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The Use of Language in Politics

Here's how language is used in politics for peace and manipulation

By Alisha Upadhyay

The use of language in politics determines the stance of a politician. Their entire persona is built by the words they chose to express themselves by. Be it the fierce politician Bala Saheb Thackery, the humorous Lalu Prasad Yadav, the always cool-headed Atal Bihari Bajpayee, or the silent whisperer Manhoman Singh, their language in politics has played a key role in helping them stand out of the crowd.

Language in politics plays an even greater role in international politics. It can elevate tension amongst nations and bring them to war. While proper communication can lead them to strengthen their ties and flourish trade and exchange.

Champions of political movements like the feminist movements demand “political correctness”, a kind of sensitivity with the language in politics. For example, Negros is now simply referred to as the black community. Underdeveloped nations are now called developing. Thus, ‘political correctness’ thereby tries to counter deeply rooted prejudices.

Martin Luther King Jr. during a speech
Martin Luther King Jr. during a speech. Wikimedia Commons

It essentially employs symbols i.e. words to represent things. Therefore it is passive, as it does not reflect reality but rather tries its best possible job at it. All the while, words do not merely reflect the realities around us, they also help to shape what we see and structure our attitude towards it. In effect, language helps to create the world itself. Thus it also is an active force.

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However, more often politicians can simply be seen trying not to offend anyone through their views instead of straight-up issuing an apology for incorrect terminology, such is the game of language. Critics of ‘political correctness’ point out that it imposes ideological confinement upon language that both degrades its descriptive power and introduces a form of censorship by denying expression to ‘incorrect’ views. George Orwell outlined in his seminal essay ‘Politics and the English Language’ (1957): language should be ‘an instrument for expressing and not for concealing or preventing thought’. Samuel Johnson warned: ‘that words are the daughters of earth, and that things are the sons of heaven’. In other words, the language in politics always has limited value. However carefully words are used and however rigorously their meanings are refined, language tends to simplify and misrepresent the infinite complexity of the real world.

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Entire ethnic groups facing harassment and hate crimes molds into ethnic cleansing. Villages are burnt and people are made homeless just to rectify borders, the cruelty is simply termed as pacification. Such terminology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up descriptive images of them. One should keep in mind that language in politics is diplomatic and manipulative and this is true, with variations for all political parties, from leftist to rightist. One can neither judge a book by its cover nor by what is inside it. If one needs to find the truth it can only be seen by viewing sources in the grass-root level. Language in politics is used to decorate lies into truth, and to give an appearance of beauty to the ugly.

You can follow the author of the article on Twitter @Thatcurioussoul

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