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Review of  At War With Words

Reviewer: Laura M Callahan
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: 15.655

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Date: Tue, 18 Nov 2003 17:47:57 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.

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.