Politics of Language

That’s not to say political language. One purpose of this site is to challenge the way we use language and our assumptions about it. The very word, politics, is charged and a good place to start. Because language is never neutral; it is always advocating, even when it proffers neutrality.

You have your pick of resources that discuss the conventions of language – grammar, mechanics, usage. I’m pretty fond of the following resources because they’re for both new and lifetime learners:

Language is Manipulative

But writing that moves, that engenders action or feeling, requires direction and control from the author. Language is always manipulative, in that it wants to evoke something from the audience. Otherwise, why say anything at all? Even in the most academic literature, you want to communicate, clearly and succinctly, the subject matter so that the audience is aware, understands, and applies information all up Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Just as a journalist needs to become aware of their biases in order to avoid writing from their bias, all writers who wish to master their craft must be aware of the bias implicit in language. We study word origins to know their context and how context has changed over time, not only to avoid embarrassment, but also to put ourselves in the best position to use language to make our communication clear.

Clarity is a Choice

My grad school mentor, Stephen Geller, often said that the hardest thing to write is the simple, declarative sentence. He said it of screenwriting, but it applies to all communication. We often hide our charged words in a thicket of other words. Corporate speak is one phrase that comes to mind. Political doublespeak is another where we manipulate ambiguity to hide our true intention.

Politics 1 comes through Greek (citadel) from the Sanskrit (fortress.) From it we get the rules for living together (policy) and the methods of enforcement (police.) Exploring the politics of language gives us the ability to read on and between the lines of communication. It helps us gain perspective not only on what we say, but also how different audiences might hear it. And while we all want to be heard, what we really want is to be understood.

1 American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. © 2011-2014. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company [back]

Image Credit: LastOneIn, Soapbox waiting for your speech (cropped from original)

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