The Language War

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University of California Press, May 22, 2000 - Literary Criticism - 332 pages
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Robin Lakoff gets to the heart of one of the most fascinating and pressing issues in American society today: who holds power and how they use it, keep it, or lose it. In a brilliant and vastly entertaining discussion of news events that have occupied an enormous amount of media space--political correctness, the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas hearings, Hillary Rodham Clinton as First Lady, O. J. Simpson's murder trial, the Ebonics controversy, and the Clinton sex scandal--Lakoff shows that the struggle for power and status at the end of the century is being played out as a war over language. Controlling language is a basis for all power, she says, and therefore it is worth fighting for. As a result, newly emergent groups, especially blacks and women, are contending with middle- to upper-class white men for a share in "language rights."

Lakoff's introduction to linguistic theories and the philosophy of language lays the groundwork for an exploration of news stories that meet what she calls the UAT (Undue Attention Test). As the stories became the subject of talk-show debates, late-night comedy routines, Web sites, and magazine articles, they were embroidered with additional meanings, depending on who was telling the story. Race, gender, or both are at the heart of these stories, and each one is about the right to construct meanings from languagein short, to possess power. Because language tells us how we are connected to one another, who has power and who does not, the stories reflect the language war.

We use language to analyze what we call "reality," the author argues, but we mistrust how language is used today--witness the "politics of personal destruction" following the Clinton impeachment. Yet Lakoff sees in the struggle over language a positive goal: equality in the creation of our national discourse. Her writing is accessible and witty, and her excerpts from the media are used to great effect.

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The language war

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Offering a linguist's view of big 1990s news stories, Lakoff (linguistics, Univ. of California, Berkeley) gives general readers insight into recent changes regarding language. She covers a range of ... Read full review

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I didn't read this yet but I will, i did read a senior Lakoff though, by accident one day, he told me about metaphor and I was glued and realized this was Poetry's base, and how important language was, the word was what language was, the world was basically a metaphor, the relation between mind and word function. It made my talking so better, interesting, people said "your a poet" and I laughed so. In my life I use the metaphor more and more, thrilling myself by what I hear, I think in a crossword puzzle's style, such fun in the creation. I never forget the first day found.
It has been a very important factor in my life, always wanted to speak in a more interesting way. It even changed my work style, instead of the endless sketch, I designed in words in my head describing the product in words, it was so fast. I explained my design to assistants verbally, they loved it and used the process in their advancement's future.
 

Selected pages

Contents

WHAT I AM DOING HERE AND HOW I AM DOING IT
1
LANGUAGE The Power We Love to Hate
17
THE NEUTRALITY OF THE STATUS QUO
42
POLITICAL CORRECTNESS AND HATE SPEECH The Word as Sword
86
MAD BAD AND HAD The Anita Hill Clarence Thomas Narratives
118
HILLARY ROOHAM CLINTON What the Sphinx Thinks
158
WHO FRAMED OJ?
194
EBONICS ITS CHRONIC
227
THE STORY OF UGH
252
Notes
283
References
303
Index
313
Copyright

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Page 227 - When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean— neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things." "The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master— that's all.
Page 87 - As Caesar loved me, I weep for him; as he was fortunate, I rejoice at it; as he was valiant, I honour him; but, as he was ambitious, I slew him.
Page 38 - Dear, dear! How queer everything is to-day! And yesterday things went on just as usual. I wonder if I've been changed in the night ? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I ? Ah, that's the great puzzle!
Page 106 - There are certain well-defined and narrowly limited classes of speech, the prevention and punishment of which have never been thought to raise any Constitutional problem. These include the lewd and obscene, the profane, the libelous, and the insulting or 'fighting' words—- those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace.
Page 106 - It has been well observed that such utterances are no essential part of any exposition of ideas, and are of such slight social value as a step to truth that any benefit that may be derived from them is clearly outweighed by the social interest in order and morality.
Page 139 - I will not provide the rope for my own lynching or for further humiliation. I am not going to engage in discussions, nor will I submit to roving questions of what goes on in the most intimate parts of my private life or the sanctity of my bedroom. These are the most intimate parts of my privacy, and they will remain just that, private.
Page 61 - JUST the place for a Snark!' the Bellman cried, As he landed his crew with care; Supporting each man on the top of the tide By a finger entwined in his hair. 'Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice: That alone should encourage the crew. Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice: What I tell you three times is true.
Page 54 - ... and requires proof before he can accept the truth of any proposition ; his trained intelligence works like a piece of mechanism. The mind of the Oriental, on the other hand, like his picturesque streets, is eminently wanting in symmetry. His...

About the author (2000)

Robin Lakoff is Professor of Linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Talking Power: The Politics of Language in Our Lives (1990), Face Value: The Politics of Beauty (1984), and Language and Woman's Place (1975).

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