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Review of  At War With Words

Reviewer: Élisabeth M. Le
Book Title: At War With Words
Book Author: Mirjana N. Dedaić Daniel N. Nelson
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Subject Language(s): English
Greek, Modern
Issue Number: 15.285

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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

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

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

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.

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.