Language Evolution: The Windows Approach addresses the question: "How can we unravel the evolution of language, given that there is no direct evidence about it?"
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Dedaic, Mirjana N. and Daniel N. Nelson, ed. (2003) At War with Words, Mouton de Gruyter, Language, Power and Social Process 10.
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/14/14-2615.html
Elisabeth Le, University of Alberta
In the preface of ''At War with Words'', Michael Billig pinpoints a psychological paradox. If, according to Tajfel (1981), the construction of knowledge depends on categorization, then psychological origins for warfare, as stereotypes and prejudice, are based on our propensity to make sense of our world. Furthermore, if categorization is part of language use, psychological origins for warfare are ipso facto rooted in language use.
''At War with Words'' is an edited collection of papers on epistemic, societal, discursive and political aspects of armed conflicts. The papers are divided in two categories: War Discourse, and Language Wars. As Mirjana Dedaic underlines in her introduction, global peace and security are best served by a cooperation between political scientists and linguists.
Part 1: War discourse
The first article on War Discourse addresses the question of discursive construction of group identities in the talk radio programs of Rush Limbaugh and Ken Hamblin in 1992-96. In a Critical Discourse Analysis framework, the author, Kathryn Ruud, analyses linguistic mechanisms used to build negative and positive group identities in relation to ideologies that influence the program hosts. These strategies are: polarity in tone, discrediting of other sources of information, scapegoating, stereotyping, manipulation of key moral concepts, and use of dehumanizing imagery and enemy imagery. Ruud concludes that Limbaugh's and Hamblin's radio programs contributed to the construction of a positive conservative ingroup identity and a negative liberal outgroup identity.
In the framework of mediated discourse analysis, Susan Wong Scollon uses intertextual and interdiscursive analysis to show how presuppositions framed journalist's reports of Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen's speech during the Taiwan missile crisis in 1996 before the first Taiwanese presidential elections. She argues that one indicator of the journalists' ideological position is their use of neutral or evaluative verbs of saying to report the speech of political leaders. Government organs, who do not need to hide their political bias, inform their readers of their opponents' side by using neutral statements. In doing so, government organs assume that their readers are able and responsible for reading between the lines. In contrast, liberal journalists tell their readers how to interpret the text through their frequent use of evaluative verbs. Other indicators of ideological bent are choice of character set and font size, layout of photographs, choice of color and selection of file clips from televised press conferences.
In a cognitive discourse-analytical perspective, Paul Chilton studies representations of deixis and distance in President Clinton's address to the nation on March 24 1999, when he justified American intervention in Kosovo. Taking as a starting point that justifications are a sub-type of ''argumentation'', Chilton proceeds to discover their nature in two steps: ú) the description of the dispositional structure of the text in terms of propositions and speech acts, and b) the analysis of the conceptual domains of space, time and modality, and the relationship between them. The analysis of Clinton's text reveals an important deictic centering on the collective Self, and a strong link between remote and near spaces, be they spatial or temporal. This results in the remote being made threateningly close, and thus military action is justified.
Pointing out our almost exclusive attention to what language allows us to say, Robert Tucker and Theodore Prosise aim in their essay on the language of atomic science and atomic conflict to underline the inability of ordinary language to represent what goes beyond the familiar. Elaborating on Niels Bohr's rhetorical dilemma for describing the ultra-small and ultra-brief, the authors note that the use of metaphors and tropes enables, but also constrains our understanding. For example, the nuclear bomb has been presented as part of a larger process, i.e. the control of a new power, and not in terms of the physical characteristics of its detonation, which can be realized only when witnessed. The authors conclude that this impossibility to represent the effect of the nuclear bomb fully through language partly explains the failures of anti-nuclear rhetoric.
Following a Critical Discourse Analysis approach, Kweku Osam examines the politics of discontent in texts of the Ghanaian Reform Movement. The members of this Movement were part of the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC), until they seceded from it in 1998. The three texts that were chosen for the analysis were issued in 1998 and 1999, and contain the core ideological outlook of the Movement. The texts' dominant theme, the issue of popular participation, organizes the ideological square, i.e. the negative representation of the Other (the NDC) and the positive representation of the Self. The author concludes that the (re)production / maintenance of dominance, and the challenge of dominance make use of the same discursive strategies.
Alexander Pollack studies representations of guilt and responsibility for the Second World War in Austrian postwar media (1945-98), in particular in Die Presse, Neue Kronenzeitung, and Kurier. His approach is interpretative and derived from historical constructivism and the discourse-historical approach. The analysis makes uses of qualitative methods of textual analysis. It focuses on six strategies that function as filters to the past: 1) self-presentation as victims, 2) transforming the chain of causalities, 3) relativizing and justifying the past, 4) focusing guilt, 5) selecting events that symbolize the past, and 6) individualizing the past. The author's investigation reveals that the media managed to build a positive image of the ''normal'' (Wehrmacht) Austrian soldier while recognizing the atrocities of the war mostly through the selection of certain topics/events for discussion, their perspectivization, and the elaboration of the chosen perspective.
The Austrian representation of the Second World War is also the theme of the next article. In three interviews of male visitors to the first public display of war crimes committed by the Wehrmacht, Gertraud Benke and Ruth Wodak focus on individuals' processes of handling guilt and responsibility. The interviewed individuals belong to the Wehrmacht generation, to their children's and grandchildren's generations. The analysis takes place in the discourse-historical approach, and centers around the questions of the topics mentioned during the interviews, the expression of knowledge and knowing, the topoi used, and who was said to do what. None of the three interviewees clearly acknowledged victims of Wehrmacht crimes in their stories, but all of them had family stories as an implicit sub-text. The war is still very close to home fifty years after its end, and justification and legitimization are realized by problematizing knowledge and disputing the concept of crime.
Part 2: Language wars
In their study of attitudes towards linguistic purism in Croatia, Keith Langston and Anita Peti-Stantic note a significant resistance to the elimination of Serbian or other foreign words from the Croatian language. Although their survey is preliminary, it appears clearly that attempts to change the language are seen as unnatural and forced. However, if language purism continues to be promoted, this will inevitably result in more and more changes.
In his reconstruction of the sociolinguistic history of Okinawan, the language spoken on the islands of Okinawa, the southern-most province of Japan, Rumiko Shinzato shows how language maintenance is intricately related to wars and politics. Because of domestic and international wars that have caused changes in sovereign authority, Okinawa has gone from absolute monolingualism, to bilingualism, language shift, and finally revitalization of its language.
The Palauan Islands of the Western Pacific were from 1885 successively under Spanish, German, Japanese, and American administration until 1994 when they became the Republic of Palau. Using an ethnographic questionnaire, Kazuko Matsumato and David Britain show how Japanese hegemony was the most successful in shaping language use because it penetrated the local and the everyday cultural life, while American hegemony resulted in a different diglossia because no cultural framework was created for the use of English. Today, the Palauans strongly agree that their indigenous language should be preserved, and they maintain their ability to use it.
Marilena Karyolemou discusses the choice made in 1989 by the House of Representatives in Cyprus, that both Greek and Turkish would be the languages of instruction at the University of Cyprus, mosltly attended by Greek Cypriots and foreign students. She notes that this two-language option appears as an inclusion policy when compared to a Greek-only option, but could also appear as exclusionary as it leaves each community with its own ethnic language. A third, neutral, language could have been chosen, but it is doubtful that such a decision could contribute to the construction of a common identity.
Renée Dickason examines the campaign of advertising for peace that was ruy" in Northern Ireland by British Conservative governments from 1988 to 1997. The effects of any type of advertising are difficult to evaluate, and in particular, those of government-led advertising. However, it is agreed that this campaign opened a communication channel with the population, although major controversial questions were avoided. The question of the legitimacy of such a governmental use of media to change the attitudes of people remains.
In the last case study, Mark Allen Peterson is concerned with the relationship between language, nation, patriotism and war as it appears in a Congressional debate about non-English speaking veterans and in the newspaper, The Stars and Stripes. The analysis reveals the failure of cultural categories to adequately map empirical realities, and the struggle to define the ''I'' who claims to be American.
Noting that human conflict begins and ends via talk and text, Daniel Nelson concludes by underlining the necessity for ''a language that focuses not on capacities but on threat abatement, not on defense and deterrence but on identity affirmation. [Otherwise,] we are condemned to be 'At War with Words' '' (p.458)
''At War with Words'' underlines the close relationship between language aný war very well. While reading this book, it is important to keep in mind that human beings are an essential part in this relationship. Indeed, it is human beings who use language and who make wars. The study of discourse opens a window through which we can observe humans, but discourse is only an intermediary. It its true that our perceptions can be somewhat shaped by manners in which language allows us to perceive our world. However, it is also up to us to find new ways to use language as to better reflect what surround us and what we want to do. It remains that this book provides its readers with an excellent overview of how language studies can contribute to the advancement of peace. Although the articles may present a variable interest, the variety and cohesiveness of the covered topics would make this book a very valuable resource in a graduate seminar on language and society.
Tajfel, Henri (1981). Human Groups and Social Categories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Elisabeth Le is Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics in the Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of Alberta (Canada). She works in the framework of Critical Discourse Analysis on the representation of international relations in French, American, and Russian media discourse.