Does Language Influence Politics?

It’s a very interesting question indeed – does language and linguistics influence politics?  It would seem clear to most people that the language used by politicians would carry quite a bit of weight in terms of the points they are trying to convey.  There have been arguments made that certain language can influence the thinking of those hearing it.  Word choice, repetition, and certain analogies can strongly influence the opinions of listeners in terms of either confirming their own beliefs and strengthening resolve.

Public Speaking Talent

There’s no question that certain orators are given more credit for being “great public speakers”.  They are known for carrying a lot of weight with their words.  Hitler, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bill Clinton were known for their way with words, charisma, and ability to influence crowds.

Can we place Donald Trump in this category?  Although Trump’s lexicon seems to be very reductive and simplistic, it has been shown that he is incredibly effective in mobilizing groups of people and swaying them to his side – even when his side seems to bear gross inconsistencies.

Linguistic Tricks

A renowned linguist George Lakoff wrote a lengthy blog post on the topic, and talks about how Trump and his campaign used certain metaphors, repetitive wording, and other linguistic “tricks” in order to move their campaign forward with sympathizing Republicans.

Without trying to be partisan in this article, it is interesting to take a look at how Trump handled certain hot button issues.  For example, using the metaphor of the country-as-family, Trump seems to take the side of the “stern father figure”.  This metaphor rings strong with certain conservatives, where the family unit is led by a strong father figure.  Whatever he says goes – he is the ultimate authority and all is deferred to him.  Those from a conservative structured upbringing will react more strongly and positively to this type of campaign.

For those opposing conservatism, it helps to have a framework with which to understand where they are coming from.  It is true that Americans are incredibly divided at this point in history – however if we want to work to bridge that divide, we must take a moment and understand the other side.  This goes for both Democrats and Republicans.

Truthful Hyperbole

Another methodology that Trump tends to use is “truthful hyperbole”.  It is a phrase made up by Trump himself, and he has used it to great effect.  Whether you like him or not, you must respect the fact that he does have great talent in garnering support.  The “truthful hyperbole” is a method of using exaggerations in a certain linguistic order.

  1. Grammar: Radical Islamic terrorists: “Radical” puts Muslims on a linear scale and “terrorists” imposes a frame on the scale, suggesting that terrorism is built into the religion itself. The grammar suggests that there is something about Islam that has terrorism inherent in it. Imagine calling the Charleston gunman a “radical Republican terrorist.”

Trump is aware of this to at least some extent. As he said to Tony Schwartz, the ghost-writer who wrote The Art of the Deal for him, “I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration — and it’s a very effective form of promotion.”

This is an example of how certain grammatical placements can have an impact on how we process the thoughts.  This is an example of linguistic relativity, and how language can shape the way we think about certain things.

And it’s not new theory.  There have been many writings on this subject.  One of my favorites is Hypnotic Writing, in which the author Joe Vitale talks about how to use language in order to influence the reader.  In his case it is to help garner sales through copywriting.  But these things extend into verbal speech as well.