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.
 

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
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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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