What makes one set of words more convincing than another, and how can language best be put to work in the service of diplomacy and international relations?
This course promotes language awareness as a means of improving the skills of opinion shapers. Close attention is paid to case studies of treaties, presidential speeches, public announcements, government advertising and media materials in order to link theoretical discussion to practical examples. Since effective communication has much to do with reading intentions and contexts correctly, insights are provided into relevant cultural, social and psychological variables.
By the end of this course, participants should be able to:
- Define and explain selected concepts in the field of linguistics, including Speech Act theory, semantics, speech communities, and politeness.
- Define and explain concepts and techniques related to politics and international relations, including soft power, persuasion, and spin.
- Explain and provide examples of common linguistic tools such as ambiguity, metaphor, analogy and inference.
- Analyse textual materials (treaties, speeches, governmental advertising, media) using the linguistic tools presented in the course.
- Analyse images in terms of their influence on our perception of the world.
- Construct effective textual and visual messages employing the tools presented in the course.
Excerpt from course materials
It is not so much what people say but what they mean by what they say – what they intend to convey – that needs to be understood. This is best done in context and involves a process of inference in which all relevant factors are brought to bear in the course of interpretation. As we shall see, because intended meaning is not always overtly stated (this is the case in metaphor, ambiguity, suggestion, implication and politeness, for instance), interpretation is largely context dependent. It is for this reason that this course does not provide lists of set expressions but focuses instead on the dynamics between intended and inferred meaning. We have also noted that there is a close relationship between speech acts, authority and integrity. Where a speaker fails to deliver, as in the case of broken promises, empty threats or false apologies, he is seen as lacking credibility and integrity. He will lose the good faith of his audience, much as the boy who cried wolf did. This may also happen at an institutional level, where the authority granted to the powers that be may become eroded though lack of follow-through. Perceived lack of integrity comes at a high political cost.
- Language as action: This session focuses on the importance of context and inference in understanding intended meaning, especially when meaning is expressed indirectly. It also considers the many ways in which diplomatic language is performative, from the operative verbs in UNSC resolutions and diplomatic reporting to diplomatic signalling and conversational innuendo.
- Building relationships: Sensitivity to cultural and individual differences can make or break relationships. We look at the relationship between directness and discourtesy, consider the notion of ‘face’ and analyse how indirectness is expressed in English. Comparison with other languages shows that many of the distancing devices of courtesy are universal, as are the issues raised by courtesy: genuineness, gender, altruism vs self-promotion, nature vs nurture.
- Securing agreement: How can we use the resources of language to secure agreement, reconcile divergent views and defuse disagreement? What causes divisiveness and how can we recognise linguistic warning signs, such as ad hominem attacks, generalisations, polarisation and othering. We consider various conciliation strategies such as addressing the individual, securing common ground, and expanding the circle of inclusion.
- Framing an argument: This lecture looks at various ways of framing and reframing one’s argument, from assertion to pre-emptive arguments, selective disclosure, appeals to authority, precedent, and emotion, as well as typecasting, connotations, metaphors, analogies, and clusivity. We analyse a public speech and suggest some Hard Talk simulation exercises.
- Persuasion: We recast the three components of classical rhetoric (logos, pathos and ethos) into ‘hard’, ‘soft’ and ‘smart’ persuasion. Hard persuasion involves the power of reason and the use of evidence. Soft persuasion is concerned with emotional and imaginative appeal, as achieved through connotations, figures of speech, etc. Smart persuasion involves the credibility, authority and expertise of ‘ethos’ but also the clever combination of hard and soft attributes, such as in the astute deployment of logical fallacies.
- Force and grace: This lecture considers how to defuse, evade, reframe, assert and otherwise negotiate confrontational settings by practising a range of devices, from discourse connectives to the ABC media-management strategy: Acknowledge, Bridge, Communicate. Since holding one’s ground need not entail hostility, we consider how to remain firm on resolve but graceful in delivery.
- Ambiguity: Ambiguity can both create and accommodate disagreement. This lecture identifies seven types of ambiguity, and distinguishes between linguistic and constructive ambiguity (the latter refers not to a type of ambiguity, but to its deployment for particular ends). Since ambiguity allows for divergent interpretation, it is important to know how to create it where advantageous, and how to recognise and challenge it where it works against us.
- Diplomacy and the unsaid: Much of the power of communication resides in what is not said explicitly, but is nevertheless conveyed implicitly. We consider the role of the unsaid in diplomacy, and identify four categories of implicit communication: gaps, focus (vagueness at one end and loaded questions at the other), stories in a capsule and face-space. This final lecture acts as a revision of the previous topics by approaching them from a different angle.
7 Oct 2019