LINGUIST List 15.655

Sat Feb 21 2004

Review: Discourse Analysis: Dedaic & Nelson (2003)

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  • Laura Callahan, At War With Words

    Message 1: At War With Words

    Date: Fri, 20 Feb 2004 23:30:35 -0500 (EST)
    From: Laura Callahan <>
    Subject: At War With Words

    Dedaic, Mirjana N. and Daniel N. Nelson, ed. (2003) At War With Words, Mouton de Gruyter, Language, Power and Social Process 10.

    Announced at

    Laura Callahan, The City College of the City University of New York


    This collection is divided into two parts, War Discourse and Language Wars, containing thirteen essays, plus a preface, introduction and conclusion. There is a name index and a subject index. Notes and references immediately follow each article.


    Preface: Language as forms of death. Michael Billig.

    In the context of events on and after September 11, Billig contrasts Freudian explanations of the impulse toward war with Henri Tajfel's (1981) social psychology. Tajfel posits cognitive rather than emotional motives for war: it is not humans' innate instinct for aggression that leads to organized violence, but rather a need to make sense of the world by means of social categorization, which in its simplest form is reduced to ''us'' versus ''them''. Billig argues that words, and the implicit and explicit frames of reference they establish, are necessary precursors to war.

    Introduction: A peace of word. Mirjana N. Dedaic. Dedaic discusses the treatment within Critical Discourse Analysis of the relationship between war and discourse practices. She cites, among others, the influence of Fishman (1972), who considers language to be equivalent to nationality, thus supporting the concept of ''othering''; and of Bourdieu (1999), whose concept of language as an instrument of symbolic violence, wielded as ''a tool of for order, subjugation and demise'' (p. 3) is particularly apt for this volume. An overview of the collection is given. Contributions to Part One examine the connection between the discourse of war and actual violence, while those in Part Two focus on conflicts over language in various parts of the world that include a scenario of past or present violence. Several of the writers aim to discover how to impede the progression from war discourse to war, and Dedaic states: ''Discourse, we believe, should be the first door opened as we try to explain and prevent state-or-group-organized killing of the other'' (p. 1).

    I. War discourse

    Liberal parasites and other creepers: Rush Limbaugh, Ken Hamblin, and the discursive construction of group identities. Kathryn Ruud. Ruud conducted a qualitative content analysis of radio program scripts and books written by conservative U.S. radio talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh and Ken Hamblin to examine how ingroup and outgroup characteristics are systematically portrayed as ''good'' vs. ''evil''. The essay also discusses Nazi anti-Semitic discourse in the framework of discourse-historical analysis.

    Threat or business as usual? A multimodal, intertextual analysis of a political statement. Suzanne Wong Scollon. Wong Scollon applies mediated discourse analysis to the coverage of a press conference held March 11, 1996, during the Taiwan missile crisis, showing how television and newspaper reporters use neutral or evaluative verbs to establish an ideological position for themselves and their audience. She demonstrates how a statement by Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen in regard to U.S. intervention is given different representations, ranging from matter-of-fact to hostile, depending on the source.

    Deixis and distance: President Clinton's justification of intervention in Kosovo. Paul A. Chilton. Clinton's March 24, 1999 national address, in which he announced U.S. air strikes on Serbian forces, is broken down into units and sub-units for a cognitive discourse analysis. The macro-structure of the text is examined from the perspective of its propositional meaning and speech acts. Its micro-structure is examined in terms of cognitive discourse processing, wherein hearers are assumed to have conceptual domains pointing to space, time and modality. Of particular importance is the center-periphery, or near-remote, schema. It was necessary for Clinton, the speaker, to cause hearers to perceive the physically remote as cognitively closer to the center, or self. Chilton situates his analysis in the context of just war doctrine and its traditional arguments in regard to waging war.

    The language of atomic science and atomic conflict: Exploring the limits of symbolic representation. Robert E. Tucker and Theodore O. Prosise. The authors trace the evolution of the rhetoric and metaphors used to describe the atomic bomb and nuclear war, giving evidence that language is inadequate to characterize the degree of destruction these can cause. They advocate the development of linguistic resources to meet this challenge, in order that words may be able to help people conceptualize risks of a magnitude beyond human experience.

    The politics of discontent: A discourse analysis of texts of the Reform Movement in Ghana. Kweku Osam. Osam applies Critical Discourse Analysis to two less-studied areas: the discursive resistance of the dominated as opposed to the dominators in an African rather than Western political system. A history of the political situation leading to the formation of the Reform Movement in Ghana is provided, followed by a discussion of the ideology and discourse structures found in two of the Movement's texts, from 1998 and 1999.

    When guilt becomes a foreign country: Guilt and responsibility in Austrian postwar media-representation of the Second World War. Alexander Pollak. Pollak analyzes articles published from 1945-1998 in three major Austrian newspapers to discover how Austrian participation in Nazi war crimes is minimized. He concludes that various strategies have been employed, including self-presentation as victims, transforming the causal chain, relativizing and justifying the past, and focusing guilt. He finds that a distinction is repeatedly made between common, front-line soldiers -- who are depicted as victims of the regime -- and the military elite.

    Remembering and forgetting: The discursive construction of generational memories. Gertraud Benke and Ruth Wodak. Benke and Wodak's paper also treats the Austrian national discourse on war-time atrocities, this time through interview data. They focus on men from three generations: a former Austrian soldier, a man from the generation of the soldiers' children, and a member of the third generation, born long after the war. These individuals are interviewed after they have seen a controversial exhibition documenting war crimes.

    II. Language wars

    Attitudes toward linguistic purism in Croatia: Evaluating efforts at language reform. Keith Langston and Anita Peti-Stantic. After giving the trajectory of the Croatian language since the nineteenth century, the authors report the results of a questionnaire and follow-up interviews to determine attitudes toward institutional efforts to purge Croatian of foreign and especially Serbian influenced borrowings. They conclude that there is a significant amount of resistance to language reform efforts, as well as a lack of familiarity on the part of speakers with certain words that have been promoted as being purer Croatian.

    War, politics, and language: A case study of the Okinawan language. Rumiko Shinzato. Shinzato traces the shift of Okinawan to Japanese, and reports on recent signs of revitalization. She is not optimistic, however, for Okinawan's full recovery and maintenance. Particular attention is given to the role of ethnic awareness and pride, with comparisons to the situation of Catalan, Occitan and other minority languages.

    Language choice and cultural hegemony: Linguistic symbols of domination and resistance in Palau. Kazuko Matsumoto and David Britain. Matsumoto and Britain examine the effects of Japanese and U.S. colonization of Palau, comparing the situation of diglossia under each period of domination. Japanese language and culture is shown to have penetrated to a much deeper level than has English and North American culture. This is attributed to the fact that there were more opportunities for informal social contact with the Japanese.

    ''Keep your language and I'll keep mine'': Politics, language, and the construction of identities in Cyprus. Marilena Karyolemou. Karyolemou uses the 1989 decision that the languages of instruction at the University of Cypress be Greek and Turkish as the departure point for a discussion of language, ethnic identity, diglossia and bilingualism. She observes that learning a language is not enough to acquire ingroup identity, and that efforts to foster unification through a third, common, language may not suffice if ethnic identities are strong and supported by non-linguistic practices, especially in areas with a history of conflict between ethnic groups.

    Advertising for peace as political communication. Renee Dickason. The Advertising for Peace campaign was a series of commercials televised in Northern Ireland from 1988 to 1997. Dickason examines the language and images used in these commercials, which were produced by the Belfast agency of the North American multinational firm McCann-Erickson. The campaign's goal was to cause the viewer to ''reimagine and restructure the future'' (p. 401), in some cases through concrete action: the number of a Confidential Telephone was provided for viewers to call with information that could avert terrorist activity. The author concludes that Advertising for Peace may have had some positive impact, even as it raised concerns over ''the legitimacy of governmental use of the media in a democratic country to change the attitudes of the people'' (p. 416).

    American warriors speaking American: The metapragmatics of performance in the nation state. Mark Allen Peterson. >From the perspective of metapragmatics, Peterson studies Congressional debate over a 1996 bill to make English the official language of the U.S. government, and the coverage of same in The Stars and Stripes, a weekly newspaper for veterans. At issue were the conflicting symbols of an American citizen as being a person who speaks English, and the existence of American soldiers who spoke only Spanish.

    Conclusion: Word peace. Daniel N. Nelson. Nelson closes the volume with the observation that a prerequisite to war is dehumanization of the enemy, and this is accomplished with words: ''Who'' becomes ''it'' (p. 454). He calls upon public institutions to use language that affirms the identities of populations within their political scope, arguing that insecurity in regard to identity is an important factor in fostering hatred and its consequent violence.


    This collection will serve a very wide audience, including scholars of Critical Discourse Analysis; language and ideology; language, ethnicity and identity; language attitudes, planning and politics; and language shift. It will also be of use to readers with an interest in war history and political science. Cohesion of content and style is maintained from Preface to Conclusion. All contributions feature clear, concise prose, with an exposition of each problem and a comprehensive, though never cumbersome, review of pertinent literature.

    A convincing case is made that words, and certain ways of using them, are indeed a necessary precursor to war. What is less clear is how, or if, anyone should intervene in this process, aside from raising awareness of it. A few of the writers do seem to encourage some form of action. For example, Tucker and Prosise, after discussing the inadequacy of words to describe the effects of weapons of mass destruction, state: ''A task of the scholar who would analyze the language of war is to understand such expressive difficulties with the intent of alleviating them'' (p. 143).

    Ruud cites van Dijk (1990:11), who calls for ''research to address societal and political issues'' (p. 32). She states that ''critical discourse analysis can highlight and expose forms of power abuse, which directly or indirectly influence the mind, and ultimately our larger society, through text and talk'' (p. 32). She concludes that certain radio talk show hosts' discourse has a ''tendency to modify human thought and behavior'' (p. 55). The implication is that this discourse can inspire violent acts, and the reader wonders what, if any, action is advocated. Should such programs be censored?

    On the other hand, Dickason, in her discussion of the television commercial campaign designed to promote a cessation of violence in Northern Ireland, asks whether it is appropriate for a government to use the media to influence its citizens' attitudes, even when the intended outcome would be positive.


    Bourdieu, Pierre. 1999. Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, fifth printing.

    Fishman, Joshua A. 1972. Language and Nationalism. Two Integrative Essays. Rowley, Massachusetts: Newbury House.

    Tajfel, Henri. 1981. Human Groups and Social Categories. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    van Dijk, Teun A. 1990. Discourse and Society: a new journal for a new research focus. Discourse and Society. 1(1), 11.


    Laura Callahan received a Ph.D. in 2001 from the University of California at Berkeley and is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures at the City College of the City University of New York (CUNY), and a Research Fellow at the Research Institute for the Study of Language in an Urban Society (RISLUS) at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research interests include language attitudes and language politics, codeswitching and other contact phenomena, and heritage language maintenance. Recent work focuses on ingroup attitudes toward the outgroup use of Spanish in the United States.