Language and Power: Power Behind Discourse

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  • Topic: English language, Power in international relations, Critical discourse analysis
  • Pages : 7 (1975 words )
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  • Published : September 7, 2011
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Main points in this session:
1. Power behind discourse: Standard language
2. Power behind discourse: discourse types as ‘effects of power’ 3. Power and access to discourse

The idea of ‘power behind discourse’ is that the whole social order of discourse is put together and held together as a hidden effect of power.

Fairclough (1989) = three aspects of ‘power behind discourse’, i.e. of hidden effects of power: 1. Standard language
2. particular discourse types which can be considered ‘effects of power’ and which are governed by conventions embodying particular power relations (e.g. medical, education, law, religious discourse types) 3. access to discourse and the power to impose and enforce constraints on access

1. Power behind discourse: Standard language

The first dimension of power behind discourse (discussed here): standardization: -the process whereby a particular social dialect comes to be elevated into what is often called a standard or even ‘national’ language; -we ought to see standardization as part of a much wider process of economic, political and cultural unification which is regarded as tied in with the historical evolution of both any language and that of ‘community’ speaking it.

Fairclough’s (1989) example: standard British English:
-standardization in the case of British English is seen as tied in with the emergence of capitalism out of feudal society in Britain; -the connection between capitalism and unification has an economic basis: the need for a unified home market if commodity production was to be fully established; -this need for economic unification required political and cultural unification; -and: standardization is of direct economic, political and cultural importance in improving communication because: -most people involved in economic activity come to understand the standard, even if they do not always use it productively; -in Britain, the establishment of nationhood and the nation-state appeared to be the favoured form of capitalism.

What is nowadays known as standard English originated from the East Midland dialect associated with the merchant class in London at the end of the medieval period.

This emerging ‘standard’:
-underlines the link to capitalism because:
-the feudal merchants using it became the first capitalists; -the rise of standard English is linked to the growing power of these merchants; -initially affected written language, and has gradually extended to various aspects of speech – grammar, vocabulary and even pronunciation; -began by being used in very few places for very few purposes and by very few people; -can be thought of as a long process of ‘colonisation’, whereby it gradually: -‘took over’ major social institutions; -pushed out Latin and French;

-vastly extended the purposes it was used for; -came to be accepted by more and more people; -became associated with the most salient and powerful institutions: literature, Government and administration, law, religion, education, etc. -also became the language of political and cultural POWER and the language of the politically and culturally POWERFUL.

Moreover, Standard English:
-developed not only at the expense of Latin and French, but also at the expense of other ‘non-standard’ social dialects (and at the expense of the other languages of Britain, e.g. Welsh and Gaelic); -was/is still (?) regarded as correct English, and other social dialects were stigmatised not only in terms of correctness but also in terms which indirectly reflected on lifestyles, morality and so forth of their speakers;

The codification of the standard = the designation of the forms of the standard as the...
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