The Basics of Diction Analysis Just don’t say “the author uses diction…” Did you know? English, as mix of Latinate and Anglo-Saxon words, has more than twice as many words as a typical Romance Language. Form grows out of function. Meaning (or message) determines form and style. “Remember that all writing emerges from a situation—a convergence of a need to write, a writer, an audience, a subject matter, a purpose, a genre, and a time and place” (Roskelly and Jolliffe 57). Choice of diction depends upon the author’s message—keep the author’s claims in mind, and consider how the particular choices of types of diction and certain words help to convey those claims to the author’s intended audience. “People choose styles to reflect themselves in their writing as well as in what they wear, and the style they choose expresses meaning. A particular clothing style or writing style can be appropriate in some situations and not in others. And, for all these reasons, stylistic choice in clothes and writing is, or can be, conscious. Conscious choice about stylistic decisions in writing can help writers reflect themselves, communicate meaning, and influence readers” (Roskelly and Jolliffe 57). “It depends on the concept of situational appropriateness…The question of whether a particular word, sentence, or figure of speech is right is a question of whether it is right for the particular writing situation” (Roskelly and Jolliffe 57). Speaker: who is the speaker or author? What persona does the speaker intend to convey? How does this word help to convey that persona? Why did the speaker choose this word over another? Audience: who is the audience? How is this word intended to affect that audience? What are we supposed to think or do as a result of the word? Purpose: what is the purpose(s) of the piece? How does the word(s) contribute to the purpose(s)? Diction is simply the particular words an author uses to convey meaning in a piece of writing. ◦ Latin; “Style of speech (or writing)” ◦ Diction is the fundamental ingredient in written communication; without words, there is no meaning! 1. Above all is connotation. 2. Level of diction 3. Type of diction: abstract and concrete 4. Sound quality of diction: occasionally euphony and cacophony (only if you are sure you can pull it off!) What to look for ◦ In your group, compare “patriots,” “heroes,” “soldiers,” “war criminals,” “invaders.” What is the emotional value of each word? What does each word imply? What clues do we get about the author’s attitude about this subject from each of these words? Connotation: the implied meaning of a word; the emotive qualities of the word. ◦ The most important aspect of diction for analysis! Gives clues to author’s stance, tone, and bias. Suggests how the author wants us to view the subject. Helps to establish pathos—creates certain feelings for the reader that subtly (almost subliminally) convince us of the author’s claim(s). Denotation and Connotation “I am firm, you are obstinate, he is pigheaded.” --Bertrand Russell In your group, compare the following words, then answer the questions below; ◦ Winston Churchill was a statesmen. vs. Winston Churchill was a politician. Winston Churchill was a smart dude. • Who might use each word? ◦ For what audience or audiences is each word potentially intended? One more comparative example Slang: language peculiar to a particular group; an informal, nonstandard vocabulary of coinages, arbitrarily changed words, and extravagant or facetious figures of speech. Jargon: technical terminology reserved for (usually) professional groups and trades. ◦ Ex. “Legalese”; writ, plaintiff ◦ Ex. Music; clef, movement, key ◦ Ex. Computers; RAM, ROM, bytes, windows Both of these can offer clues as to the intended audience—ask, “who uses this slang?” JARGON and SLANG The “Level” of diction refers to the degree of lexical complexity of the language. Levels are used to characterize the diction of a large section of a piece or the entire piece. Don’t try to categorize each word. Levels of diction relate primarily to ethos; authors use a certain level of diction to project a particular persona. Levels of Diction Formal/Elevated: complex, “big” or unusual words, often jargon; the powercultural (“the discourse of the discipline”) marked by specific, standardized code shared by an exclusive group in authority. Emphasis on the correctness of the code and the suitability of the channel (mode of delivery). Communication which occurs outside of this code or proper channel is (often) not taken seriously. Language tends to be ritualized and formulaic. Levels of Diction: Formal/Elevated Effects: can cause the writer to seem knowledgeable and thoughtful (positive ethos) or can cause the author to seem boring, pedantic. Frequently used to obscure meaning by making the piece confusing and making the audience feel dumb; puts author is superior position relative to the audience. Purpose and Effects of Formal Diction Neutral/Standard: this does not mean words with a neutral connotation. Instead, this is the everyday language that people use, often in semi-formal settings; the pop-culture level marked by a general, standardized code (standard grammar, dictionary definitions) which changes slowly. Communication at this level emphasizes the context and circumstances of the communication, and language acts primarily as a transparent vehicle, referring denotatively to some object. Levels of Diction: Neutral/Standard Can help the author to appear normal, everyday without “talking down.” Can place author and audience on “equal footing.” Often, this is the language used between peers in non-academic settings. Purposes and Effects of Neutral/Standard Diction Low/Informal: usually, language used amongst peers. Often includes dialect, colloquialism, and slang; the sub-cultural level marked by a specific, shared code which is in flux (changes rapidly and often). Communication at this level emphasizes the sender-receiver relationship and language functions primarily emotively, vocatively, or imperatively. ◦. Levels of Diction: Low/Informal/Colloquial Often used to add personality and voice, causing “closeness” to reader (positive ethos)—some use this to appear “folksy” and similar to the reader; conversely, can cause author to seem uneducated or sloppy. Sometimes places audience in superior position, causing them to “look down upon” the speaker/writer Purpose and effects of Low/Informal/Colloquial Diction ◦ For all levels, identify the audience and decide why the author chose this diction for this audience. ◦ Connect the level of diction to 1) the audience and 2) purpose. ◦ A Note of caution: much of the older writing (17th-early 20th century) that we will read is written according to the prevailing language standards of the time. These pieces tend towards what we may perceive as more formal or elevated—however, this may or may not have been the case at the time. Look for jargon and complex in-group terminology to determine if formality was the author’s intent. So What? In your group, compare the two sets of words; desk, blood, fly, fiery, agonizing. love, honor, respect, patriotism, goodness, evil. Abstract: idea words and feeling words. Not tangible—do not appeal to senses. Examples: love, honor, respect, patriotism, goodness, evil, etc. ◦ Effects: can build background for more specific discussion to follow for any of the appeals. Conversely, can distance the reader through a lack of specifics, and can obscure logic. ◦ Often used to manipulate pathos ◦ Often used to create ethos (especially through patriotic appeals) See the opening paragraph of McCarthy’s speech for an example of manipulative/propagandist use of abstract diction. Abstract and Concrete Concrete: tangible words appealing to the five senses. Examples: desk, blood, fly, fiery, agonizing. ◦ Effects: often helps to establish imagery and therefore pathos—check to see if the pathos is manipulative. ◦ Specifics help form the backbone of logic (statistics, specific examples and cases, etc.) General, abstract words; Transportation, justice. Somewhat specific; Automobile, juvenile court. More specifically; cardioVascular health benefits. Very specific; the benefits to the small blood vessels around your heart. S.I. Hayakawa’s “Ladder of Abstraction” The sound of the words is the key here. Euphony: words that sound pleasant. ◦ Usually dominated by vowel sounds; “flowery,” “pluvial,” “serendipitous.” ◦ Effects: contributes on a less conscious level to the tone; can make the subject sound positive. Euphony and Cacophony Cacophony: negative sound. ◦ Usually consonant-heavy and Germanic. ◦ “Grungy,” “horrendous,” “vile.” ◦ Sound often overlaps with the meaning— negative sounding words often mean negative things, but not always. Shift: any placed where an author changes the level, tone, or style of his or her diction. ◦ Effects: can work as transitions, indicate a change in attitude, or signal a key point in the argument. ◦ Almost always a signal that the author wants you to pay more attention than normal to a certain part of the writing. Shifts In a small group, analyze these pairs of words; Anglo-Saxon Latinate_____ Help Facilitate Make Manufacture Ask Interrogate Grow Maximize Shrink Minimize What sorts of situations would call for more Latinate diction? Which would call for Anglo-Saxon diction? There are two senses to “jargon” Positive/neutral: specialized language; sometimes necessary to communicate specialized ideas accurately; sometimes shorthand for members of in-group. Negative: nonsensical, euphemistic, incoherent talk; often used to make the simple seem profound. Euphamism: the use of a word with positive or neutral connotations in place of a word with negative connotations. “Put to sleep,” “euthanized,” “killed” “Doctor assisted suicide” vs. “murder” “Operation Iraqi Freedom” vs. “Iraq War” “Needs improvement” vs. “failure” “Republic of Iraq” vs. “Dictatorship” “Lite beer” vs. “watered-down” “Downsizing,” “layoffs,” “firings” “Remedial class” vs. “developmental class” “Activity” vs. “classwork” Euphamism Loaded Diction/Loaded Words The following are contemporary military terms, found on p. 147 of Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric by Kahane and Cavendar. First, predict what you think each of the following terms means. List any and all possible meanings that you can think of. Then, we will discuss how each term manipulates the associations and emotions of the reader. Comfort Women Collateral Damage Friendly Fire Pacification Center Selective Ordinance Battle Fatigue Ethnic Cleansing Servicing a Target or Visiting a Site Termination The Final Solution OTHER MANIPULATIVE LANGUAGE ◦ Weasel Words Statements that appear to make little or no change in the content of a statement while in fact sucking out all or most of its content. “May” or “may be.” “Economic success may be the explanation of male dominance over females.” “Arguably” also works as weasel word. Other Manipulative Language ◦ Those Who Control the Definitions… E.g. in order to pay employees less and escape benefit requirements, companies categorize the employees as “subcontractors.” Misleading food labels; “organic” label was used, even of food raised on inorganic feed. In order to declare wars, presidents sometimes refer to wars as “military actions,” etc. in order to circumvent need for authorization. Bush classified POWS as “enemy combatants” to avoid need to release at end of war. Other Manipulative Language ◦ Politically Correct (PC) Terminology See example on 164 and 165 from LA Times for example of how PC terminology can be dangerous Labels are often social/political; see “AfricanAmerican” used to describe anyone that is not Caucasian, Latino, or Asian. Used heavily in academia ◦ U. of Columbia declared a “Columbus-myth-free campus”, since Native Americans were here 10,000 years prior to Columbus. ◦ Stanford punishes students for violating codes designed to suppress racist, sexist, and homophobic speech. ◦ Cleveland Indians and Atlanta Braves were protested during the 1995 World Series for “demeaning symbols” Other Manipulative Language “ In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible…Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question begging, and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machinegunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: This is called pacification… The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.” --Orwell, George. “Politics and the English Language” Here’s What Orwell Has to Say… The key thing to note about diction analysis: ◦ How does the diction help to imply or display the author’s attitude and claims towards the subject? ◦ How does the diction help to influence the reader’s attitude towards the subject? ◦ Keep the Speaker-audience-text triangle in mind!