Talking Power: The Politics of Language in Our Lives

Talking Power: The Politics of Language in Our Lives

Talking Power: The Politics of Language in Our Lives

Talking Power: The Politics of Language in Our Lives

Excerpt

We feel ourselves at the mercy of language and its manipulators, the slick professionals—advertisers, politicians, teievangeiists—who use it with cynical skill to entice us, innocent amateurs, into their webs of words. We blame the professionals who bamboozle us; our anger doesn't stop them from trying it again, nor prevent us from being taken in by still more polished tactics next time. It might make better sense to blame ourselves: we all have access to the same repertoire of linguistic strategies and could become consumers of language as sophisticated as the merchandisers, attacking the "demand side" as they say. A close look at the naive, "innocent," and spontaneous ways we use language in our everyday lives, in our conversations with friends and intimates and at work, would reveal, inchoate perhaps but definitely present, the same strategies of persuasion and manipulation the professionals have at their disposal. In communicating, no matter what the level or the function, we all have the same basic needs, which we try to meet through our linguistic interaction. We want to be liked, first of all ; the rest follows: we want to be authoritative, to have our instructions or advice followed, to be admired (to name but a few needs). But from the most intimate tête-à-tête (micropolitics) to a speech aimed at millions (macropolitics), the aims are the same, and the techniques closely related.

We are reluctant to examine our conversational gambits; first, we get nervous when we have to examine closely behavior that has become habitual and unconscious. Don't try to figure out how you tie your shoes, or you'll never be able to do it again; the same holds for conversation. Then, too, especially in the area of interpersonal behavior, we like to see ourselves as guileless, our actions as spontaneous. To recognize that we are following set patterns, sometimes engag-

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