English Language and Power

The basics of language and power.

  • Created by: Shauni
  • Created on: 14-05-12 20:23

Political Power:

power held by those with the backing of the law.

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Personal Power:

power held by individuals as a result of their roles in organisations.

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Social Group Power:

power held as a result of being a member of a dominant social group.

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Instrumental Power:

power used to maintain and enforce authority.

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Influential Power:

power used to influence or persuade others.

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Power in Discourse

the ways in which power is manifested in situations through language.

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Power Behind Discourse:

the focus on the social and ideological reasons behind the enactment of power.

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a set of belief systems, attitudes or a world view held by an individual or groups.

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Epistemic Modality:

constructions that express degrees of possibility, probability or certainty.

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Deontic Modality:

constructions that express degrees of necessity and obligation.

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Synthetic Personalisation:

the way in which advertising and other forms of communication use personalised language such as the second-person pronoun ‘you’ to construct a relationship between text producer and receiver.

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Members' Resources:

the vast amount of background knowledge and information that readers use in order to interpret texts and which may be explicitly drawn upon by text producers.

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Power Asymmetry:

a marked difference in the power status of individuals involved in discourse.

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Unequal Encounter:

an alternative term for asymmetrical, highlighting the power one speaker has over another.

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Powerful Participants:

a speaker with a higher status in a given context, who is therefore able to impose a degree of power.

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Less Powerful Participants:

 those with less status in a given context, who are subject to constraints imposed by more powerful participants.

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ways in which powerful participants may block or control th contributions of less powerful participants, for example through controlling content or interrupting.

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a person’s self-esteem or emotional needs.

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Positive Face:

the need to feel wanted, liked and appreciated.

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Negative Face:

the need to have freedom of thought and action and not feel imposed on.

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Face-threatening Act:

a communicative act that threatens someone’s positive- or negative- face needs.

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Positive and Negative Politeness Strategies:

redressive strategies that a speaker might use to mitigate or avoid face-threatening acts.

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Small Talk:

talk that is primarily interactional in orientation and is geared towards established relationships.

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Repressive Discourse Strategies:

 a more indirect way of exercising power and control through conversational constraints.

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Oppressive Discourse Strategies:

linguistic behaviour that is open in its exercising of power and control.

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The Cooperative Principle:

Grice's conversational maxims:

Grice believed that in order for effective communication to be achieved in a conversation the participators must adhere to certain conversational rules.

Quantity- neither say more nor less than required
Relevance – should be relevant to overall conversation
Manner – avoid vagueness and obscurity
Quality – always tell the truth

Speakers may sometimes appear to be flouting the maxims but infact you just need to read between the lines e.g a man asked a stranger if the post office is open and the stranger replies “its Sunday” although not actually responding to the question directly he’s telling the man its Sunday so its closed. We often need to read between the lines. Grice calls this Implicature.

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The Accommodation Theory:

Giles suggested that when people meet in conversation at least one of them may attempt to switch their speech style to that of the other participants or to try to completely avoid it.

Convergence describes how someone switches their speech style to become more like the other participant. For example, when we talk to a child, our grammar is more refined and the speed of which we speak is reduced. Giles suggested we often do this when we find we like the person we’re talking to.

Divergence describes the opposite. So when someone wishes to not be associated with a particular group their language stylistics may attempt to be completely opposite of those in the group. This is normally a way of removing oneself physiologically out of a group.

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Power in Conversation:

If a transcript is given in an exam then there are a few things to look out for:

  1. Initiating a conversation – so essentially taking the lead and choosing the topic of conversation
  2. Holding the Floor – This is when a speaker leaves little or no time for others to speak out
  3. Imperative sentences – Giving orders and directions can be a sign of dominance
  4. Unresponsiveness – This is more negative method of assertion. If the speaker is ignored or if back-channel noises (mmm/ uh huh) of the audience are hesitant then the status of the speaker is undermined
  5. Topic changing – This can be a method of reasserting control if someone loses it. Politicians will tend to do this if they are uncomfortable with a topic.
  6. Closing down a conversation – This asserts power by not allowing other speakers to carry on talking.

Obviously CONTEXT can be very useful in backing up claims just in case there aren’t any linguistic devices left to use

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Brown and Levinson:

Face threatening acts:

Face Threatening Acts (FTA’s) are acts that infringe on the hearers’ need to maintain his/her self esteem.

According to Brown and Levinson, politeness strategies are developed in order to save ‘face’

Positive politeness-

Show people they are liked, e.g a compliment which is a gesture of friendship and an attempt to reduce social status.

Negative politeness-

Avoid intruding on others lives. Not impose ourselves or pry into their personal affairs. E.G Excuse me as you don’t want to impose on their space. Also sir/madame using this respects their status and makes no attempt to reduce social status.

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Off-Record Indirect Politeness:

Instead of a direct request, you will often hint towards something in order for the other person to discover what you are after.

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Robin Lakoff:

Politeness principle:

Dont impose – Like negative politeness e.g. im sorry to bother you/ could you possibly

Give options – Avoid forcing person into a corner e.g its entirely up to you/ do you want to go first?

Make receiver feel good – Flatter others and make them feel good and appreciated e.g What would i have done without you?

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Power in Education:

Conventionally it is seen that:

The role and status of a teacher set up an established and secure amount of personal and instrumental power in relation to that of the student.

The set discourse structure that is common in the classroom is the initiation-response-feedback model (IRF) by Sinclair and Coulthard

Teachers will use imperatives such as “open your books” and direct questions “what is love?”
Students on the other hand may use fewer imperatives and ask more indirect questions “can I go to the loo?”
There is also an imbalance in address terms – students will address teachers like “Mr. Bigglesworth” but teachers will address students by their first names “Boris”

Again context is important! Check to see whether it seems that the teacher has an established relationship with the students for example, such as telling jokes.

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Power in Law:

Law unlike many other categories distinctly has its own special lexicon. Its complexity may confuse non-specialists making the language seem like a code and therefore this leaves the lawyers with practically all the power in court.

The legal language has very complex syntactical structures with complex sentences and subordinate clauses everywhere.

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Power in Politics:

The sole purpose of political language is to persuade. Politicians will constantly use rhetoric devices that grab the audience’s attention.

Rhetoric language may include:

  • Repetition
  • Trick of 3
  • First Person Plural Pronoun (we/us)
  • Rhetorical questions
  • Hyperbole
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Powerful Speakers:

Initialises Conversation - A means of taking the lead in a conversation

Holding The Floor - Giving the other speaker/speakers little/no time to speak

Interrupts Other Speaker - Little interest in other speaker

Unresposive - Making it seems as though the other speaker is less important

Questioning Other Speaker - Directs topic, clear when other speaker should talk

Topic Change - Reasserts control

Closing Conversation - Other speaker cannot carry on speaking; saying goodbye

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Received Pronunciation:

an accent connected with high class rather than regional origin.

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Synonymous Parallelism:

adding something extra/repeating the same idea in different wording.

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emma longel


please use less formal language to make it easier and more straight forward to understand!!

ben dibb-fuller


**** off emma, what you on about?



this is fab!

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