At War with Words

At War with Words

At War with Words

At War with Words

Synopsis

As we enter a new era of global conflict involving non-state actors, At War with Words offers a provocative perspective on the role of language in the genesis, conduct and consequence of mass violence. Internationally known contributors provide original data and new insights that illuminate roles of text and talk in creating identities of enemies, justifications for violence, and accompanying propaganda. Incorporating contexts from around the world, this collection's topics range from a radio talk show host's inflammatory rhetoric to the semantic poverty of the lexicon of mass destruction. Edited by a sociolinguist and a political scientist, At War with Words includes chapters by Michael Billig, Paul Chilton, Ruth Wodak and a dozen other prominent linguists and communications scholars.

Excerpt

Michael Billig

At the time of writing, it is commonplace to hear people say that the world has changed since September 11, 2001. After two hijacked planes destroyed the New York World Trade Center, with a loss of life that still has not been fully calculated, this thought has been expressed by pundits on the media and in countless ordinary conversations. It is not clear to speakers exactly how the world might have changed. the details are secondary to the conviction that something altered irreversibly as the world watched those pictures of the doomed planes, the collapsing buildings and the shocked faces on the streets of New York.

Clausewitz’s famous maxim of war being just an extension of politics seemed inappropriate, for the horror of September 11, 2001 appeared to catch normal politics unaware. the regular words of party advantage had little significance in relation to those images of suffering and destruction. This was no time for spin-doctors and image consultants to be “playing politics”, especially in the United States. Nor was party advantage to be sought when American planes, in response, were bombing Afghanistan from the skies and the elite troops were fighting on the ground. There was even a minor rhetorical miracle that illustrated the suspension of political routines. Previously when President Bush spoke, he would appear time and again helplessly lost in mid-sentence, having dispatched out his verbs before securing his end point. Suddenly this did not matter. the politician, elected by a minority of voters after some dodgy business in Florida, was transformed into a national leader, standing above differences of caucus and party.

There are, however, limits to miracles. the gift of fluency cannot be bestowed even to the leader of the “civilized” world. But now, when Bush’s sentences hover at their mid-point, awaiting . . .

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