Study on the Features of English Political Euphemism and Its Social Functions

Topics: Speech act, Illocutionary act, Perlocutionary act Pages: 7 (2187 words) Published: April 30, 2011
Political euphemism is a tool for political leaders to control information transmission. Based on some examples, this paper begins with a summary of three features which distinguish political euphemism from others. Then, it discusses its two social functions based on Austin’s Speech Act Theory: 1. as political leaders’ tool, political euphemism plays the role of hiding the truth and legalizing wrong behaviors; 2. it influences people’s sense of right and wrong as well as their understanding of the objective world, hence succeeding in persuading them. Such a linguistic phenomenon provides another proof that language is not only a reflection of the objective world but a process of social construction. Keywords: Political euphemism, Social Functions, Feature, Speech act 1. Introduction

Euphemism, a common phenomenon in human language use, has attracted much attention home and abroad. With the arrival of foreign linguistic theories in China since 1980s, Chinese scholars have published a large number of essays and books which focus on euphemism from different perspectives and systematically summarize the causes of its production, way of composition, classification, and pragmatic principles of composition as well as its social functions. (Shu, 1995, p17; Liu, 2000, p36) Actually, political euphemism has always been a point of penetration for foreign political linguists to evaluate and criticize political discourse. In the recent years, with the establishment of the selected English newspaper reading course in many Chinese colleges, English political euphemism began to attract people’s attention. However, it is mainly confined to its disguising function (Pan, 2004, p85), leaving its influences on people’s thoughts and ideology untouched. This paper begins with an analysis on the features of political euphemism and explores its two main social functions--- disguising or cheating function and persuasive function with Austin’s Speech Act Theory. Overall, this paper aims at further revealing the essential features of political euphemism, expanding people’s vision in euphemism and revealing the relationship among language, thought and existence to some extent. 2. Features of Political Euphemism

Euphemism is defined in different ways from the perspectives of pragmatics and style: Hongrui Wen (2002) once quoted several representative definitions, which have it in common that euphemism is a replacement of ordinary expressions with propitious or exaggerated ones. Political euphemism is created in political life and serves political purposes. Generally speaking, it is a tool for political participants to hide scandals, disguise the truth, guide public thoughts when discussing social issues or events. In spite of some common features political euphemism shares with others, it has three typical features.

2.1 Greater Degree of Deviation from its Signified
According to Swiss linguist Saussure, language signs are a combination of the signifier, the phonetic forms of language and the signified, objects in existence represented by linguistic forms. Due to the lack of direct or logical relations between the two, they have a discretionary relationship with each other, making it possible to create euphemism by replacing the signifier. Because euphemism is just created by transforming the signifier to enlarge the association distance between the signifier and the signified, euphemism meanings stay relative to their former zero-degree ones (Xu, 2002, p7). Although euphemism and its former zero-degree signifier refer to the same signified, political euphemism is different from those commonly used euphemistic forms in order to avoid death and other physical phenomena in that it deviates greatly from the meaning expressed by its former signifier, or even a complete distortion. For example, Former US President Reagan once named the 10-warhead intermediate-range missile as “peacekeeper”; some later political English Language Teaching March,...
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