Grammatical Subordination in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four

Julia Manoukian


“If thought can corrupt language, then language can corrupt thought,” George Orwell famously remarks in “Politics and the English Language.” Orwell’s own attentiveness to language is evident not only in his stated insistence on its reciprocity with thought, but also in the inescapably circular form of its antimetabolic expression. Such control over language, Julia Manoukian argues, is integral to “political power, truthful communication, and psychological freedom.” The following essay examines how the Orwell of Nineteen Eighty-Four sometimes violates his own precepts, but that he does so to show as well as tell of the many ways language works to shape thought, even (or perhaps especially) at the grammatical level. Focusing on the novel’s “sparse use of the additive style” as well as “the passive voice” and “reduction of verbs” decried in Orwell’s earlier work, the essay that follows reveals much about how the uncritical use and reception of language can allow us to be “manipulated through the loss of human agency.” As the author so vividly reminds us, grammatical subordination is still subordination, and language can be insidious as well as empowering.

Dr. Lyn Bennett

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