• How language can be used to achieve political ends?
• What is meant by the term politics?
• How is it possible to see many of our (linguistic) choices as
having political consequences?
• How language can be used to create and reinforce certain
value systems?
• What are the rhetorical devices used by politicians to make
an impact on the public?
What is meant by 'politics'?
• George Orwell: 'in our age there is no keeping out of politics.
All issues are political issues.'
• Politics is concerned with power: the power to make
decisions, to control resources, to control other people's
behavior and often to control their values. Even the most
everyday decisions can be seen in a political light
• There is no avoiding political decisions
Politics and Ideology
• Politics - inevitably connected to power.
• Enforcement of your own political beliefs can be achieved in
a number of ways: through physical coercion (dictatorial
regimes); democratic coercion (through the legal system).
• Much more effective to persuade people to act voluntarily in
the way you want.To secure power, it makes sense to
persuade everyone else that what you want is also what
they want. To achieve this, an ideology needs to be
established (frequent use of proverbs-universal truths that
appear common sense)
• 'ideology' - any set of beliefs which appear logical and
'natural' to the people who hold them.
Language as Thought Control: Newspeak and
Political Correctness
• Theory of linguistic determinism-language provides a
framework for our thoughts and it is very difficult to think
outside this framework.
• Politicians throughout the ages have owed much of their
success to their skilful use of rhetoric as they attempt to
persuade their audience of the validity of their views.
• Can one control how another person thinks?
Political correctness
• Examples of PC terms: visually impaired, blended family (households with children from several relationships), and ethnic origin
terms, such as African-American. Non-PC terms are considered by
some not only to be offensive, but to create or reinforce a
perception of minority groups as unequal to the majority.
• It could be argued that the use of PC language is particularly
significant in relation to disability; since many changes could be
made to the way most organizations operate which could in turn
have a positive effect on the lives of people with disabilities. For
example, some people make a distinction between impairment and
disability, using impairment to refer to a condition (such as loss of
vision or a limb), and disability to refer to activities that are difficult
or impossible to undertake (reading small print or climbing the
Presuppositions and Implicatures
• Presuppositions- background assumptions embedded within a sentence
or phrase.
• 'We want to set people free so that they have greater power over their
own lives.‘(presupposes that people are not currently free).
• Presuppositions can be slipped into a sentence in several ways via:
• -adjectives, especially comparative ones: 'A future Conservative
Government will introduce a fairer funding formula for schools.
(presupposes that the current funding system is not fair).
• -subordinate clauses: 'We have arrived at an important moment in
confronting the threat posed to our nation and to peace by Saddam
Hussein and his weapons of terror.(George W. Bush). (presupposes that S.
Hussein is a threat to the United States and to peace).
• -questions instead of statements: 'Is it not now time for him to ensure that
his Government get control of the situation in Belfast?' (David Trimble,
leader of the Ulster Unionist Party addressing Tony Blair).(presupposes
that the government doesn't have control of the situation).
• Implicatures- like presuppositions, they lead
the listener to infer something that was not
explicitly asserted by the speaker. However,
unlike presuppositions, implicatures operate
over more than one phrase or sentence and
are much more dependent on shared
knowledge between the speaker and the
listener and on the context of the discourse.
Here is a part of interview with Tony Blair:
Paxman: I want to explore your personal feelings about this war. Does the fact
that George Bush and you are both Christians make it easier for you
to view these conflicts in terms of good and evil?
I don't think so, no, I think that whether you're a Christian or not you
can try to perceive what is good and what is evil.
Paxman: You don't pray together, for example?
No, we don't pray together Jeremy, no.
Paxman: Why do you smile?
Because - why do you ask me the question?
Paxman: Because I'm trying to find out how you feel about it.
Blair is not sure what he really wants; the war is horribly wrong and evil and he is
also making fun of both of them because they claim to be Christians and should
know better.
Persuasive language- the power of
• Rhetoric- skill of elegant and persuasive speaking, perfected by
ancient Greeks
• Metaphor is a way of comparing two different concepts. Politicians
often have to talk about abstract concepts in ways to make them
seem more concrete - to make the abstractions more concrete and
not to bore the public. For example, a very frequent metaphor for
economy is economy is machine. Personification is a special kind of
metaphor and politicians use it frequently when referring to
countries. For example, in 1990s, British TV referred to German's
influential position in the EU with the metaphor 'Germany is the
bully in the playground."
• Euphemism is a tool which is extensively used when discussing
military matters. For example, surgically clean strikes and clean
bombs achieve their effect from the positive connotations of clean
and the association that exists in everyday discourse between clean
and healthy.
• The 'rule of three'- one of the best-known structural devices in political
rhetoric is the use of the 'three-part statement'. For some reason people
find things grouped in threes particularly pleasing.
• (even in fairy tales: Three Little Pigs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but
also in films: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly; Sex, Lies and Videotape).
Three of the most famous three-part statements from the 18th and 19th ct.
• -the cry of the French Revolution: Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité
• -the Declaration of Independence: 'We hold these truths to be self
evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness.'
• -Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address: 'that government of the people,
by the people and for the people shall not perish from this earth.'
• Parallelism- to emphasize that the ideas are equal in importance;
can add a sense of symmetry and rhythm, which makes the speech
more memorable.
• We shall fight in the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing
confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our
Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we
shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in
the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.
Winston Churchill
• And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New
Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New
York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of
Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of
Martin Luther King
• 5. Proverbs- considered a universal truth and it is very difficult to
question something that is universally regarded as a given truth.
Politicians have used the already-existing proverbs, but there are also
those proverbs that have been coined from the statements of politicians:
• And, so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for youask what you can do for your country.
J. F. Kennedy
• If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.
Harry S. Truman
• I have nothing to offer but blood, toll, tears and sweat.
Winston Churchill