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The Power Of Language Essay, Research Paper

The Power of Language

Bob Jones

11-19-96

period 3

Mrs. Fox

Of all possible human qualities, the one that wields the most power is

the ability to use, understand and communicate effectively through language. A

proficient use of language allows us to clearly communicate an exact idea from

one person to another person or group of people. This precise science of being

able to convey exactly what you want equates to the acquisition of power. An

important link between language and power is persuasion. The power of

persuasion is so strong it allows certain individuals to influence, and

therefore, control thousands, even millions, of people and bind them together in

search of one common cause.

This tactic of persuasion is also called propaganda. Propaganda is the

spreading of information in order to influence public opinion and to manipulate

other people’s beliefs. The message of propaganda is primarily intended to

serve the interests of the messenger, thereby increasing his power. All

propaganda is a systematic effort to persuade. The propagandist gives a one-

sided message, accentuating the good points of one side and the bad points of

the other position. Propaganda is most widely distributed through public

speaking and use of the mass media. The propagandist speaks in an attempt to

persuade the audience to believe his way. With the support of the audience, the

speaker gains power.

Propaganda as an art of persuasion has been used for thousands of years.

In the fifth century BC, when Pericles addressed his fellow Athenians on the

merits of their city compared to the tyranny of Sparta, he was making propaganda,

even though much of what he was saying was true. Many centuries later, Lenin,

the Soviet revolutionary, realized the value of propaganda to indoctrinate

educated people. He employed another tactic toward the uneducated, called

agitation. This process involved the use of slogans, stories, half-truths, and

even outright lies in order to avoid the need for complex arguments. The Nazi

government of Germany from 1933 to 1945, was very adept at propaganda. In

order to gain power, Adolf Hitler used his ability to tell each audience what

it wanted to hear. He stirred fears of communism when talking to businessmen,

and preached the values of socialism when talking to factory workers. After his

party won control of the government office, he appointed Joseph Goebbels as head

of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. Through Goebbels,

Hitler gained power over the press, radio, theater, films, music, and literature.

People naturally have this feeling, or intuition, about something. They

know how they feel and believe about a subject, but it is something that they

don’t take the time to verbalize; they merely contain it in their minds as a

belief. However, there are certain people who verbalize and put into words

these internal feelings of the masses and gain the trust of the people. These

certain people are our leaders. By speaking about and placing importance on the

beliefs and values that these people have never before heard articulated, the

leaders gain the confidence of the people.

Political leaders are the primary examples of the people we put our

trust in. In 1960, John F. Kennedy was elected to the office of President

after four nationally televised debates against vice-president Richard Nixon.

It was generally conceded that these debates helped Kennedy more than Nixon. In

April of 1961, after Russia successfully launched the first man into outer space,

John Kennedy asked for a greatly increased budget for space research. Kennedy

said, powerfully, ?I believe that this nation should commit itself, to achieving

the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon, and returning

him safely to the earth.? Kennedy is considered to have been a driving force

behind the mission to the moon which was successful in 1969. It was the power

of his language that made the trip possible. It was also Kennedy who coined the

phrase, ?Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your

country.? This became the battle cry for the capitalist, American way of life.

On January 26 and 27, 1830, the United States Senate heard one of the

greatest speeches ever delivered before it. Daniel Webster, senator from

Massachusetts, made the speech in answer to Senator Robert Hayne of South

Carolina. The issue was the nullification controversy. Hayne, a confederate of

John C. Calhoun, has said that the federal government was a mere confederation

of states and that the states could refuse to obey any laws passed by Congress.

Webster refuted Hayne’s notion with the memorable words, ?Liberty and Union, now

and forever, one and inseparable!? It placed Webster in the front rank of

American orators and won him enduring statesmanship.

There are other ways, besides public speaking that an effective use of

language can be used to gain power. Millions of people encounter written

language every day. Major novelists, such as John Grisham, have written several

best sellers that are read and enjoyed by many people. Various novels of

Grisham’s have been made into films that are seen at theaters. It is in this

way that John Grisham has gained power.

There are other examples that bear larger importance. On October 31,

1517, Martin Luther nailed to the door of the church in Wittenberg a list of 95

theses, or propositions. They denied the right of the pope to forgive sins

through the sale of indulges, among other challenges. The theses were widely

circulated in Germany and Europe and caused a great controversy. It was from

this demonstration of written language that later spawned the Protestant

Reformation.

On September 22, 1862, Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation that he

later called ?the central act of my administration, and the greatest event of

the nineteenth century.? This document, the Emancipation Proclamation, gave

freedom to all of the slaves held in the rebelling Confederate states. This

written document held a great deal of power and had an enormous impact of the

history of the United States. It serves as a further example of the power of

language.

Every day the are thousands of judicial trials going on in the world and

for each of them there is an attorney. Attorneys wield a great deal of power

through the language and ideas that they convey to the court. The power of

lawyers is priceless to some people, for in the language of their attorney lies

their life. In the extremely popular criminal case of O.J. Simpson, we see the

perfect example. Mr. Simpson hired a ?dream team? of lawyers to argue his case

for him and they were successful. Through the power of language, attorneys such

as Johnnie Cochran overcame massive scientific evidence, such as DNA blood

typing finding Mr. Simpson’s blood at the scene of the crime, to retrieve a ?

non-guilty’ verdict. Mr. Cochran invented the phrase, ?If the glove doesn’t fit,

you must acquit.? This clever slogan is an example of the how language can be

used to persuade people to think a certain way.

Language is encountered every day, by everyone, in one form or another.

Its power can be vast, unlimited, and far-reaching. A proficient use of

language can allow us to communicate an exact idea or to persuade others to one

point of view. Throughout history, leaders have used this fact to control their

constituents and the ?gullible masses.’ Propaganda is one form of persuasion

that is prevalent during war time and revolution. Famous politicians and

orators have used language to get them elected into office. Writers and authors

have used written language to convey their specific message as well. Language

is the basis for all knowledge and for all power.


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