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The Language And Power English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 4247 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Language is a very significant thing in our life. Therefore, it can be either “empowering or disempowering” relying on how its used and who is using it? The reason of my paper is to discover the diverse dimensions of the relations of power and language. First, I shall talk about two different types of power of the language. Then, I shall quote, discuss, and illustrate a piece of an interview that concentrates upon how unequal power practiced by unequal encounters has a correlation with the use of the language. Moreover, I shall distinguish between three types of constraints that appeared through discourse. Then, I shall analyze and exemplify a small text from the media to show how the uses of vocabulary, grammar, and the textual structures have a significant role as a hidden power in discourse. Additionally, I shall analyze a short extract to show how “social struggle in discourse” occurs. Finally, I shall give my conclusion.

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According to Norman Fairclough the power of the language can either appear overtly or covertly and categorized into two types: “power in discourse and power behind discourse”. “Power in discourse” is found where “relations of power” are applied and performed in “face-to-face spoken discourse, power in cross-cultural discourse in which contributors belong to various ethnic groups, and the hidden power” which is located in the discourse of the “mass media.” “Power behind discourse works with how arrangements of discourse as dimensions of the social orders of social institutions or societies are themselves formed and composed by relations of power.” (Fairclough, Ch. 3, p. 36)

Let us start our discussion with a type of “power in discourse” in terms of “face to face discourse” where the encounters have unequal power. Text 1 is an extract from an interview transcript of Larry King with Chris Brown, Brown’s attorney (Mark Geragos), and Brown’s mother (Joyce Hawkins). Some indicative keys to help the reader in reading the script such as, a dot (.) means a short cease, three dots (…) mean longer cease, and the two square brackets are overlapping and interruption. We need to know that powerful participants have several devices, which can be used in order to practice a control over less powerful participants such as, “interruption, enforcing explicitness, controlling topic, formulation, and turn taking”. (Fairclough, Ch. 5, pp. 112-113, Text 1 in appendix)

In text 1 we can see how King practices control and power over Brown, his attorney, and his mother. He controls the topic, and he is in a position that allows him to practice his power through posing intricate and critical questions. King interrupts Brown five times- in (11), (29), (35), (58), and (69) and one time he interrupts Hawkins in (45). King here is not doing all these interruptions just because he wants to. However, he is “enforcing explicitness” to make Brown’s meaning clear by asking things like in (3), (4), (5), and (6). Also, he overlaps and interrupts Brown in order to control his statement and to make sure that his answer is truthful and unambiguous because King knows that Brown has amnesia, for example, in (28) and (29). (Fairclough, Ch. 3, p. 38 &Text 1 in appendix)

Furthermore, King exercises his power even over Brown’s attorney; in (11) (“what did you plead… explain, quickly, Mark, what he pled guilty to.”) It is clear that he has full control over the situation and over everybody involved in the discourse which we notice it in the way the turn taken is managed. King has the authority to select the next speaker. In conversation between unequal participants, turn-taken rights are unequal too. (Fairclough, Ch. 5, p. 112 & Text 1 in appendix)

Moreover, we can see the way in which King is overtly repeating Brown’s answers in (4), and (5) (“possibly”) and in (25) and (27) (“it’s fair”) as if he is asking him are you sure? Also, it seems to be that King is evaluating the time that Brown and his mother (Hawkins) went through such as in (3) and (19) (“this had to be the worst period of your life”), (“especially with all this pain you’ve had in your life”). Another point is that Brown and Hawkins are “put in the spot” in the series of questions of turns (43), (45), (47), (49), (53), (55), (57), (68), (70), (72), and (74). The questions compose a tactically ordered series which makes Brown and his mother hesitate in their answers, which associated with many longer pauses – in (44), (46), (48), (56), (58), (71), (73), and (75). (Fairclough, Ch. 3, p. 38 & Text 1 in appendix)

In addition, we notice that King is using an excessive amount of interrogative sentences. Some of the questions were formed grammatically negative such as in (33) (“The sentencing judge, as I understand it, has not lifted a protective order the court imposed on you in connection with Rihanna. That means you can’t be with her?”), (39) (“But you cannot go together?”) and (73) (“No, well, let’s say … could you conceive of that down the road?”) this type of questions makes Brown look guilty, looser and deserve what had happed to him. (Fairclough, Ch. 3, p. 38 & Text 1 in appendix)

Now, let us consider some constrains that donate specific linguistic forms. According to Fairclough, text 1 shows three types of constrains in: contents, relations, and subjects. In terms of contents (topic), Brown is accused of beating his fiancé Rihanna, and he is trying to clear himself in front of King and the rest the world, also his mother “insists” that Brown has never been an aggressive individual and his attorney trying to explain to King the status of Brown at this moment. We can see how the formality of the situation applies a specific kind of attitudes and particular types of vocabulary. Also, in terms of relation, we can see the social relation between the encounters is very formal; King represents a professional relation to his guest, Nevertheless, Brown is the son of Mrs. Hawkins, so their relation ship is intimate (mother and son).

Furthermore, in terms of subject position, King occupies a reporter position who is exercising his authority over Brown, Hawkins, and Geragos, Brown is accuser, and Geragos is an attorney. Notice how King has the right to ask questions, whereas, his guests have only obligation to comply and answer. As well, we can see that these constraints received from the “conventions of the discourse type” which is being derived from. Consequently, we come to say that “power in discourse is to do with powerful participants controlling and constraining the contribution of non-powerful participants, and can indirectly constrain them by selecting the discourse type.” (Fairclough, Ch. 3, p. 39 & Text 1 in appendix)

Now, I shall consider another type of power in discourse. It is the hidden power in mass media. This kind of discourse engages members who are “separated in place and time”. Actually, mass-media discourse has a very neat nature. Its power relation is usually covert and engages “hidden relations of power.” The main different thing between face-to-face discourse and media discourse is the “one-sidedness. In media discourse, there is a strong separation between producers and interpreters- maybe because media product has the “nature of a commodity, between producers and consumers.” Media’s text is designed for “mass audiences”, which mean for everybody because it is hard for the writer to specify his audience. Therefore, media discourse has created into it a “subject position for an ideal subject”. (Fairclough, Ch. 3, p. 41)

The journalist in text 2 exercises power over readers in that he has full rights and can therefore, decide what is contained and omitted, how events are appeared, and even the “subject positions” of their spectators. Look at the interrogative question in (A) (“Does Chris Brown have amnesia?”); the writer is engaging and positioning his readers in a certain way to answer the question (yes or no). Furthermore, the title is in bold to pull all readers’ attention to the more important sentence. The use of clear agent in the first sentence (A) makes us focus on Brown himself and his incident. In the second part of the text (B), the writer omitted purposely the name of Brown’s ex-fiancé (Rihanna) to avoid dragging the audience attention. Moreover, the use of the negative grammatical form in (B) (“No, I don’t. It’s like, it’s crazy to me”) and in (C) (“I’m in shock, that’s not who I am as a person. And that’s not who I pride myself on being”), shows the readers that Brown is not guilty, and he is not happy about what he did due to his sickness. We can see how the writer is manipulating his audiences, he is exercising his “hidden power” by not telling directly that Brown is innocent, but he is covertly trying to convey his message by controlling his audience to make them come to a specific conclusion (Brown is innocent). (Fairclough, Ch. 5, pp. 103-5 & Text 2 in appendix)

Furthermore, we notice that the representation of Brown is another form of constraint on contents such, representations cumulatively stereotype famous “R&B singer” and more generally the singer of favored public figures, and so constrain the meanings people attach to them. Once we read the article, we don’t find that Brown obviously said to be innocent, and needs our sympathy. The process relies totally on an “ideal reader’s” ability to deduce that from the list of his answer. Brown expresses his shock of what happed, he can’t remember what actually happen, he is concerned for his career, he is trying to rescue his reputation, he is trying to stimulate the reader’s sympathy and forgiveness, he wants his audience to feel pity for him. Nevertheless, this indicates that what are being constrained are not only contents but also subjects: the process presumes an “ideal reader” who will certainly make the right deduction from the list, in another meaning to have the right idea about who Brown is. (Fairclough, Ch. 3, pp. 44-5 & Text 2 in appendix)

We have to know that not all photographs have the same effect. Journalists usually are clever. They make an ideal choice of a photograph that gives one image of a scene or a person from many likely images. The selection is very significant because “different images convey different meanings.” In the example (D), we can see our attention is drawn particularly by Brown’s eyes and facial expression; he is looking in the right side with a broken hart and sad face. Notice the clear function of the caption. It leads us to feel sorry, pity, and sympathy with him. (Fairclough, Ch. 3, p. 45 & Text 2 in appendix)

Media’s texts have a particular way of positioning and directing the reader towards the side that they like. The hidden power of the media text can be the journalist, the editor, or other people whom we don’t know, and it is always manipulative and covert. (Fairclough, Ch. 3, pp. 46)

Our last text 3 is concerned with “social struggle in the discourse”. “Power in discourse or behind discourse” is not enduring and “undisputed” characteristic of any individual or social grouping. Quite the opposite, those who practice power at a specific instant, have to continually reemphasize their power and authority, and those who don’t have power are constantly likely to seek for power. This is a fact, whether at the level of the specific situation, “or in terms of a social institution, or in terms of a whole society”. According to Fairclough “power at all these levels is won, exercised, sustained, and lost during social struggle.” (Fairclough, Ch. 2 & 3, pp. 28, 57)

Let us illustrate text (3) which is a good example where a struggle is overt and clear. It is an investigation situation where the interrogator is questioning the pensioner about his involvement in a crime. There are numerous ways in which (P) practices more supremacy over the discourse than anyone might imagine, goes beyond his “discoursal rights” and does not complete his “obligations”. Firstly, he challenges (I)’s questions three times (turn 2, 4, and 6) rather than answering them immediately. Secondly, in (2 and 6) (P) asks questions that are not related at all to the situation and go beyond it, conversely, (I) is not answering (P), but he is asking him another question in order to keep him in the track. Lastly, it seems that (P) shows no sign of cooperation. He appears to treat the investigator as a “peer”, and act as if the interrogation is a normal conversation (2, 4, and 6), nevertheless, (I) success in maintaining a lot of control over the situation. “While the struggle at the situational level is over power in discourse, struggle at the other levels may also be over power behind discourse.” (Fairclough, Ch. 3, pp. 57-9 & Text 3 in appendix)

To sum up, I think this discussion was really useful and productive. At my work, I usually practice my power through the use of language because it can be used as a perfect instrument for practicing a power over others. For example, my pose exercises his power over me and I exercise my power over other employers who are under my authority. Accordingly, as I said at the opening of this essay language can either be “empowering or disempowering” depending on various reasons. It is wonderful what language can do.


Text 1

Chris Brown appeared on Larry King with his attorney and his mother, Joyce Hawkins, who insists that Brown has never been a violent person.

KING: It’s Chris Brown exclusive, right now next, on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. With us tonight on LARRY KING LIVE are Chris Brown; his mother, Joyce Hawkins; and his attorney, Mark Geragos.

Chris entered a guilty plea on June 22nd … a deal that allowed him to avoid jail time. He pled guilty to felony assault after a widely publicized incident with his girlfriend, Rihanna. A second felony charge, making criminal threats, was dropped. And Chris was sentenced to five years probation and six months of community labor.

We thank you all for coming. How are you doing?

BROWN: I’m good. Thank you.

KING: This had to be the worst period of your life.

BROWN: ….Possibly, yes.

KING: Possibly????

BROWN: …Yes.

KING: Are things calm for you now? Are you into it?

BROWN: I think it’s more a relief now that everything is kind of all said and done as far as like what I have to do and em…what’s going on. I think it’s no more .. no more media frenzy for them to kind of blow out of proportion anymore.

KING: So you’re glad it’s over?


KING: What did you plead …explain, quickly, Mark, what he pled guilty to.

MARK GERAGOS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Assault, basically, was what it is … a felony assault charge; sentenced to five years of probation; as you said, 180 days of what Judge Schnegg calls community labor. And he has to undergo a domestic violence program for one year.

KING: And five years means you’ve got to be like perfect…

GERAGOS: It means he walks the straight and narrow for five years. And as Judge Schnegg said in court yesterday, she’s…. she’s a tough task master, but she’s fair.

KING: We’re taping this a week before it airs, so it’s airing on this night, but that was yesterday, meaning last Tuesday.

GERAGOS: That was.

KING: And before we get into the meat of everything, Chris, how have you handled all this, Joyce?

JOYCE HAWKINS, CHRIS BROWN’S MOTHER: It’s probably the most painful time of my entire life. It’s been hard, really hard, seeing him going through the pain and everything that he’s gone through, dealing with the media and dealing with the situation. It’s been really hard.

KING: Especially with all the pain you’ve had in your life.

HAWKINS: Yes, along with that.

KING: Which we’ll get to later. But the labor-oriented service, what …. what does it mean you have to do, Chris? This is back in Virginia, right?

BROWN: Yes, back in Virginia.

KING: What do you have to do?

BROWN: I think they want me to do anything…. anything from picking up trash on the side of the street, washing cars, graffiti removal, I mean any….anything. But it’s the law, so I’m willing to do whatever they want me to do.

KING: Is it fair?

BROWN: To me, possibly everything comes …. everything comes with consequences. So I feel like definitely it is. And I have no misjudgment on what the judge has … has … has given me. So I’m willing to do anything they ask.

KING: So you feel it’s … it’s fair?


KING: Yes. The judge was very specific. She wanted labor involved in the punishment.


KING: What did that mean to you when she said that, hard work?

BROWN: Hard work, yes, definitely. And I’m a very hard worker, so that … that’s kind of .. I wouldn’t say second nature, but it’s definitely something that I’m willing to … to do. As far as the actual what I have to do, I felt personally that, as far as not saying as … as a celebrity, because I don’t exclude myself and try to become like, oh, I’m a celebrity so I shouldn’t be punished. But I feel like with … with what I’m capable of doing as far as influencing people, influencing kids, the youth, I can do a lot more to help the community other than picking up trash. But I don’t … I’m not saying picking up trash is something wrong. I’m willing to do it. But I’m just saying, I know I can do a lot more, which I intend to do, aside from our community service.

KING: The sentencing judge, as I understand it, has not lifted a protective order the court imposed on you in connection with Rihanna. That means you can’t be with her?

BROWN: No, I can’t. I can’t communicate. Nothing.

KING: Do you think that’s fair?

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BROWN: It’s kind of hard, definitely, because being … her being my friend for so long and us being … being that close of a friend, it’s kind of like, wow, like, not being able to see or talk to that person is kind of … kind of difficult. And … but it’s … it’s also hard because we’re both in the same industry. We do … we go to the same events. We…

KING: That you can do, right?

BROWN: Yes, I can go to the same event. We haven’t (INAUDIBLE)…

KING: But you cannot go together?

BROWN: Not … not at all. We have to be like 10 yards away from each other, but I just feel like it’s harder, because we’re always in the same vicinity, and it leaves more … because we have the protection order, it leaves more room for error. It leaves more room for people to start rumors and start … start more stuff, like, oh, they’re together. They’re not supposed to be together. And … and it just kind of leaves more room for … for problems.

KING: You have to be real careful, right, Mark?

GERAGOS: Yes, more than careful. I mean there was an incident … a supposed incident in New York where the two of them … unbeknownst to each other because they don’t talk to each other … are rumored to be at the same hotel. So before … before we even verify it, I just tell him, move. So, you know, it’s almost … I’ve kiddingly joked, we almost have to put GPS chips into the two of them to figure out where the other one is at all times.

KING: How well do you know Rihanna, Joyce?

HAWKINS: I’ve known Rihanna for four or five years. And…

KING: Do you like her?

HAWKINS: er…I like her, yes.

KING: When the incident happened, how did it hit you?

HAWKINS: Like I said, em…I was devastated. I was really upset about the situation and really felt really…er…em.. bad about this whole situation really…

KING: Were you shocked?

HAWKINS: Very shocked. Very shocked.

KING: We’ll get into all of it. During the sentencing, the judge said she was not immune from the chatter on the airwaves about meetings between you and Rihanna.


KING: Now, obviously, it upset her, right?


KING: Do you understand that part?

BROWN: Yes, I understand that totally. Of course, like, the media, like … I’m not saying this media … but the media, as far as like the … the … the immature media, you know…

KING: Immature media?

BROWN: The immature media. I feel like it’s high school sometimes, how people just pride theirself on personal business. But like I feel like they … they spun a lot of the stuff out of control, as far as with … with the judge, with a lot of things, because everybody reads the newspapers. Everybody reads the blogs. Everybody reads stuff like that….er…em…So it’s easily influenced when there’s something that’s already stated like it happened.

KING: But what happened happened.


KING: And you were involved in what happened…


KING: … So you have to accept the consequences.

BROWN: Definitely.

GERAGOS: You know, the difference in this case … and I’ve been through a number of cases where there was media attention … the difference in this case is the aftermath of the incident, where there was repeatedly just false stuff that would be printed. And major newspapers would put out things … they’re … they spent the weekend together here or they spent the weekend together there, which was just false. They weren’t even … at one point, they said the two of them had spent the night together in one location. She wasn’t even in the country.

KING: Simply put, when was the last time you had contact with her?

BROWN: It’s been a couple months, because I think that’s when the actual stay away order was in effect. … er…So from there, we haven’t had contact at all.

KING: Do you love her?

BROWN: Definitely.

KING: In love with her?

BROWN: er…em..Definitely.

KING: Would you spend a lifetime with her?

BROWN: Would I spend a lifetime … well, er… I mean, em…I’m 20, so…

KING: No, well, let’s say … could you conceive of that down the road?

BROWN: em.. I … yes.

KING: We’ll be right back with Chris Brown, Joyce Hawkins and Mark Geragos. Don’t go away.

Text 2

Media Text

Does Chris Brown have amnesia? That sure looks like it when the R&B singer spoke for the first time in public about the incident that rocked the entertainment world a few months ago

When asked whether he remembers beating up his ex-girlfriend, Brown replies: “No, I don’t. It’s like, it’s crazy to me. I’m like, wow.” Brown adds, “When I look at the police reports or I hear about the police reports, I don’t know what to think. I just don’t know what to think. It’s just like, wow.

I just look at it like, wow, I’m in shock, ’cause first of all, that’s not who I am as a person. And that’s not who I pride myself on being.”


Text (3)

Transcript from the series Criminal Minds was shown on Friday 1st January 2010, at 21:30, on MBC Action. It was an investigation between a prisoner and investigator:

The investigator is showing some pictures for several dead girls.

(I): Investigator: Why did you kill these girls?

(P): Prisoner: Would you like to see a trick?

(I): Investigator: How many girls did you kill?

(P): Prisoner: pick a card.

(I): Investigator: Where did you bury them?

(P): Prisoner: Do you ever smile? It is hard to trust a person who does not smile.


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