Among the very few beautiful sides of us humans, language may be the shiniest one. Words, regardless of spoken or written, are of so immeasurable importance to us as conscious creatures that they are our most important reproductive tool – without them, we would just grow in numbers. Language is colourful. It can warm our hearts, bring light into the dark and manifest ideas for centuries. But it is also a very powerful political indicator, measure and tool. If we closely examine major shifts in the development of major societies, we can see that most of them were accompanied by radical changes in the realm of language. Where language was advanced, societies advanced. Where language was neglected, societies declined. Propaganda is only a very small, poor part of the greater construct of how language is used in politics. Speeches and broadcasts, debates and accusations are the cheapest, most obvious, forms of language within the political realm. They fulfil the important role of distraction from the truly dangerous utilisation of language on other levels – or remain core components within political communication because the higher techniques are unknown to the respective politicians. Nonetheless, content is often secondary, coming after what is the most powerful political strategy there is: the control of discourse.
Importance Through Tonality: A Question of the “How”!
There are endless examples of politicians with outrageous statements that somehow seemed to be accepted, even though the content had no acceptable dimension to it. One of the most infamous war criminals of all time, George W. Bush, can openly condemn Russia’s attack on Ukraine after he himself led the whole region around Iraq into misery with the war he waged there for much more vile reasons. His subconscious mixing up Iraq and Ukraine did not seem to bother the audience. Equally disturbing was Germany’s way of taking accountability for the genocide of the Herero and Nama societies in present-day Namibia. That the mass killings of the population amounted to genocide was accepted in the German Parliament with a swift vote and a few empty, detached words. The background to this emotionless acceptance of genocide was that the German Parliament was facing a backlash from Türkiye at that time for adopting the wording that the Turco-Armenian War between 1915 – 1917 amounted to genocide. Naturally, Türkiye denounced this accusation and pointed to the genocide in Namibia. The result was that German quickly accepted that its guilty and continued to accuse Türkiye. In this instance, language and how it was utilised was able to portray the side that did not commit genocide in an extremely bad light, while the side that actually aimed to eliminate a people was not regarded.
Surely, there a many more examples but we should come to the understanding that language is very powerful. It can make others want to think in a way we want them to, regardless of the content. By transmitting emotions in our speech and word, language can be used to subliminally indicate to the recipient how important the information is. In the case of Bush, his relaxed reaction to mixing up his war that led to millions of casualties and condemning the ongoing war in Ukraine abstracted two majorly destructive events into an innocent blooper at a conference. His tone and mimics he made reduced the significance of the topic to the level of mixing up the year in early January. What he said about the war was not important any longer. In Germany’s case, language was practically used to shrug off the near eradication of two deeply rooted societies. After the societies sought for reparations, Germany just responded with a half-hearted apology in a routine sitting of its Parliament. No reparations, no consequences, not even reputational damage; all due to the apathetic response. Basically, we can say anything in politics as long as we know how to say it and as long as political opponents do not know how to frame it against us. This is also the reason why such statements do not lead to any legal or political consequences: the wider public accepts the statement because it was communicated in that tone.
Word Placement: Linguistic Nutrition
The second main strategy to influence popular thinking through much more advanced linguistic means is the placement of words. Founding new words, reusing old ones, sticking to imprecise or often irritating wording and repeating all this are central to shaping perceptions. As an analogy, the human body can be looked at. Depending on the quality of food, the body will respond with the according functioning. The same holds true for our brains. Our ideas are shaped by the colour of the words and their constellations in which they reach our brains. Democracy. There are many different things that one thinks about when reading this word. That is because this word has been used to connect many different concepts to it that it already today lost its original meaning. When reading the word democracy, people think about freedom, liberty, equality, capitalism, wealth, moral standards, rights, but also immediately think about what it is not according to them: China, Russia, the Middle East. Seldom do they think about a political system that is grounded in the idea of popular sovereignty. Many words are used as interconnected pooling terms in order to simplify complex ideas and create emotionality around them. By doing so, the terms become useless in scientific terms but people also define two things at a time: what it is and what it is not. Thinking becomes limited to a binary scope. Our ideas cannot unfold freely because the emotionally entrenched definition of the term pulls us away from profiting from its content. By frequent repetition and overloading the term, whatever it might be, with interconnections to other terms, our world of thinking is basically shaped by those who control the discourse. You do not think so? Then let us conclude with an example.
Americans. When reading this word, what came to your mind? Even if you know where this example is going to lead us, you cannot but have associations with the word American. The same goes for Afro-American. Both terms, however, are incorrect on the content level. The rightful representatives of the North American continent are the people of the first societies, such as the Cherokee, Iroquois or Navajo. By calling themselves American, those who are not originally from this continent not only rename the home of great societies but also tie the term to their own identity. However, to make the association unambiguous, the term Afro-American was invented and makes it very clear that when the word American is articulated, we must think about a white person. Black people living in North America need a modification of their description that is tied to a phenotypical characteristic of theirs, while the whites not only get to choose the name of their invented identity but also do this in a form that is abstracted from their looks, thus, normalising their appearance. In other words, language is here a form of racial subjugation that has been reinforced to such a degree that even the subjugated society adopted it. The correct description of white people in North America is Euro-Americans, but they refuse to use this because it would reduce them to their original heritage, thus, illegitimising their rule over the newly conquered continent. Since the natural habitat of white people is Western Europe and most of the indigenous white population still lives there, they must be called Euro-Americans as they are not the rightful representatives of North American lands and need to be described with a modification to their identity as well. Wherever white people migrated, however, they created new names for themselves, although they remained the same culturally. On the other side, they enforced the new linguistic identity onto the local societies. Describing Africans in North America as Afro-American is acceptable as long as Europeans in North America are described as Euro-Americans.
Today, the world accepts this detrimental linguistic situation that upholds the racial subjugation of many civilisations. Every time we think about a white person when reading American, we support the racial dominance of the white. White politics knows this and is, of course, keen on upkeeping the discourse in the wished form. Discourse shapes thinking and thinking shapes action. Above, we have seen how important the form of communication can be, but here we also see that the content of discourse can be utilised to shape perceptions. Here, the frequent reoccurrence of certain keywords and phrases leads us to attach emotions and ideas to those words. Whenever those words are reused, they carry the intended meaning to influence the recipient. Often, the true meaning is lost. And when the words of a language start to lose their meanings, societal decline is inevitable.