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Introduction Brian D. Joseph Issues of power and freedom, as well as the ideologies which form their underpinnings and thus to a certain extent determine them, impinge on all aspects of human existence, and language is no exception . As Fairclough has put it in one of the most recent treatments of the complex relationships holding among language, power, and ideology:1 Ideologies are closely linked to power, because the nature of ideological assumptions embedded in particular conventions, and so the nature of those conventions themselves, depends on the power relations which underlie those conventions . . . Ideologies are closely linked to language, because using language is the commonest form of social behaviour, and the form of social behaviour where we rely most on 'common-sense' assumptions. (1989: 2) Human social interaction, therefore, will necessarily reflect and be affected by the power relationships—equal or unequal, class based or economically based, etc.—holding among the participants. Language, moreover, as "the commonest form of social behaviour" and as the primary medium by which social interaction is carried out, will necessarily also be reflective of and affected by these relationships. While it is important to keep in mind, as Wodak (1989: xv) reminds us, that "language is not powerful 'per se' . . . [it] only gains power in the hands of the powerful," nevertheless there are numerous ways in which the interaction of language and power and of language and freedom is played out in the dynamics of social exchanges. Most basically, a "tension" is to be found between the language of a powerful group and the language of a less powerful group—in a broader sense, then, between that of a dominant group and that of an oppressed group. One frequent concomitant of such situations is the expression of solidarity among group members through language use. Some of the more obvious ways in which this tension is manifested linguistically are those listed in (1): Journal of Modern Greek Studies, Volume 10, 1992. 1 2 Brian D. Joseph (1) a. stereotypical adult-child interaction b. the use of polite address forms c. the existence of secret languages d. dialect differences e. diglossic language use f. minority language questions. Some comments on these manifestations will serve to locate them within the realm of discourse concerning language and power. The first two involve ways in which socially imposed conventions reflecting relative power operate within a given linguistic code, with social distinctions , most typically differences in social power, being overtly marked linguistically. Regarding stereotypical adult-child interaction, for instance, both the frequency of certain speech acts—namely, commands —and the ways in which adults typically adjust their speech when talking to children—lots of repetition and simple constructions in the syntax, lexical choices with shorter and more frequent words, etc.—are indicative of the asymmetrical power relationship obtaining between adults and children. Similarly, the use of such overt markings in a language as the polite versus familiar address forms found in many European languages, described in the landmark study by Brown and Gilman 1960, is a means for indicating the relative social standing of participants in a conversation, and, as such, may—but need not always—reflect the relative power of one participant over the other, as, for instance when students use the polite form to teachers but receive the familiar form from the teachers. The remaining manifestations in (1) involve the occurrence of different linguistic codes within a given speech community or society. Regarding secret languages,2 it should be noted that while one does find rather trivial disguised speech systems, such as English Pig Latin, that are typically used for playful ends, there are other systems, such as Cockney Rhyming Slang,3 that are sociolinguistically more interesting and more revealing with regard to language and power, in that one of their primary functions, originally at least, involves protecting a group that is socially and socioeconomically powerless and weak from the possibility of abuses of power by the more powerful group. Fairclough's (1989: 90) characterization of secret languages in terms of a "dominated" discourse type set in opposition to a "dominant" is appropriate. A by-product of the disguising is the creation of solidarity within the using group...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-3265
Print ISSN
0738-1727
Pages
pp. 1-9
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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