Linguistics | Language and Politics
E104 | 10114 | Samuel Obeng


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 by providing evasive answers), propaganda, slogans and
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 (e.g. language policy issues).