Activism Discussion: Linguist Urges Democrats To Heed Power Of Words

Linguist Urges Democrats To Heed Power Of Words
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Dan Clore
2005-01-10 00:38:46 EST
News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/bal-te.demtalk09jan09,1,7440373.story?coll=bal-nationworld-headlines
Linguist urges Democrats to heed power of words
Book argues Republicans effectively frame debates
By Mark Z. Barabak
Los Angeles Times
January 9, 2005

BERKELEY, Calif. -- Howard Dean is on the line, hailing the
man who would be the savior of the Democratic Party.

"What Lakoff brings is a very practical way to talk about
things," says Dean, his gravelly voice rasping via cell
phone from Boston. "Why it's important to frame issues . . .
how to do it on specific issues."

Dean is speaking of George Lakoff, a University of
California, Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive
science, whose slender treatise on language, brain structure
and politics has become a surprise best seller, making
"framing" the season's hot fashion and yielding a growing
legion of followers -- as well as critics. (Last month, he
addressed House Democrats in Washington at the invitation of
their leader, San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi.) Put simply,
Lakoff says conservatives have been winning elections --
along with hearts and minds -- through the strategic use of
language over the past 30 years, to a point where central
tenets of the Republican philosophy are not just common
wisdom for millions of voters but, more, are a hard-wired
part of their brains.

"People think in frames," Lakoff writes in the opening
chapter of his new book, which credits a national network of
conservative think tanks and sympathetic media outlets with
abetting the GOP's neural conquest. "To be accepted, the
truth must fit people's frames. If the facts do not fit a
frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off." The title
of the book, Don't Think of an Elephant! reflects Lakoff's
central thesis; naturally, when you read the words, you
think of an elephant. His point is that by evoking certain
images, or frames, Republicans have forced Democrats to
fight elections on the GOP's terms. Two examples: the debate
over "tax relief," which frames taxes as an affliction and
Democrats as the defenders of an onerous burden. And the
"war on terror," which conflates the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks with the fighting in Iraq.

"Democrats have to learn how to stop making mistakes,"
Lakoff says.

The first step for Democrats, he says, "is not using the
other side's terms, or answering the questions posed by the
other side. As soon as they set the topic . . . you're dead."

To his detractors, Lakoff's work amounts to political junk
science, the equivalent of a diet plan that promises you can
eat all you want and still lose 5 pounds a day.

"Language matters a lot," says Al From, head of the
Democratic Leadership Council, an organization that has
worked to tug the party rightward, feuding with Dean and
others who accuse the group of selling out the party's core
principles. "But so does substance."

From and his allies -- including, most prominently, Bill
Clinton -- began working in the mid-1980s to recast the
image of the party along with the language Democrats used.
Gone was the talk of grievance, of rights and entitlement,
replaced by words such as "opportunity" and "responsibility"
and programs, such as welfare reform, that demonstrated the
party's new language was more than talk.

"It wouldn't have made any difference if we'd just gone on
the same way and changed the rhetoric," From says. "If
you're really trying to show people you're different, you
can't just do it with a slogan."

Samuel Popkin, another former Clinton campaign adviser,
suggests Lakoff's work on language and political persuasion
is not just simplistic but derivative. "George did not
invent the wheel . . . framing is something a million people
write about," says Popkin, a University of California, San
Diego political scientist who has extensively researched the
way voters make up their minds. (Indeed, George Orwell had
some notable things to say about the political use of
language a half-century ago.)

Few, however, have met with the popular success of Lakoff,
whose work up to now has been largely confined to the fusty
groves of academia and scholarly jousting over theories of
"autonomous syntax" and the like.

His Elephant book, subtitled Know Your Values and Frame the
Debate -- The Essential Guide for Progressives and written
in breezy self-help style, has sold more than 140,000 copies
since mid-September and recently entered its fourth
printing. Margo Baldwin, head of Vermont-based Chelsea Green
Publishing Co., predicts sales of 500,000 or more by the end
of next year, twice the company's all-time best seller,
which told the tale of a French forester.

"What are there?" Baldwin says, sizing up the market. "Fifty
million unhappy Democrats out there?"

One such Democrat is Carl Pope, director of the Sierra Club,
who lavishly praises Lakoff in a blurb on the book's opening
page. (Dean, the former Vermont governor mulling a run for
head of the national Democratic Party, is quoted on the
cover describing Lakoff as "one of the most influential
thinkers of the progressive movement.")

"I think [Democrats] have gotten into the habit of thinking
about programs and policies instead of people and places and
values," Pope said in an interview. "Franklin Roosevelt
didn't say he had a four-part plan to make America better.
He said, 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself.' I think
[Lakoff's] salience for the party is that he's reminding
them of a kind of language around which Democratic politics
always needs to be energized, which is language of the heart."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

--
Dan Clore

Now available: _The Unspeakable and Others_
http://www.wildsidepress.com/index2.htm
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1587154838/thedanclorenecro
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Jacques Guy
2005-01-10 02:23:45 EST
Les linguistes, ils te pissent à la raie,
connard de mes deux.

G*rd*n
2005-01-10 08:18:45 EST
c*e@columbia-center.org:
> News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
> http://groups.yahoo.com/group/smygo
>
> http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/nationworld/bal-te.demtalk09jan09,1,7440373.story?coll=bal-nationworld-headlines
> Linguist urges Democrats to heed power of words
> Book argues Republicans effectively frame debates
> By Mark Z. Barabak
> Los Angeles Times
> January 9, 2005
>
> BERKELEY, Calif. -- Howard Dean is on the line, hailing the
> man who would be the savior of the Democratic Party.
>
> "What Lakoff brings is a very practical way to talk about
> things," says Dean, his gravelly voice rasping via cell
> phone from Boston. "Why it's important to frame issues . . .
> how to do it on specific issues."
>
> Dean is speaking of George Lakoff, a University of
> California, Berkeley professor of linguistics and cognitive
> science, whose slender treatise on language, brain structure
> and politics has become a surprise best seller, making
> "framing" the season's hot fashion and yielding a growing
> legion of followers -- as well as critics. (Last month, he
> addressed House Democrats in Washington at the invitation of
> their leader, San Francisco's Nancy Pelosi.) Put simply,
> Lakoff says conservatives have been winning elections --
> along with hearts and minds -- through the strategic use of
> language over the past 30 years, to a point where central
> tenets of the Republican philosophy are not just common
> wisdom for millions of voters but, more, are a hard-wired
> part of their brains.
>
> "People think in frames," Lakoff writes in the opening
> chapter of his new book, which credits a national network of
> conservative think tanks and sympathetic media outlets with
> abetting the GOP's neural conquest. "To be accepted, the
> truth must fit people's frames. If the facts do not fit a
> frame, the frame stays and the facts bounce off." ...


I have yet to see any science connected with Lakoff's
proposition. In addition, it runs counter to common sense.



E*@yahoo.com
2005-01-10 08:55:42 EST
*re-posting is lame, as are you*

It's my belief that dumocrats are losing because of their shift too far
to the left. While I admit that some on my side have gone too far
right, I also believe that your 'mainstream' seems to be gravitating
left, making it impossible for bi-partisan accomplishments. How much
work do you think Clinton would have got done if every Republican acted
like Rush? Dems have stood beside as their constituants have attacked
our language, borders, religeon, and culture etc. for too long and you
are seeing the result. MOST Americans believe in Jesus and are offended
when a handful of lefties file expensive lawsuits preventing them from
having a nativity scene at town square! Don't you get it? You seek
tolerance but you have none for others. You embrace terrorists as you
attack your American brothers who happen to not believe the same way
you do. Yea, you are losing because of language alright. It's your own
hateful language though, ask your linguistic experts to tell you how to
speak to political foes without spewing venom. Untill you guys move
back towards the center a bit, if it's not too late for most of you,
you will long be the American minority party.


Cosmic Bandito
2005-01-10 11:14:04 EST
> Linguist urges Democrats to heed power of words
> Book argues Republicans effectively frame debates
> By Mark Z. Barabak
> Los Angeles Times
> January 9, 2005

I like the idea of substituting "progressive" for "liberal". Within
"mainstream" reality, it seems like Liberal has too much stigma associated
with it.



E*@yahoo.com
2005-01-11 07:55:56 EST
an jooo call jorself a reeel ban-deee-to!!

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