Thoughts on Politics & Language

The manifestation of power in societies is seen through the use of language. Power is achieved through language and it exploits it to perpetuate beliefs and ideologies. In politics this is very often the case. Political parties’ ideologies are transmitted by using very effective linguistic techniques. ‘Politicians have to find ways of making an impact on the public…’ (Thomas-Wareing, 1999: 32). And often, these techniques are aimed at controlling people’s thoughts. Politicians make people believe that what they want is what the people want; ‘they imply a manufactured common sense’.

It is very important to analyse a manifesto in order to understand how a political party often manipulates individuals by choosing the ‘right’ language to communicate its message. Unfortunately, many ‘…linguistic strategies are used to avoid making direct and honest statements…’ (Thomas-Wareing, Ibid). This choice of language may include metaphors, claptraps, soundbites, comparative forms, repetition of certain words or phrases to stress a particular vision or opinion, the use of certain pronouns as well as the omission of others, a particular choice of verb tenses-have you noticed how rarely the future tense is actually used?-, asking rhetorical questions and suggesting answers, and other devices….

One other device is the particular variation of time and verb tenses. The past tense is not so frequently used except to stress accomplishments in the past or to state other parties’ failures. What is used instead is the present perfect tense. This denotes the idea of goals achieved but at the same time some continuity. Certain objectives are said to have been achieved, people should see the results, ‘we are still working’ and therefore ‘we will continue to do so’, ‘People have been liberated…’, ‘We have created a better country….’

The present tense is used to emphasise the fact that individuals have the chance to vote ‘now’ for the right party. It is ‘the time’ to make the ‘right’ decision. ‘X people have now the opportunity of a prosperous future…’, ‘The only way to secure this future is to…’. It seems like the only ‘good’ alternative is them and the moment is ‘now’. People are encouraged to feel a duty or obligation to vote for them.

The future tense is hardly ever used. Notably there is very little information about the party’s proposals for the future. Do people really know what those politicians would be doing if they were the government? Not always. There is certainly no explanation of the policies they would adopt to carry out all the aims put forward. Manifestos tend to be a plain exposition of their ideology….

From The Manifesto Analysis, 2004. By Patricia C Prada Jimenez