So, the government of Oceania in 1984 creates a new, altered cersion of English to make its people easier to control.

What about the opposite?

A dictator wants to make his people harder to control, so that any invading nation would have to go through an ungodly amount of trouble to subjugate them.

Could he do it?

I'd imagine he'd start by gradually altering the language to be more complex, more foreign to neighbouring languages, and popularizing words or phrases that are harder to interpret by an outside listener.

He has already completely isolated this nation from the surrounding region, and the language present there is pretty unusual for the region, think Hungarian or Basque.

I am however unsure if this'd be enough; other ideas would be helpful if you think it could be done.

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    Interesting question! Gut feeling is that it wouldn't be enough, unless he's creating an invented language. Even then, I don't think it would be possible to make people harder to control in the event of an invasion and occupation. I also think this particular question might be more appropriate on Worldbuilding, as it doesn't seem to be about invented languages per se. Though I could be wrong on that score. – elemtilas Mar 31 '20 at 0:59
  • @elemtilas I am making a conlang, but I want to know what ways I can evolve it to show that part of their history. Thank you though! – Aezyc Apr 1 '20 at 5:43
  • Agreed with @elemtilas, that this is much more of a Worldbuilding SE question. But FWIW, I don't personally think a hypothetical society with a very difficult-to-learn language would present a problem for subjugation. Slaves who were abducted during the Middle Passage and shipped to Britain and the Americas probably didn't speak English, but no amount of morphological complexity in their native language is going to stop a motivated coloniser. They were taken away anyway and would've been killed for escaping or resisting, so what good would it have done if their language was super difficult? – Lou Aug 23 '20 at 14:24

Implement some "levels of trust" in the language: Design phrases or word choices that signal the initiated that you are talking to non-trusted people or that non-trusted people may be listening, design other phrases that signal that you can talk more freely.

I have heard (but I don't have hard references for this) that travellers and gypsies in Europe have such devices in their languages.

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    Tying this into the idea of evidentiality, which already exists in natlangs, could be a cool idea as well. – Sparksbet Apr 3 '20 at 9:47

Incomprensive languages on themselves never stopped conquering by brute force; the winner's language being imposed on the conquered people.

Forbidding the local language. Out of respect for many fine people in China, I will not mention China. China itself was under colonial suppression with even Opium, though Chinese is hard to master for an European. The colonial past of the Western countries has similar phenomena. There was also the persecution of Esperanto by dictators like Stalin; a language to contact with the rest of the world. As I thinks your proposed self-isolation may have a contrary weakening effect too.

A (pseudo) secret language like from gypsys, or a (high-level) signal language at least caused a cultural identity. But your argument of "ikh ken dir nisht farshteyn" (I cannot understand you - and you not me), would require a stoicism, like in Gordon R. Dickson's sf universe "Soldiers, Ask Not."

Without a culture ready to encorporate pride, stoicism, self-sacrifice it would be hard. Never done with success (native Americans), but alluring as theme in science-fiction.

One scenario: the dictator could oppress his people, and let his secret agents launch a secret revolution language against oppression. That could be feasible.

A further bit of science fiction too: Jack Vance's The Languages of Pao.


Couldn't the dictator just impose a completely new language? If all children were taught this new language at school from a young age, and if all teaching materials and literature they had access to was in that language, they'd eventually forget their parents' tongue. It happens all the time with kids that move to a different country when they're young.

Imposing a new language through the education system would make it easier for the dictator to control access to information and therefore to control the population. At the same time it would create an artificial language barrier with the surrounding nations. Still, it wouldn't be the language itself that makes a population easier or harder to control, only the fact they use a different language.

If you really want a language whose grammar makes it inherently harder to lie and manipulate people, as a thought experiment you could perhaps try to create:

  • A language even less expressive than stereotypical caveman speech, where the grammar is so ambiguous it is impossible to understand a sentence outside of its context. Take these words for example:

    Anger death flower friend.

    This could mean many things: It angers me that my friend stepped on the flowers and ruined them / My anger ceased since I was brought flowers by a friend / The death of this person angers me, so I brought flowers to his relatives.

    I don't see how you could incite a revolution or plot a coup while speaking such an ambiguous language. But then again, I don't see how someone could cause a society's communication skills to devolve to that point.

  • A very verbose language with a complicated grammar that makes it hard to write short sentences that leave part of the context out, so anyone trying to lie would have to be extremely careful not to contradict themselves. Again, I'm not sure how you could force people to speak such a language for long without it evolving to be more functional.

  • I added a few ideas for languages to my answer that previously focused on the worldbuilding aspect only. – Domino Sep 4 '20 at 0:57

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