E104 3320 Language and Politics (Obeng) (LING) (S & H) (3 cr.)


There is often talk by non-politicians about issues such as: how untruthful politicians are; how they evade questions by providing answers unrelated to questions they are asked, how they refuse to answer questions, use divisive language especially inclusive and exclusive pronouns like "we" and "them", to signal polarization of in-groups and out-groups, how they use negative advertisements to attack their political opponents, how they avoid the obvious and how they speak indirectly by using metaphors and other stylistic devices. There is also talk about how politicians systematically establish a contrast between their party's properties (usually good characteristics or actions) and the ostensibly bad actions of others, how they compare what their opponents do (usually negative actions) and what their party does (usually positive acts), as well as how hedging, ambiguity, or vagueness is employed to save and maintain a politicians face. Regarding political campaigning, in the minds of some people, politicians often mention the aggressive acts such as invasions, sexual practices, bad policies, ban on free speech, etc. of their opponents and play down the opponents positive characteristics while emphasizing their negative characteristics on sensitive issues like immigration and the death penalty.

This course explores the language of politics. In particular, it examines how politicians or political actors and political commentators use language to talk about politics and how politics also influences language. The language to be studied includes that used in the domain of politics such as speeches of politicians, party propaganda, slogans, the language used in communicative events like congressional or parliamentary sessions, cabinet meetings, state of the union address, and so forth. The political actors whose language will be examined include presidents and vice-presidents, members of Congress, parliamentarians, senators, governors, and action group members.

The course aims at engaging students in a critical examination of the various ways in which language and politics influence each other. We will try to understand why politicians refer to their opponents the way they do, why they answer questions the way they do, and why/how the general public speaks about political actors the way they do. This course will address these strategies by providing students with the analytical tools to critically synthesize and analyze political discourse.

Important course topics include: Political Speech Making (answering questions) (evasive answers, propaganda, slogans, truth in politics); Some Basic Speaking Strategies (imitation and influence, vagueness, pronoun usage, rhetoric, and evasion); Speaking the unspeakable (metaphor, analogy, innuendo, circumlocution/spin, and exaggeration); Symbolism in politics (posters, props, and costumes); Political campaigning (manifestoes, stroking, and name-calling); reporting election results; political correctness; censorship and free speech; the Language labeling; and the politics about Languages.