A couple of times in recent weeks I’ve seen some discussion about Newspeak in George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, and whether it was influenced by, or how it could be translated into, Esperanto. After all, Newspeak infamously uses words like “ungood” for “bad”, which is unironically parallel to Esperanto’s standard word for bad, malbona.

It seems like there’s some interesting historical background here. Orwell had personal reasons to dislike Esperanto, because at one point he had to lodge with his aunt, Nellie Limouzin, and her partner, Eugene Adam, who insisted on speaking Esperanto at home and Orwell found that maddening.1 It’s therefore assumed that he might well have chosen forms like “ungood” as a sly dig at Esperanto. But, it also seems that Orwell might have been partially inspired by Basic English, which he had experience with through his work with the BBC’s World Service and also disliked. He was unenthusiastic about auxiliary languages in general, fearing that they could be put to service by an imperialist power to permit only speech they approved of. Hopefully it’s clear that Esperanto is not a conceptually restricted language, and that it’s rich enough to discuss anything you might want to in it.

But regardless, if Newspeak is partially inspired by Esperanto, this leads us to the question: how would you translate Newspeak into Esperanto? I personally don’t know enough to comment (although I have found that the Esperanto translation of “Newspeak” itself is Novparolo), but it turns out it’s not purely an academic question: there is a translation of Nineteen Eighty-Four into Esperanto, by Donald Broadribb: Mil Naŭcent Okdek Kvar. Some more information is available here(external link), or else you can straight-up read the translation via this PDF on the Wayback Machine(external link).

I haven’t read it myself, and I doubt that I will because I don’t think my Esperanto is solid enough for reading an entire novel to be an enjoyable experience 😅 Nonetheless, my own guess is that its treatment of Newspeak is much the same as how Newspeak is treated in English: it’ll make use of ordinary Esperanto word roots and affixes. I always thought the restrictiveness of Newspeak was supposed to be in its lack of words, or restricted senses of existing words, rather than the “ungood” stuff. “Ungood” and the like, I would guess, was chosen as a shorthand to hammer home to the reader the alienness of Newspeak, but it wasn’t the actual problem in and of itself.

If you’re interested in George Orwell’s attitude to Esperanto, the article Orwell, Newspeak & Esperanto(external link) is pretty good and a lot more detailed than my blog post here. Otherwise, I hope you enjoyed this little trip into the annals of history 😅