identity politics", the unifying factor is the external manipulation of language. A new lexicon has been spawned, sometimes with new words, sometimes by repurposing old words.

For you future scenario, which I think is entirely plausible based on historic precedent and current events, I do not think that creating a series of constructed languages will be a requirement to meet your state's goals. However, I can see how different languages would be more useful.

Your state's governing body would be better able to divide and conquer the various groups of people and monitor & put down any kind of serious rebellion. Language won't do it all --- as we can see in the US, people who speak the truth fight back. Your state will eventually need to apply force.

I would suggest that your uppermost class --- the rulers and their intelligentsia --- be free to use normal English (or whatever pre-Statism language you choose for your scenario). Someone needs to know what the truth really is so that lies can more effectively be disseminated; someone needs to be able to fact check the lies going forward so that they can properly replace the truth.

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Other answers have addressed the concepts behind the use of language

Indeed, I especially liked Robert's and Elemtilas' answers and up voted them. However, I'd like to point out something that hasn't been directly addressed by the other answers.

It isn't the language, itself, that's causing those effects. It's also society's behavior concerning the ideas that are being expressed — or not being expressed — that are involved.

In other words, the simplest answer to your question is, no. A language itself isn't enough to ensure behavior.

In an article by Mark Liberman entitled No word for "I" or "me" or "mine", he quotes Jeremy Fogel:

Different cultures understand privacy in different ways. In societies in which large numbers of people typically live in close proximity to each other, often in very small spaces, very little truly is understood or expected to be private. There are entire languages without words for “I” or “me” or “mine.”

Mr. Liberman then states,

Anyhow, Mr. Fogel doesn't give any reference for his assertion about languages lacking "words for 'I' or 'me' or 'mine'", but one language that's often cited in this connection is Japanese. ... As Wikipedia explains, "Some linguists suggest that the Japanese language does not have pronouns as such, since, unlike pronouns in most other languages that have them, these words are syntactically and morphologically identical to nouns. As others point out, however, these words function as personal references, demonstratives, and reflexives, just as pronouns do in other languages."

Mr Liberman continues with the discussion about privacy and the use of personal pronouns, but concludes...

So there's no linguistic support for the idea that Japanese and Vietnamese people are unaware of the distinction between themselves and others, or are uninterested in being free from unsanctioned intrusion.

In other words, a language can have no words equivalent to "I", "me" and "mine," and yet the speaker will understand his or her self, that they may or may not possess something, and the concepts of privacy and ownership.

Changing the language simply isn't enough. It must be accompanied by social behavior.

The first rule of fight club is you don't talk about fight club

It's amazing that a quote from an only modestly successful movie — Fight Club (1999) — is such a recognizable quote. Among the reasons it's memorable (beyond being quoted often by others) are:

  • It speaks to a taboo or secret, and people like to talk about both.
  • It engenders camaraderie (in the same way gangs do).
  • It identifies a rule or expectation.
  • It implies a consequence (and, per the movie, there was one).

In other words, saying the words isn't enough to really mean anything. It's all the social baggage that comes with the rules (including the potential of a sound pummeling) that ensures behavior.

Conclusion

I believe coming up with languages as you suggest is a great idea. If you think about it, a big part of the success of Tolkien's works were the languages he created for them. But that success was also based on the culture surrounding and supported by those languages.

Make the languages, but be sure to also make institutional (societal or cultural) behaviors to reflect the specific ideas that you want those languages to support or reject. Do both and you'll have a home run.

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