European dictatorships left a profound cultural footprint in the local culture, to the point that a certain vocabulary, a certain manner of writing, and even a certain manner of speaking is evocative of that period.

I am not talking about propaganda material; I am referring to the actual writing style of the period. For instance, consider the obsessive denial of foreign words in Italian, or the compulsive use of R's in German, or the dry gritty tone of certain Russian literature. For a native reader, such styles set an unmistakable tone in the prose.

Is there such a style of prose in English? I could easily transfer the basic ideas from the other languages I mentioned to English, but that may not sound true enough to a native. Besides, there are no rolling R's in English, and not even that many foreign words that would be of such common use that one would notice their absence.

I am looking for a writing style in English which would be perceived by a native as the expression of an oppressive, despotic power (or anything close to that).

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    You might want to read some of the works written during the height of the British Empire.
    – Rasdashan
    Feb 24, 2019 at 21:16
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs in Literature.SE
    – Double U
    Feb 24, 2019 at 22:16
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    No, I think the question fits here VERY well! It's not asking about Orwell's 1984, for example; it's if GeorgieO himself came by and asked for advice for making his empire sound evil and thought-controlling, without just making big signs. Feb 24, 2019 at 22:26
  • Isn't a monarchy without a parliament just a hereditary dictatorship? Perhaps the style befitting such an environment might be servile to the monarchy. Feb 24, 2019 at 23:49
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    Why do you believe that rolling R's are somehow associated with dictatorship? A single case in history has rolling R's, and had a single decade of monstrosity. Why should the two be connected, except that they are connected post factum in your mind? Unless you're implying that certain language features predispose people to a certain behaviour? That has a bad smell to it. Feb 25, 2019 at 19:17

1 Answer 1


There are multiple hints of dictatorial times within the English language. For example, have you noticed how farm animals have Anglo-Saxon names (calf, cow, lamb, pig), whereas meat derived from the same animals has French-derived names (veal, beef, mutton, pork)? That dates back to the Norman conquest. The Anglo-Saxon farmers raised the animals, while the French-speaking Norman conquerors ate them.

A different example: are you familiar with the words 'khaki', 'chutney', 'mantra'? Those are all Indian in origin (source). Great Britain conquered a land, and then started borrowing ideas, and words for those ideas.

You want a fictional dictatorial power that speaks English. It's not enough to know that the power is a dictatorship. What values would it espouse? Would it look down at the "locals" and try to suppress their culture, like the Normans? In such a case, consider what words would be absent. Would it happily borrow words, like the British Empire? If so, consider what foreign words would see considerable use.

In 1984, George Orwell described a very particular dictatorship: one that deliberately suppressed thought. If you wish to suppress a people, you suppress their language (for example, in the USSR, Russian was taught throughout, while local languages were looked down on, not officially taught or used). If you wish to suppress an idea, you do not allow words that represent it. If you wish to suppress thought entirely, you deliberately limit vocabulary, which is what Newspeak was all about.

The Purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and fir all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought - that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc - should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. [...] Newspeak was designed not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was indirectly assisted by cutting the choice of words down to a minimum. (George Orwell, 1984, Appendix - The Principles of Newspeak)

Resistance movements too influence language, and insert words. Consider 'samizdat', which managed not only to become a Russian word, but to find its way into English vocabulary.

  • Interesting points! I always thought that a significantly reduced vocabulary, Newspeak in the limit, would at best cause an amused cringe, like reading something written by a child. On the Anglo-Saxon vs Norman point: any resource on where to find the corresponding Anglo-Saxon terms for modern day Norman words? Would that be cowflesh instead of beef?
    – NofP
    Feb 25, 2019 at 23:32
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    @NofP A useful source is the hobby constructed language "anglish", which tends to seek anglo-saxon ways around latinate constructions. Or, umm, anglish ways of speaking without romish words. Perhaps the most famous example is Uncleftish Beholding a short text on Quantum Mechanics with a germanic-only English by Poul Anderson.
    – Deolater
    Feb 26, 2019 at 14:45

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