How leaders use political linguistics to woo the crowd

Professor Shakoor Shah explores how leaders use specific pronouns and words to captivate and manipulate the public. Politicians and leaders use political linguistics to exercise power over people, influencing their behavior, attitudes, and mind.

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It is difficult to envisage any political action without language. Political linguistics is the study of the relationship between language and politics. Politicians carefully craft their manifestos to convince the reader of their credibility.

Political linguistics is a tool of persuasion in politics as language is a tool to rule. It is not a neutral and translucent means to represent the social veracities. We normally cling to explicit meaning ignoring the implicit ones. Political discourse is insidious and powerful due to its burly authority to rule over the public to a larger extent. It influences public insight. The significant proceedings are appropriately wrought to present publically as their outlook.

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Political linguistics plays a paramount role in obtaining public favors, backing, and disfavor. Politicians either deliver a speech within a nationwide framework or in the public background, in government or out of it, they endeavor to manipulate language.

Politicians opt for this loom for political expansion, power and to accomplish their schema. Political linguistics is used in every field of life from domestic to global affairs. The most common form is used in power politics. Politicians tame masses via linguistic tools. We are being beguiled and befooled for decades by such linguistics tools.

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Language differentiating between individuals and groups

US presidential candidate Dole used “I, you” and “they” more, whereas Clinton employed the audience-inclusive “we” heavily. “(I) think” and “can(not)” were the most frequently used hedging devices by Obama (19%) and Romney (38%) while “make(ing) sure” and “will (not), ‘ll, won’t” were the most frequently used boosters by Obama (15%) and Romney (31%), respectively.

In terms of category, the data showed that “modal auxiliary verbs” attained the highest frequency for both hedging (36% for Obama vs. 56% for Romney) and boosting (36% for Obama vs. 50% for Romney), in which the modal auxiliary “can(not)” records the highest frequency for hedging used by both, while the modal auxiliaries “(‘ve) got to” and “will (not), ‘l’ll, won’t” were the most frequent boosters used by Obama and Romney, respectively.

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The pronoun “I” is used when the speaker wants to speak as an individual rather than as a representative of a group while the pronoun “we” is used to invoking a sense of collectivity and to share responsibility, and to avoid referring to himself/herself as an individual.

“I” can be divided into several types such as to express a speaker’s opinion, to describe a speaker in a positive image, to create relationships with audiences, to show personal involvement or commitment, and to show a speaker’s authority.

Different ideologies between the subjective pronouns “we” and “they” and the objective pronouns “us” and “them” were found in the way in which “we” was usually used to highlight the good relationship of the speaker and the listeners while “they” was used to separate the self and others.

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Donald Trump used more personal pronouns “I” and “we” than Hilary Clinton in their presidential election in 2016.

Manipulating the public through linguistics

The public complaints to politicians are the result of misunderstanding political linguistics. The political speech delivered in local or national language has variant meanings. Delivering a speech in a local language shrinks the distance between the speaker and the listeners and vice versa, it distances both.

The traditional opening sentences of political discourse are used to manipulate public sentiments. Silence represents triviality while the subject is constructed on the party’s agenda. Through the pronoun, “we” the speaker assimilates himself with the listeners which more often remain potentially ambiguous. Similarly, the listeners may grip the subject position as him.

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“We” is also confusing as it is unclear whether it means public or government. Through pronouns, politicians shake off responsibility from their shoulders. “Our”, is used to show the collective union of ideas unlike “we” which suggests possession and capacity. Through “we” the speaker assimilates himself with those who struggle, towards the masses or the sacrificing people.

“I” pattern shows the subject’s position as a powerful and dominating status and representative of the government. “You”, is generally and effectively used to talk about ordinary people. It helps to create solidarity among people on one hand, and commonality of experience on the other in working-class discourse.

At the lexical level, the speaker can easily be judged by the use of his connotation, alliteration, and by choice of vocabulary items. Politicians also use certain intensifiers to avoid the intensity of the real issue to the listener. They encompass the emotional discourse as the conscious filters concentrate on the feeling alone. Through vocabulary, they keep the audience to the structural level and control the subject level.

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Exercising power on people through political linguistics

The politicians keep on shifting subjects to decentralize the audience and subject. The structural shift from active to passive and narration often beguiles the masses. The politicians use a technique of categorization to distance the groups.

Expressive and relational modalities also play a crucial role in political discourse. These are maintained via modal auxiliaries, tenses, and adverbs. The use of “must” helps the politician acquire all the power to make them seem like the one who is in a position to impose orders on people.

The politicians also make use of argumentative styles. The intonation pattern and rhythm of the speech further explains the situation, intentions, and expectations of the speaker. The facial expressions, postures, and physical movements of the speaker are also analyzed in the language of power politics.

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The rhythmic movements show confidence and belief. The rise and fall of his voice vividly show preferences. Stressing the pattern exposes his public or self-orientation. Regretfully, a layman is unaware of the linguistic maze and is often beguiled by the politicians. Language is biased to convey meanings.

Political linguistics is used to exercise power over people influencing their behavior, attitudes, and mind. The poor are sacrificed on a political altar with a linguistic dagger. Political linguistics mixed with the public sphere affects both the speaker and recipient.

Political linguistics is internally gritty by its place in politics and outwardly dogged by its connections to fields other than politics. Through political linguistics, the politicians have the capacity to carry out promised reality into a new reality and in the end, it always proves to be an illusion.

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The writer is Prof. of English and a freelance columnist, based in Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at: The views expressed in the article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space. 



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