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LINGUISTIC MECHANISMS OF POWER AND FORCE: TWO CASE STUDIES
LINGUISTIC MECHANISMS OF POWER AND FORCE: TWO CASE STUDIES
Bibliographical details: Botha, Willem J. 2007. “Linguistic mechanisms of power and force: two case studies”. Cognitive linguistics: new problems of cognition. Volume 1, number 5. Moscow, pp. 14 – 20.
As early as in the first half of the previous century Korzybski said the following with regard to the power of language:
We do not realize what tremendous power the structure of a habitual language has. … (I)t enslaves us through the mechanism of semantic reactions. … (T)he structure which a language exhibits, and impresses on us unconsciously, is automatically projected upon the world around us [Alfred Korzybski 1879 – 1950, as quoted by Hayakawa 1962:ix].
This view links with one of the basic tenets of cognitive linguistics, as it is expressed by Langacker [1993:1] when he postulates that “cognitive linguistics ... claims, in particular, that fundamental cognitive abilities and experientially derived cognitive models have direct and pervasive linguistic manifestations, and, conversely, that language structure furnishes important clues concerning basic mental phenomena”. With regard to basic mental phenomena he mentions the following notions that have general psychological importance, and which are founded on linguistic evidence: force dynamics; image schemas; subjective versus objective construal; and correspondence across cognitive domains or mental spaces.
Langacker’s view should be evaluated against the fundamental underlying principle of language: language is a tool for conveying meaning. A traditional belief emphasizes a view that linguistics, especially semantics, should regard meaning as something that exists in the objective world. Such an untenable viewpoint does not take into account the fact that language is not only a tool for conveying meaning. It is, in fact, an instrument with which meaning is structured. And, in a more general sense, the structuring of (new) meanings changes the world, transforms communities; conversely, in a more general sense: changing communities and a transformed world are the result of the structuring of new meanings. And not only are different mental phenomena – as was mentioned by Langacker – applied when meaning is structured, the relative power the initiator (of meaning structure) has access to (whether by virtue of political, social or other means), also plays a crucial role in the consequential outcome of such “meaning constructions”.
With regard to the notion of force it is also important to mention Talmy’s [1985:294] hypothesis, namely that “language uses certain fundamental notional categories to structure and organize meaning” – and in this regard he introduces, from a broader semantic perspective, the semantic category force dynamics. Without going into detail, two very applicable principles of force dynamics, according to Talmy’s views [1985:293-337], should be mentioned. Firstly, the meaning structuring role of force dynamics goes across a range of language levels – including, inter alia, grammatical representations, open class lexical items and discourse. It is furthermore also important to consider the fact that the force dynamic system, as a most important conceptual organizing system, integrates “schematic conceptual models of physical phenomena, which, by analogy, it extends to psychological and social phenomena” [cf. Talmy 1985:293].
This article will deal with force dynamics and the power of language on two different language levels, namely the level of lexicalization and the level of discourse, more precisely: “discourse of persuasion” [cf. Talmy 1985:293].
The first case study will focus on the nature of the lexicalization of force within the linguistic expression transformation. Owing to the fact that this article will deal with the meaning of the relevant expression within a specific context, the conceptualist approach to meaning should not be disregarded: “(t)he meaning of an expression is equated with a conceptualization in the mind of a language user” [cf.
2002:187]. In this regard one should also take notice of the fact that a distinction can be drawn between the force of language and the power of language. The force of language will refer to the schematic conceptual models – “beneath the level of consciousness” [cf. Lakoff and Johnson 1997] – that we use to conceptualize our experience and to think by using conceptual metaphors, for instance. The power of language will refer to the control, influence or authority people have by way of language. Although we make a distinction between the force and power of language, we have to realize that they interact and in many instances are not separable. Taylor
Although the first case study will focus to a great extent on the intrinsic force of language, the second case study will represent the interaction between the force and power of language on the discourse level. Linguistic behaviour prior the
war (declared in 2003), in an effort to motivate such a war, will be scrutinized. Iraq
2. The intrinsic force of language
If we look at how our changing world is influencing the lives of people in numerous ways, we will realize that the acts of change – conveyed and structured by language – have many faces. If we subject the verb change to detailed scrutiny, various acts of change come to the fore, acts like transfer, truncation, rearrangement, metamorphosis, etc., etc. – and the concept [TRANSFORMATION]! All these different acts are very specific instances of change, and each one suggests exact features of a kind.
Within the post 1994- South African context swift structural and other modifications within the specific community is taking place, embraced by the word transformation, representing a specific ideology. In view of the fact that the process of transformation – which the word refers to – involves (and influences) all the people of South Africa in all walks of life, it became paramount for individuals to try to get a clear understanding of the concept in order to comprehend the effects it has on their lives. Investigating the metaphors used (within a specific speech community) to comprehend the conceptual nature of the linguistic expression transformation, the “knowledge configurations which provide the contexts against which the relevant semantic unit is to be understood” [cf.
1995:84-85], was examined. Also known as the conceptual domains, they function as source inputs for the metaphoric comprehension of the relevant concept. In this regard the conceptual nature of the relevant expression is conceived of as a living organism (“transformation has its aches”); a moving organism (“transformation has a snail’s pace”); a military action (“transformation campaign”); a limited entity (“The School is ‘over transformed’ with about 99% black pupils”); an opponent (“X has to play against transformation”); a force (“The force of transformation will be increased”). Apart from the fact that the relevant concept is explicitly linked with force in one of the metaphors, the other metaphors reveal the image-schematic (thus: implicit) experience of force. Taylor
Comparing the source inputs of these metaphors with the contextually structured definitions of several dictionaries and thesauri – such as Encarta® World English Dictionary, Van Dale Groot Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal and the Oxford Talking Dictionary – relating to the contexts of mathematics, biology, physics, linguistics, theatre, and genetics – a prototypical meaning gestalt was postulated – in accordance with Lakoff and Johnson’s [1980:479] experiential gestalt of the concept [CAUSATION]. On account of this examination it was found that the literal and non-literal (metaphoric) readings of the word transform (the verbal source of the noun transformation) exhibit similar meanings. Consequently we can deduct a “formula” for the conceptualization of the word transformation – a definition that distinguishes the meaning of the relevant word from that of other verbs of change. The “meaning formula” can be formulated in the following way: an agent transforms an object (to another state or place over a specific period of time, which implies a result of the relevant action).
Apart from the fact that the verb transform, explicitly or implicitly, reveals different features of force – as was disclosed by its metaphorical uses –– it is important to notice that the action of transformation ends in a certain state or place, and at a certain time. Coulson and Oakley (2000:190) refer to similar constructions as “caused motion construction(s)”.
Within the South African context one of the complicating aspects with regard to the conceivability of the concept [TRANSFORMATION] is the fact that the result and the termination of the process of transformation at this point in time remain indefinite. For that reason the construal of the concept as such becomes maximally objective [cf. Langacker 1990:7] – and as a result, it brings the force feature to the fore, as was illustrated by the conceptual metaphors used to comprehend the relevant concept.
Another contextual variable with regard to the meaning of the word transformation is the fact that within the post 1994- South African context (post-apartheid context) the relative (intrinsic) force encapsulated by the word transformation is endorsed by the power of official political structures determined by the Constitution of South Africa. In order to institute a fair and just society (contrary to the apartheid state) article 9(5) of the Constitution reads: “Discrimination … is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair.”
On account of this stipulation vigorous actions like the following are taking place under the jurisdiction of fair discrimination: affirmative action, black empowerment, promotion of black ethnicity, and others. All these actions are referred to by the government and the people as instances of transformation. Owing to the fact that the word transformation is used to encapsulate all these actions (incidentally, most of these actions imply some kind of force), the meaning of the relevant word became more generalized [cf. Dirven and Verspoor 1999:41 for an overview of how specialized and generalized meanings reveal a radial network]. Should one in this specific South African context doubt the actions covered by the meaning of the word transformation, one would be accused of being disloyal to the Constitution.
Against the background of the previous discussion one could undoubtedly conclude that the intrinsic relative force of the word transformation is contextually strengthened by the power of official structures, like a constitution for instance. This example clearly illustrates the intimate relationship between the force and power of language.
3. The interaction between the force and power of language
Because of its speech act structure language shapes war. This phenomenon becomes very clear when one examines the immediate circumstances prior to military action taken against
in 2003. In this regard resolution 1441, which put certain restrictions on Iraq with regard to weapons of mass destruction, acted as an instigator of disagreement – not only revealed by language, but also conveyed by the force structure of language; and, most significantly, endorsed by the relative political power of the most important role players in different discourses of persuasion. Iraq
When we look back to the time subsequent to 11 September 2001 – about a week after 11 September 2001 – a very important (and overlooked) speech act took place when the British Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, said: “Whatever the technical and legal issues about a declaration of war, the fact is that we are at war with terrorism.” This commitment speech act is similar to the one that President George Bush made in a press release from the White House on 5 December 2002 when he implicated a war declaration in phrases like the following: “there’s no bigger issue than to win this war against the terrorists”; “(i)t’s a different kind of war”; “(t)his is a different kind of enemy”; “I cannot imagine what was going through their mind when they hit America”; “(t)hese people are scattered in 60 different countries”; “September 11th, 2001, completely changed the strategic calculations of this country”; and “(t)he battlefield is here”. I will come back to this declaration of war.
The relative status and power of the speaker contributes to the relative force of a specific speech act. Consequently the power of the previously mentioned speech acts can not be underestimated. But prior to the conventional war against Iraq different people in various positions of power committed diverse speech acts, either to increase the possibility of war, or to diminish it. And the intrinsic power of Bush’s speech acts was also delegated to representative role players, people like Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, representatives of the White House and other. Although Bush proclaimed on different occasions that the USA was willing to act unilateral against Iraq – without the support for a new resolution – it was very clear from the beginning that the speech act support of other international role players (and the resulting moral commitment) would strengthen his cause. For that reason it was very important that a Tony Blair, the UN, NATO and the EU should have spoken out their support.
And this lead to diplomatic initiatives on different speech act levels to assist speech act strategies in order to culminate in a coalition’s collective “declaration of war”. The complexity of Bush’s initial “declaration of war” is inferable from an examination of the different speech acts of a variety of role players prior to the war. In this regard resolution 1441 acted as the centrifugal speech act force. UN resolution 1441 (amongst other things, prohibiting the development of missiles with a certain range) was a definite example of a directive, instigating various other speech acts, which I will not go into detail within this discussion.
But the follow up draft resolution by the
USA, in which military action against was asked for, was invalidated by persuading speech acts that did not have the outcomes the protagonists of war wished for. These speech acts, in which war was pressed for, manifested in representative speech acts in which the alleged “truth” was presented and evaluated. On the 5 February 2003 general Colin Powell made a proposal to the UN Security Council in which he motivated the follow up resolution in the following words (as reported by BBC News World Edition): “My second purpose today is to provide you with additional information (representative speech act), to share with you what the United States knows about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction as well as Iraq’s involvement in terrorism (evaluative speech act), which is also the subject of Resolution 1441 and other earlier resolutions.” In this regard Mr. Tony Blair’s speech act support for the implementation of this resolution had been counterproductive with the revelation that the contents of a secret dossier which should have supported the alleged Iraq-“truths”, was based on historic evidence. The Iraq bluntly stated: “Blair’s ‘dossier’ publicity stunt flops as tide turns against war”. International Action Center
On Friday 7 March 2003 the force of speech acts culminated during a debate of the Security Council when the British Minister of Defense, Mr. Jack Straw, proposed an amended resolution as an ultimatum (a directive – “final demand: a demand accompanied by a threat to inflict some penalty if the demand is not met” – Encarta World English Dictionary) to Iraq: disarm or face war! Reporters described his speech and the debate as “emotional”, “dramatic” and “passionate”, actually defining the overarching macro speech act as an expressive. Expressives in certain contexts function as excellent strategic speech act devices to convince the listener to act according to the speaker’s objectives. And that was exactly the intent Straw had with his various speech acts under the umbrella of the macro expressive: to encourage non-permanent members of the Security Council to vote for the specific resolution, and to persuade members with a right to veto, not to use that privilege. Did countries like
France, Russia and not use their veto – a speech act revealing their power to reject – they would have been forced by this implied commissive speech act to appropriate acts in the future. Using their veto, they would have executed a directive, influencing the future actions of other – contrary to a commissive. This balance between a commissive and a directive is not only a clear example of the conflict of forces manifested in language, but it also reveals the intimate relation between force and power and the way in which a position of power activates force. China
An analysis of the above-mentioned resolution shows that its illocutionary force is determined by the political power of the alliance who proposed it, but also by the relative authority of different members of the Security Council. Although the result of an accepted resolution was aimed at action against Hussein, the rejection of this resolution – by a majority or a veto vote – would have had a serious impact on the proposers of the resolution. The directive force of denial would have put the proposers in a committed position of non-aggression – since a resolution does not reflect an opinion poll, but it ties the participants to its illocutionary force: a force for or a force against! For that reason it is understandable why the proposers eventually did not want to bring it to the vote. As a result they could have exploited the less hostile resolution 1441 to motivate aggressive action.
Closely linked to and integrated into the illocutionary force of speech acts, is the power of metaphor. It becomes clear when we look at the previous quoted motivations given prior to the war. On 24 October 2002 the Boulder Daily Camera hypothesized that Bush had two reasons for such a war: “The first is that Saddam is determined to acquire nuclear weapons, already has biological and chemical weapons, and may use any of them. The second is that a link exists between the regime in
and the al-Qaida network.” Iraq
On 5 December 2002 Bush turns the order around in a press release by the White House. The first section of his release contains expressions like the following: “there’s no bigger issue than to win this war against the terrorists”; “(i)t’s a different kind of war”; “(t)his is a different kind of enemy”; “I cannot imagine what was going through their mind when they hit America”; “(t)hese people are scattered in 60 different countries”; “September 11th, 2001, completely changed the strategic calculations of this country”; and “(t)he battlefield is here”. And then he transfers the battlefield: “We’ve got to be wise about how we view the world and make sure that the new arrangements, the new alliances aren’t allowed to develop. An alliance, for example, where a nation that has weapons of mass destruction uses a shadowy terrorist network as a forward army, perhaps encouraging them to attack
without leaving any fingerprints. … And that’s why I started talking about America and Saddam Hussein.” Iraq
The last section of the press release is allocated to a motivation for action against
. He explicitly mentions Saddam Hussein and Iraq . Linked to Tony Blair’s observation about war (“Whatever the technical and legal issues about a declaration of war, the fact is that we are at war with terrorism.”) and Bush’s own reference to the battle against terror (“fighting terror and all forms of terror”), it becomes clear that both of them declared war against terror / terrorists / terrorism. On account of their status as heads of states their utterances can indeed be considered as unambiguous declarations of war. Iraq
The principles and practices of terror – actually the conceptual deep structure for the word terrorism – are numerous. But to fight terror and terrorism in fact means to fight metaphors, because both these words are essentially ontological metaphors. As conceptual devices they enable us to put different actions and ideas under one conceptual umbrella (technical known as superordinate and hyponym experiences, creating a conceptual hierarchy). Then we can use them strategically in different contexts to exploit a specific facet of the metaphor. Since the conceptual metaphor enables us to comprehend abstract concepts via more concrete experiences, it therefore facilitates a switch of the conceptual route from the abstract to the concrete. We then concretize the word terrorist (an ontological metaphor) accordingly. Although terrorists usually do not present countries (and are in that respect faceless), the word terrorist allows us to open the conceptual umbrella over who ever we may find it suitable for. And that is precisely what Bush did when he identified Saddam Hussein saying: “We’ve got to be wise about how we view the world and make sure that the new arrangements, the new alliances aren’t allowed to develop. An alliance, for example, where a nation that has weapons of mass destruction uses a shadowy terrorist network as a forward army, perhaps encouraging them to attack
without leaving any fingerprints. … And that’s why I started talking about America and Saddam Hussein.” Iraq
Concretizing the concept [TERRORIST] in the person of Hussein, enabled Bush to, firstly, identify a conventional antagonist. Following from that he could now also identify a conventional space for battle, transferring the initial battlefield (in his words: “(t)he battlefield is here”) to
– and such a battlefield was ideal for a conventional war! Iraq
Contrary to the concept [TERRORIST], the concepts [TERROR] and [TERRORISM] are not that easy to concretize. Consequently we can consider Blair’s declaration of war against terrorism (thus on a more abstract level) – and not terrorists – as a more cautious declaration of war. In this regard the relative force implied by the words terrorist and terrorism is different.
Ideology and war change the world. Examining two different contexts of ideology and war, I outlined the role of the intricate relation between the intrinsic force of language and the power put into effect by the use of language. Although a distinction was drawn between power and force, such a distinction may sometimes be very superficial on account of the interaction of different determining grammatical, lexical or contextual variables with regard to the specific meaning structure of the relevant linguistic expression.
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Language not only conveys meaning – it also structures and organizes meaning. Against this background this article deals with force dynamics and the power of language on two different language levels, namely the level of lexicalization and the level of discourse. Although a distinction is drawn between the force of language (mostly grammaticalized or lexicalized) and the power of language (mostly determined by different discourse variables), force and power very often interact in a very intimate way to structure meaning. Two case studies not only reveal force and power in this regard, but also their close interrelation.
The details of this analysis cannot be discussed here. See Botha [2004a] and Botha [2004b] for a comprehensive discussion.
The speech act theory cannot be discussed within the limitations of this article. A few remarks will have to suffice for this context. In speech act theory the illocutionary force (meaning) of an utterance (or written text) is the underlying effect of the specific utterance with regard to the listener (or reader). Context functions as a very important variable – especially in the case of indirect speech acts. Speech acts can be classified into commissives (committing the speaker to do something in the future); declaratives (changing the state of affairs in the world); directives (getting the listener to do something); expressives (expressing feelings and attitudes about something); representatives (describing states or events in the world) – cf. Richards, Platt & Weber [1989:265–266].
His ultimatum to Saddam Hoessein and his sons to leave Iraq, followed by a proclamation in a speech on 18 March 2003 (“Free nations have a duty to defend our people by uniting against the violent, and tonight, as we have done before, America and our allies accept that responsibility.”) are implicit declarations of war, formalized in his written notice to the Congress of the USA on 19 March 2003.
Encarta World English Dictionary defines a resolution as “a formal expression of the consensus at a meeting, arrived at after discussion and usually as the result of a vote”. The speech act force of such an expression is explicitly mentioned further on in the definition: “a firm decision to do something”.