Language and Power

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Language and Power

Types of Power (Wareing, 1999):

  • Political = that held by politicians, the police and those working in the law courts
  • Personal = Those who hold power as a result of their occupation or role, such as teachers or employerrs
  • Social group = Those who hold power as a result of social variables, such as class, gender and age. White, middle class men typically hold positions of power.

Power can be INSTRUMENTAL (used by individuals/groups to maintain and enforce authority) or INFLUENTIAL (used to influence and persuade others)

Fairclough (2001) distinguishes between power in discourse (ways in which power is manifested in situations through language) and power behind discourse (focus on social/ideological reasons behind the enactment of power).

An approach that focuses on power in discourse may look at actual language use, and how power is exercised linguistically, considering power behind discourse provides a way of contexualising linguistic features.

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Ideology

This refers to belief systems, attitudes, and world views that an individual or collective may hold, which are displayed through the use of language.

A text producer may attempt to project a certain series of beliefs onto a text reciever, who is positioned as an implied or ideal reader, so they are invited to share these ways of thinking about the world.

Many ideological stances are political ones, yet the true definition of the term is much broader.

Some linguists, such as Fairclough place a key focus on the inextreicable link between language and society, and see all texts as being underpinned by strong ideological perspectives.

This branch of study is called critical lingustics or critical discourse analysis, contends that no example of language use is ever completley neutral, but always contains elements of some ideological or controlling viewpoint.

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Power in Written Texts

  • Extensive use of modal auxiliary verbs. These range from epistemic modality (constructions that express degrees of possiblity, probabily or certainty) such as shall and will, which strongly clarify any elements of possiblity. 
  • Deontic modality are constructions that express degrees of necessity and obligation. These are like 'age restrictions may apply' or 'must be redeemed' 
  • Use of the verb 'to be' to add clarity to control, ie - 'they ARE the property,' emphasising declaritive use
  • Modal verb forms often project situations into which the reader is invited. This projects a series of situations where the reader/consumer is constrained by the series of restrictions imposed by the text producer/organisations. These can be the result of legal obligations.
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Language Features

  • Discourse - how the text is organised and what structural devices are used to assist power
  • Lexis/Semantics - what vocab choices are made, what associative meanings exist. Which lexical fields dominate, the relationships between words in terms of synonmy, antonymy and hyopnymy? What is the foramlity? How does the text producer use pronouns?
  • Grammar - what verb processes dominate? To what extent are modalls used, and are sentences mainly declaritive or imperitive?
  • Pragmatics - What is the relationship between the producer and reader? Who is the implied author and reader... What conversational stratergies are in operation? What implied or shared meanings exist beyond the literal? What ideological assumptions are present?
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Power in Advertising

Advertising is one of the most pervasive and powerful phenomena in the 21st century. Advertising often works as a projected world that the reader/consumer is invited to become a part of.

Advertising is a by-product of a capitalist economy and it is often seen as encouraging the private acquisition of goods at the expense of all else or being an essential part of economic prosperity for countries, companies and individuals (Dyer, 1982)

Fairclough (2001) states that advertising exists as a prime example of ideology at work through building a relationship between text producer and reciever by constructing a 'product image' that helps to position the reciever as a potential 'customer.'

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Fairclough's Theory

A text producer's direct imperative address to a reader (for example), sets us a relationship in which the text producer is seen as a single human addresser, rather than a faceless representative of a corporate organisation. 

This is maintined through lexical choices, such as the second person pronouns 'your' and 'you,' and the implied familiarity with the reader.

Other lexical items such as complements also present a relationship with the text producer.

This is synthetic personalisation, a 'trick' to ensure that although readers are being spoken to en masse, the advertising addresses them warmly with a more personal feel, making the readers feel that they are being addressed individually by a warm and personable addresser.

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Fairclough's Theory

The second stage concerns itself with how advertising works in conjunction with a reader's ideological background knowledge in the form of cognitive and cultural models (what Fairclough calls member's resources). These are the vast amount of background knowledge and info that readers use to interpret texts and which may be explictity drawn upon by text producers.

This creates an image of the product being advertised. It's the CONTEXT. Ie, a celebrity advertising the product would create a reader's image of having the same kind of lifestyle.

This can be seen as building the consumer, placing the text receiver in a desired position in relation to the advertiser and advertised product. This means the reciver is seen as an ideal customer of this lifestyle. The implied reader of this advert is the one for whom this particular construction of image and product represents a closeness to their own values and lifestyle.

Summarised:

  • Synthetic personalisation - construction of a relationship between producer and receiver
  • Creating an image of a text - using visual and verbal cues to evoke knowledge, behaviour and lifestyle frames
  • Building the consumer: positioning reciver as an ideal reader and consumer of product
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Power in Spoken Discourse

There is a degree of power asymmetry between speakers (a marked difference in the power status of each). This is most obvious when one speaker has a higher status or role. These power relationships give rise to what may be termed unequal encounters (Fairclough). This is where one speaker is the powerful participant, and others a less powerful participant.

In unequal encounters, the normal conventions of turn taking, such as an individual's ability to select turns and change the topic of conversation, do not operate. Instead, it may be said powerful participants place constraints (block/control contributions of less powerful) upon less powerful ones - a direct result of the power relationship between speakers.

Powerful participants maintain a set discourse structure that is common in classroom interaction, that of an initiation-response-feedback (IRF) model (Coulthard and Sinclair)

A powerful participant would also select the individuals who contribute to the discussion - in a classroom setting, students cannot contribute unless they are selected by the teacher. A powerful participant can also select constrains in content - ie, only talk about one book etc in a classroom.

A powerful participant may formulate another participant's reposnse, to provide a more acceptable or developed answer, one that is acceptable to the powerful participant.

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Politeness in Conversation

The idea of face (a person's self esteem or emotional needs) was first used by Goffman and expanded by Brown and Levison to complement their own ideas on politeness theory.

In politeness theory, face can be categorised as positive face (need to feel liked, wanted) or negative face (need to have freedom of thought and not feel imposed on). There is always a potential to threaten face. These situations represent potential face-threatening acts (FTA), which is a communicative act that threatens someones positive or negative face needs, and a speaker has the choice of a number of different strategies to either minimise the loss of face or save face completley.

A negative or positive politeness strategy is redressive strategies that a speaker may use to avoid face-threatening acts. Postive politeness stragety would ensure the adressee would feel valued and respected as an individual, and a negative politeness strategy would not make them feel threatened or obliged to do anything.

Off-record acts are things such as making an observation, such as 'It's a shame I can't listen to that', implying a request through an observation.

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Definitions

Positive politeness strategies are intended to avoid giving offense by highlighting friendliness. These strategies include juxtaposing criticism with compliments, establishing common ground, and using jokes, nicknames,honorificstag questions, special discourse markers(please), and in-groupjargon and slang.

Negative politeness strategies are intended to avoid giving offense by showing deference. These strategies includequestioninghedging, and presenting disagreements as opinions.

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Politeness + Power

A speaker's choice of communicative acts isn't random. Brown and Levinson suggest it is the consideration of:

  • Social Distance +
  • Power Distance +
  • Degree of Imposition = Weight of face threat to be compensated by appropriate linguistic strategy

One of the strengths of this formula is that it has a degree of predicitive power, suggesting that the greater the distance of power between speaker and hearer, the greater the likelihood that the less powerful participant will use appropriate politeness strategies in light of a potentially greater face-threatening act.

Although this formula makes an explicit link between politeness and power, Brown and Levinson's work centred on informal contexts and made little use of power in places such as the workplace, where there is an evident hierarchy. Giving powerful participant's statues, due to their powerful positions, there is little danger of a FTA.

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Politeness + power in organisations

Many organisations wouldn't propser or survive without a sense of team spirit and mutual respect. Powerful participants may therefore use politeness strategies to ensure a productive workplace atmophere and motivate others to perform at their best.

Less powerful participants need to adopt an appropriate linguistic register when speaking to a superior colleague.

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Small Talk

Small talk is language that is primarily concerned with establishing an maintaining interpersonal relationships.  Whereas some researchers argue that small talk is relativley unimportant, others have stressed its importnace, not only in its interpersonal function, but in the way it may be used in work contexts in terms of 'doing power.'

Holmes and Stubbe have pointed out that more powerful participants control the degree of small talk that is allowed, by switching conversation subjects etc. Especially those in organisations - people up the workplace power hierarchy may turn small talk towards more work-oritentated subjects.

This is a repressive discourse strategy (a more indirect way of excerising power and control through conversational constraints), which strengthens social ties and avoids face threats by using small talk as a positive politeness strategy, representing the doing of power by the dominant participants.

This contrasts with a more oppressive discourse strategy that openly exercises power and control.

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Power and Politics

Rhetoric and persuasion - Politicans often use many powerful language elements,  called rhetorical strategies in attempting to persuade and influence their listeners

  •  Allusion—an indirect or casual reference to a historical or literary figure, event, or object. example: I named my protagonist Helena, an allusion to the wide-eyed and bewildered character in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” 
  •  Antiphrasis—the use of a word opposite to its proper meaning; irony. Example: The editor calmly yelled at her writing staff about the importance of fact-checking. 
  • Apophasis—accentuating something by denying that it will be mentioned. Example: I won’t even mention that you misspelled the company name in the press release. 
  •  Aporia—expressing doubt about an idea, conclusion, or position. Example: I have never been able to decide where I stand on the serial comma, mostly because of the extremism for and against its use. 
  • Aposiopesis—stopping abruptly and leaving a statement unfinished, giving the impression that the writer or speaker is unwilling or unable to continue. Example: John’s behavior at the holiday party made it clear to everyone that he is a . . . but we won’t speak of that.
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Power and Politics

  • Analogy—a comparison of two things. Metaphors and similes are both types of analogy. Example: Under her leadership, our workplace had become like "Animal Farm." 
  • Hyperbole—using exaggeration for emphasis or effect; overstatement. Example: If you take proper hyphenation too seriously, you will surely go mad. 
  • Sententia—quoting a maxim or wise saying to apply a general truth to the situation, thereby offering a single statement of general wisdom. Example: Perhaps we should all remember what Stephen King once said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” 
  • Pleonasm—using more words than necessary to express an idea. Example: I forgot my PIN number for the ATM machine. 
  • Epizeuxis—the immediate repetition of words for emphasis. Example: The answer to that question is no, no, no, a thousand times no. 
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Power and Politics

  • Analogy—a comparison of two things. Metaphors and similes are both types of analogy. Example: Under her leadership, our workplace had become like "Animal Farm." 
  • Hyperbole—using exaggeration for emphasis or effect; overstatement. Example: If you take proper hyphenation too seriously, you will surely go mad. 
  • Sententia—quoting a maxim or wise saying to apply a general truth to the situation, thereby offering a single statement of general wisdom. Example: Perhaps we should all remember what Stephen King once said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” 
  • Pleonasm—using more words than necessary to express an idea. Example: I forgot my PIN number for the ATM machine. 
  • Epizeuxis—the immediate repetition of words for emphasis. Example: The answer to that question is no, no, no, a thousand times no. 
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Comments

Rachel Green

Really useful! Thank you very much.

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