Language has been a vehicle to push agendas for centuries. It can prove to be beneficial, or can be harmful if used to impose negative generalizations upon targeted groups of people. The link between language and oppression are jointed in seemingly mild ways. Granted by diction, euphemisms, and superiority complexes, a speaker can easily dominate thousands of individuals with the alteration of language. They evoke emotions in the words used to control, rationalize its use of logic in their justifications, and enforce power in the execution of said domination. It can be observed in spheres of politics, as well as journalism. The basis of oppression is verbalized by language.
The emotional gravity of the word “petrified” exceeds that of “scared.” Diction allows for a message to be communicated into a precise feeling, by choosing emotionally-charged language. In order to evoke empathy, words like these allow people to empathize. Empathizing with an oppressor is crucial in order for them to receive support. In this method, suppressive powers tug at the heartstrings of their audience members by using diction in their language. Without stimulating strong emotions, there is no motivation to take action against a perceived threat. Introducing fear into the population causes them to take action in order to minimize their distress. Though it begins in increments, it eventually leads to frantic strides that wouldn’t have been taken if it weren’t for fear. It begins by the normalization of derogatory names, followed by stereotypes, only to end at a systematic oppression that is deeply rooted in said society. It is best observed among politicians, whether it be during campaigns, formal addresses to the public, or court hearings.
It is easy to distance ourselves from things we cannot personally identify with, and become unconcerned about empathy. The implications that come along with packed words erase the humanity out of groups of people. A “problem” appointed as a certain group of individuals, live among the “superior” and requires a “solution.” This dehumanizes the “problematic” group of people, and reduces all of their individualities to a lifeless pairing of letters. There are no emotions given to numbers or statistics, as they aren’t living things. The solution usually implies a permanent answer that rids any stresses off of the threatened majority. Words that impose feelings of anger and disgust further dehumanize said group, and makes them a target of contempt.
As people forge proof of differences between “them” and the “other”, some biased professionals can administer dangerous falsities that many people may choose to believe as true. Credentials combined with linguistics is a dangerous pairing that further pushes the agenda of an oppressor. Complicated words backed by confusing data results can be easily acknowledged as true fact, accompanied by the right language. The evasion of certain words being replaced by more convenient ones change the intended message. If told or published by someone with strong credentials, many people will acquiescently believe whatever is proposed. As seen in the recent accounts of Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, evasion of details in the form of omitting words was rendered factual for years.
Something as simple as including or excluding descriptive words paints different portraits with either light or dark hues. In too many instances to ignore, white terrorists are not labeled as such but are “mentally-ill”. Recalling the Las Vegas Massacre, the Parkland Florida school shooting among hundreds of others, perpetrators were given mostly neutral adjectives and deflected from entirely negative connotations in headlines. As of recent, many western news publications were guilty of “humanizing” the terrorist who committed the New Zealand Mosque attack. Demonstrating their ability to twist words to their suiting, western tabloids and an Australian official were both effective in manipulating their language to simultaneously suit a personal and political agenda when speaking of said attack. Black and brown perpetrators almost immediately get labeled as a terrorist along with other descriptors when committing a crime of the same caliber. Journalists guilty of promoting yellow journalism portray a person in a bad light (even if they haven’t been in the forefront to whatever case they may be involved in). Their subjects get selective words and unwarranted information added to their descriptions in headlines. These are conveniently ascribed to intentionally portray the targeted individual or target in any type of angle they choose.
Selective publications may conveniently disguise or expose key elements of a movement suited in their favor. These tools endorse and promote a message being circulated. Authoritarian governments desperate to hide scandals and other crimes don’t hesitate to prosecute journalists in opposition of their regime. The power of diction transcends sentences on paper; makes its way into the minds of people in positions of power and weakens the infrastructure of oppressive governments. Controlling the undesirable and raw elements of oppression suffocates the voices of those who may be exposing an undervalued perspective. Like erasing a handwritten paragraph, its imprint is still left behind and does not lose its meaning. Overlooked perspectives tend to be drowned out among those that receive more praise. These unvisited avenues aren’t highlighted as they may hold truth in their messages, and could be in opposition of oppressive forces or clash with propaganda being circulated.
Is it possible to remove diction from language? No. It is what draws an audience to a headline, and moves crowds when telling stories. Without diction, there is no flavor added to the palette of language. However, the nature of man has proven relentless when altering words to suit personal or political agendas. There is no way to remove biases from our minds, just as it is interwoven into the fabric of language. A slight change in words discerns unintended observation to calculated manipulation. Seen in outdated literature, news excerpts, and other written accounts, this is a continuation of a practice stemming centuries before us. Perpetuated in campaigns, ideologies, and mass media, language either entices or repels as intended. Without language, the powers that be would not have a foundation to be upheld.