Research Proposal: Discourse Analysis Politics

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Linguistic Politics and the Reinforcement of Social Power Hierarchies

Discussion of language and how it functions socially. This section is meant to stimulate the readers interest and will raise the critical questions which my paper addresses.

Language has the potential to be a deeply powerful instrument when wielded to political, social or hierarchical interests. Distinct power structures are implicated in the nuances of linguistic communication, from the selection of words to the semantics of context; from the seemingly simple colloquialisms which reflect cultural in-groups and out-groups to the complex interactions between differing linguistic traditions; from the imposition of a set of normative cultural terminologies to the construction of meanings centered on certain inherencies within a culture. Indeed, must is as stake in the way our public officials, world leaders, celebrities and peers speak to one another and through forms of mass communication.

At its most basic level, this discussion aims to evaluate power as a function of linguistic characteristics within a culture. Therefore, it is implied that political, economic and social realities do share a close relationship with linguistic traditions. Moreover, we can deduce that individuals and organizations in roles of power or leadership will tend to project specific uses of the language which carry meanings that are both explicit and implied. The latter such meanings may hinge on a whole host of contextualizing factors which include the originator of the message, the sector in which it is spoken (such as professional, private or familial) and the situational context which had invoked the initial delivery of the message.

In order to demonstrate this, the research conducted here is primarily geared toward the argument that linguistically-based power-structures can have the impact not just of manipulating cultural realities but indeed, of fully subverting one culture in favor of another. The account hereafter will first examine some of the semantics that shape the use of language in practical terms. Subsequent to establishing this foundation for a proper discourse analysis, the research will turn to consideration of the role which linguistic power structures have played in imposing cultural dominance from one party to another. Indeed, the central thesis of this research is that linguistic dominance can be used as a powerful instrument in subverting, and even exterminating a less powerful or stable linguistic tradition, as demonstrating by the linguistic genocide perpetrated by European colonialists in the spread of English and Spanish throughout the so-called 'New World.'

II. Introduction of the theory and methods of discourse analysis; with brief examples and discussion.

Before proceeding to an examination of these claims which tie linguistic traditions to patterns of imperialism, the use of the term 'New World' serves as an ideal segue into a discussion on the discursive semantics of linguistic politics. Indeed, the term 'New World' inherently takes a distinctly European and decidedly ethnocentric stance on characterizing the continents today known as North and South America. As we know today, these are lands which were vastly inhabited by rich and varied peoples erroneously referred to as Indians by their European conquerors. Like the term 'New World,' the term Indians reflects a Europeanized perspective of entitlement to name that which it encountered according to a distinctly European experience. So we can see that semantics play a significant part in the way that political power structures come to be formulated. Or as Uszkoreit (1996) observes, "according to the intentional approaches the coherence of discourse derives from the intentions of speakers and writers, and understanding depends on recognition of those intentions." (Uszkoreit, 6)

In this case, the intention of the term 'New World' was to suggest that it has only then been discovered by man. Accordingly, we may perceive that the colonists settling here perceived that their relationship with the land -- rendering it new -- transcended the relationship of those who had long-inhabited it. This is a proper initiation to both aspects of the research conducted hereafter, which first identifies some of the realities shaping language usage and the formation of meanings and subsequently addresses the role of language in creating cultural hierarchies, sometimes to devastating effect.

At its most basic, language is a complex symbiosis of verbal and nonverbal cues used to convey information within and across cultures. One inherent effect of the continued use and unconscious collective exploration of its prospects for usage is the reduction of formality in its everyday implementation. The needs for economy, for familiarity and for personal expression have together had the effect of enabling individuals to achieve a diversity of meanings and linguistic expressive tendencies within the context of a shared communication framework such as a language or dialect. Our research suggests that it might be sensible to "view the constant evolution of new words and new uses of old words as a reassuring sign of vitality and creativeness in the way a language is shaped by the needs of its users" (Yule, 53) That is to suggest that there is a close coordination between the ways in which words are used and contextualized and their intended effect. As desired effects such as expediency or the conveyance of a certain personality trait are sought, so are decisions made regarding desired word choice and informal adaptations thereof. Understanding these realities requires a discourse analysis such as the one which is applied here to the conditions of linguistic expression, both semantically and in the context of particular political and social systems.

This speaks to our instinctual use and comprehension of words which are created by the processes of blending and clipping. Word economy is a common trait of informal linguistic communication and even the word choice more commonly used in the professional setting today, where there is a high premium on conciseness but linguistic decisions that are simultaneously comprehensible to a common denominator of recipients. Blended and clipped terms are those derived by the abbreviated conglomeration of two words and those derived from longer terms, respectively. In each case, there is a resident familiarity to the words which form the basis for the hybrid or truncated terms, with our collective consciousness possessing some registered awareness of the automatic process which resulted in their combining or shortening. This is how we come to understand almost automatically the meanings created therein.

These types of simplifications of language appear at their root to be fundamentally benign. But in another way, the creation of famliar and informal uses for language and the extension of their normalcy is a subtle way of promoting a specific cultural reality which is unified by specific linguistic patterns. Indeed, this stimulates the formulation of a cultural in-group which comes to achieve its own symbolic and metaphorical meanings through the reinforcement of linguistic norms. As Zinken (2003) finds, "research in cognitive linguistics has brought rich evidence of the enormous influence that body experience has on (metaphorical) conceptualization." (Zinken, 507) This is to say that one's cultural experience which play a particular role in how well one comprehends bended and clipped terms or symbolic abstractions that have achieved normative status within a culture. In turn, this may prefigure the ability of one to make entrance into the culture itself.

With blending, the goal is quite often to respond to the creation of some new object, process or amenity which demonstrates shared characteristics of a number of already existing and well-known concepts. For example, we may cite combination of the words television and broadcast has forged the word telecast. Without very much background in multi-media, an average person having never heard the term may likely be able to intuit the word's basic meaning as a broadcast on televisions. Though a novel term, its basis in two common and mutually understood words with well-established and collectively accepted meanings render it an easily deductible term for those with a competent working knowledge of the basic English language.

Clipping is essentially a process by which abbreviated expressions of words come to replace their lengthier originating terms. Thus, many of the terms which are held in our lexicon as full words, are in fact the result of a need for the convenient abridging of communicative expression.

Interestingly, in many cases of clipping, the words which have been thereby produced are far more familiar and frequently used than their roots. Such is evident in the terms selected as examples by the Yule text as cab, which is a shortened term used for the cabriolet. This latter term is now scarcely seen in casual discourse, with the clarity and inherent preferable nature of its one syllable substitute having long supplanted it as the more instantaneously understood word.

This suggests much about the way that we appear to almost naturally understand such words as members of a cultural in-group. Their adoption as a natural consequence of the desires inherent in the process of human communication illustrates that they are not necessarily spontaneously produced on a whim by one inflective user. Rather, we may more accurately understand that such terms are reflective of some inherent need within the language. Whether the need is… [END OF PREVIEW]

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