George Orwell's novel 1984 introduced us to Newspeak, a language devised by authorities to be entirely misleading.

Languages that attempt to guide knowledge have been termed Orwellian and, more technically, relativistic or Sapir-Whorf.

Any examples of languages that are opposite of Newspeak, compelled to be genuine?

  • 1
    I was wondering if eventually we'd need a sapir-whorf tag
    – as4s4hetic
    Feb 8, 2018 at 22:18
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    I think the problem I have with this question is that you can be deceptive even if every statement you say is factually true, something called "paltering". And I don't think that would be limited to humans, so even with alien psychology I don't see how a language could wield such power. But suppose someone has created an alien species with a conlang, and they claim the language does compel the aliens to be honest, how could they prove it, and how could anyone else argue otherwise? I fear this question will just be an invitation for unfalsifiable claims.
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 9, 2018 at 8:22
  • @curiousdannii, I would checkmark your comment were it posted as an answer
    – lauir
    Feb 9, 2018 at 9:08
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    I've seen languages where the meaning of words changed so that regardless of choice, you are always telling the truth, for example the word for lizard was /palo/ but it was also a synonym for all the traits of a lizard; green, alive, solid, etc. Every word worked like this.
    – TrEs-2b
    Feb 9, 2018 at 23:09
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    @TrEs-2b What if the lizard I wanted to talk about was brown or dead? Even if there was a separate word for lizard, brown, dead, solid, I could still lie by using the wrong word (or is there something I'm missing?)
    – as4s4hetic
    Feb 10, 2018 at 8:07

3 Answers 3


I don't think that languages, whether natural or constructed, have this power.

The fact is that there are numerous ways to be deceptive. You can straight out lie, you can speak as if there is uncertainty when really there is not, you can be deceptive through what you don't say, and you can be deceptive by saying true facts that are not actually strictly relevant, something called "paltering".

Like most linguists now, I think that the weak Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, that our language influences our thoughts and decisions, is surely true, but I am sceptical about the strong version, that language completely determines and limits our thought categories. Either way, I don't think it's really relevant to the aspect of human psychology which makes deception possible. Lying through omission or distraction is possible because our minds can generate multiple possible statements to make to others, each disclosing a different level of truth, but none of us are compelled to speak every thought that enters our minds.

Perhaps someone has invented an alien species with an alien psychology and an alien language to speak, and maybe in their universe their language does compel them to speak honestly. But what would it mean to prove such a thing, and how could anyone else present an argument to refute their claims? So for humans I say the answer is no, and for fictional creatures it's not a useful question for us to ask.


One example of this would be the massively more complex Ithkuil, whose author says this:

As for a hypothetical community of Ithkuil-speakers, I do not think Ithkuil would serve the purpose of being the primary day-to-day language, as I agree the language would quickly degenerate into a “vulgar” form due to its complexity. I see Ithkuil’s hypothetical usage as being a specialized language for specific purposes where exactitude and clarity of cognitive intention is called for, and to make deliberate obfuscation difficult, e.g., political debate, the teaching and discussion of scientific disciplines, the discussion of philosophy, the written presentation and preservation of history. As such, it would be a “learned” language (like learning a computer programming language or the predicate calculus) whose structure would be consciously preserved by its speakers. An analogy might be the way that Classical Latin continued to be used for over a milennium after the death of its last native spearker for academic and religious purposes. A similar analogy is the use of Modern Standard Arabic (essentially a modernized version of Classical Arabic) in official and academic contexts.

emphasis mine

Due to the nature of the question, it's highly inconcievable that we could answer it exhaustively.

  • What features of Ithkuil make deliberate obfuscation difficult?
    – curiousdannii
    Feb 9, 2018 at 13:49
  • The Ca affix, which is already overprecise for basic/simple needs (e.g. by bounding the speaker to say how several subparts of an object interact together, if they are different between each other, if they are fused, ..); and Sanction and Validation, which both deal with evidentiality. If the Ca affix is required for quasi every word, Sanction and Validation aren't, but can still be mentioned optionally. That would not prevent necessarily prevent obfuscation, but that can help, I'd say
    – mklcp
    Feb 10, 2018 at 11:55
  • Is it impossible to translate the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion into Ithkuil? Feb 10, 2018 at 12:27
  • Quechua is a natural language that also has this feature. Feb 19, 2018 at 10:37
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    @NicoleSharp evidentiality is neither rare nor special.
    – Darkgamma
    Feb 20, 2018 at 12:24

All languages, natural or constructed, must have verbal negation. So, in any language, it must be possible to say something and to negate that same thing:

Sidney is in Australia.

Sidney is not in Australia.

Since only one of these can be true, it follows that any language makes possible to say at least as many falseties as truths (in practice, many more, as we can lie that Sidney is in Russia, Gabon, or the Middle Earth). And so, no. A language cannot compel its speakers into honesty.

  • Did you mean a person called Sidney or the largest Australian city, Sydney? ;)
    – Jan
    Feb 10, 2018 at 13:08
  • 1
    @Jan - good point. Which highlights the fact that sentences are always uttered, and can only be properly understood, within a given context. "Sidney is in Australia" is true in a Geography class; if answering a question on the whereabouts of a common friend, it is untrue - a misunderstanding or a pun, more probably. In other words, pragmatics will eat away any grammatical constraint on disnhonesty, even if such a thing was theoretically possible. Feb 10, 2018 at 13:35

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