Published: 23rd November 2019
Manipulators of a linguistic kind: How to avoid influencing the audience through language
Speakers/Writers use certain mechanisms to make listeners/readers perceive messages uncritically and make them dance to a particular tune which is pleasant to the former’s ears
Recently, commenting on the Jawaharlal Nehru University student protest, Asian News International tweeted: “#WATCH Delhi: Clash between Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) students and police, earlier today. Delhi Police PRO has said that they will inquire into lathi-charge allegations made by JNU students.”
Reacting to it, TV news anchor Faye D’Souza tweeted: “Dear ANI, This is not a “Clash”. This is the police using force and lathis on protestors. The right to protest is a democratic right in India. We won our independence through peaceful protest. Remember!” This columnist also reacted to it by tweeting: “Clash? What do you mean by clash, @ANI? Who clashed with whom? Why this mischievous misinformation?”
This is a typical case of ‘linguistic manipulation’ which can be defined as the use of certain words and phrases by the sender (speaker or writer) in order to manipulate the receiver (listener or reader) of a message. This is done with a view to influence the listener/reader of communication.
Speakers/Writers use certain mechanisms to make listeners/readers perceive messages uncritically and make them dance to a particular tune which is pleasant to the former’s ears. There is a strong relationship between language and thought. The tweet by ANI has been worded in such a way that it makes the reader think that the students of JNU indulged in violence. It is important to look at any message critically.
Some politicians use language as a manipulation tool. They are good at making emotionally-charged speeches. That is why they are called demagogues. A demagogue is a person who uses certain words and phrases in such a way to get the support of ordinary people by playing with their emotions and appealing to their prejudices. Demagogues neither think logically nor argue rationally but play with words emotionally.
Adolf Hitler was a demagogue. Volker Ullrich, the author of the book Hitler: Ascent 1889-1939, describes Hitler as ‘a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatisation’ and writes that he had a ‘characteristic fondness for superlatives’. Once, a Jesuit priest and a student went to see Hitler speak in his early days before he became a ruler. The priest asked the student whether he enjoyed the speech. The student said, “Hitler is nothing. He is a harmless fool with the gift of oratory.” The Jesuit replied, “Know this, dear young man, no fool with the gift of oratory is harmless.”
A critical thinker knows the difference between a fact and an opinion. Linguistic manipulators give their opinions on certain issues and make the people believe they are facts. While watching, TV viewers are bombarded with advertisements in which testimonies are given and claims are made by models and celebrities. Unless one is able to view/review such advertisements critically they will not be able to distinguish between facts and opinions. It is important to recognise the language of facts and opinions.
Beware of linguistic manipulators!