Guide to Language Analysis

newspapersThe most fundamental aspect to Journalism, and a skill that is drilled into students of the field before anything else is language analysis. Why? (you may ask). Simple: because journalists are required to write persuasively in order to subtly sway the reader into thinking or believing x instead of y. Before they can develop the ability to write in this manner, however, they must first learn how to analyse writing and track down it’s use of subliminal language persuasion. Below you will find the tools that they use – persuasive language techniques and their application in the world of journalism. Comb through this list and see if you can find the following persuasive techniques being used in today’s paper.

Persuasive Techniques

TECHNIQUE

HOW IT PERSUADES

Evidence: information facts or statements Positions the reader and adds weight to back up contention, often seems objective and irrefutable.
Hyperbole:
also known as exaggeration or overstatement: stating the case too strongly; magnifying importance.
Makes a point dramatically to reinforce it. It is used to gain attention and can arouse strong or extreme emotional responses such as panic and anxiety to manipulate the reader. When used to generate fun and humour, it predisposes the reader positively to the point of view. Often used in headlines to GRAB attention.

Generalisation:

general statement that infers or claims that whatever is being asserted is true for most people or a majority because it is true in one or some cases.

Appeals to our general sense of what is true, may pick up on prevailing prejudices and stereotypes in the culture, uses emotional appeal to our agreed prejudices and untested opinions.

Graphs/Diagrams:

quickly and effectively explains and interprets information, it is more visual and stands out, it is the first thing the reader sees.

Makes the meaning of figures and statistics more readily accessible – looks scientific and reliable. Watch how they are used/abused. Eg on packets of cigarettes they sometimes have a graph stating the deaths related to murders, drugs, car accidents and cigarette smoking, the deaths for cigarette smoking is significantly north of all the other causes of death, yet the graph is dated 1995.
Inclusive Language:
includes the reader/audience, appeals to our sense of wanting to belong, be apart of the majority
Engages reader and is often friendly – gains sympathy or persuades reader to reject or endorse an idea.
Irony:
Implied or intended meaning is different, often the opposite, from the literal meaning.
A powerful device used for scorning others. Effective for humiliating opponents, often used in a sarcastic tone. A clever device that makes the point distinctively; engages the reader through tone, choice of words and by creating a ridiculous situation.
Language Style: how the writer writes (in terms of voice), the kind of language used to suit the writer’s purpose: eg formal, informal, colourful, plain, poetic, reasoned, informed etc Language style is deliberately used to influence the chosen audience. Eg a formal style creates an impression of authority that can impress readers with information, knowledge and importance. Colloquial styles are chatty, friendly and inclusive as readers are treated as equals. Language is accessible and familiar, slang and humour is often used in these instances.
Loaded Language: words that are ‘loaded’ with associations, This is a shorthand way of belittling or discrediting someone by suggesting association with undesirables. This tactic usually assumes the reader’s agreement with the ‘emotional baggage’ the words carry. Loaded words can be powerful in swaying the reader to a point of view and are exploited by writers who know how to position the reader for various purposes.Eg “our land has been raped” the word rape is a social stigma and when it is used in association with the land the reader makes parallels between the two and often feel disgusted, feeling as though the land is being mistreated against its will. If the reader makes the connection between land and ‘mother earth’ then this feeling of disgust will be even stronger. The point of loaded language is not to (using the above example) make the reader think about rape, but to transfer the negative emotions associated with the word to the situation being described – ‘our’ land being destroyed.
Metaphor:
a comparison that describes one thing in terms of another.
Can reinforce a point without mere repetition; images create interest – engages reader. In opinion articles and political comment, metaphors add colour, are often witty and original and can highlight a point.
Pun:
a play on words to suggest different meanings
Humorous, clever. Positions reader to enjoy the joke. Engages mind, often used in headlines and sub-headlines, attention getting device. Eg ‘Lord of the Lies’ or ‘Doughnuts are his ‘hole’ life’
Reason/Logic:
the use of an argument developed step by step with reasoning and evidence to support each main point, hard to disagree with.
Often takes into account the opposing viewpoint to help establish the strength of one side. Note that language can still be highly persuasive, reinforcing reason.
Repetition: repeated words, phrases, sentence patterns ideas, repeated words, phrases, sentence patterns ideas Gives emphasis and prominence to a point or idea; repeats ideas to reinforce point, makes reader remember point, drills it into the reader’s mind. Gives emphasis and prominence to a point or idea; repeats ideas to reinforce point, makes reader remember point, drills it into the reader’s mind. Gives emphasis and prominence to a point or idea; repeats ideas to reinforce point, makes reader remember point, drills it into the reader’s mind.
Rhetorical Questions: questions that have the answer embedded in them; they often use irony Powerful device to manipulate the reader to agree because they assume the answer is obvious. Can position the reader/audience in such a way that to disagree would be to dismiss some point that clearly commands agreement. Eg: ‘are we (inclusive) going to accept these third-world hospital conditions in our (inclusive) country?’ in this sentence, the use of inclusive rhetoric immediately plants the answer in the readers mind ‘no we are not going to accept these third world hospital conditions in our country’
Simile:
one thing is likened to another using ‘like’ or ‘as’
Clarifies and enhances an idea or situation. Effective if comparison is unexpected, as surprise can delight/shock; aptness of comparison can help make a point. Eg: he moved like a deflated balloon.
Analogy:
explaining something unfamiliar by comparing it to something that is familiar.
This is a widely used and very important technique, not only in language analysis but also in everyday conversation; it helps explain complex and novel situations/ideas by relating it to something that is similar but more easily understood. For example, to explain the complexity of human memory an analogy can be made to suggest that human memory works a lot like a computer: “human memory can be compared to a computer as they both deal with information in a sequence involving three key processes: encoding information into a useable form, storing the information on the hard drive/brain, and it’s retrieval or recovery when needed.”
Tone:
refers to the voice of the writer, the writer’s attitude to both the subject matter and the reader.
Reflects the writer’s attitude, which can position the reader to agree or reject something (especially if the writer is an expert in the field, his/her attitude on an issue therefore should reflect the general populations’ attitude on the issue. If the tone is very aggressive, the language itself can be forceful and assertive; a clam tone often informs a reasoned piece of writing. Changes of tone are important as they can signal a new direction, shift in attitude or feelings that affect the reader. Most articles shift in tone towards the end in a last ditch effort to suck in the reader.

Examples of Tone

Accusing Chauvinistic Embittered Matter of fact Sardonic
Admiring Complaining Empathetic Mocking Satirical
Admonishing Condescending Earnest Moderate Self righteous
Amused Confrontational Entertaining Sensible Sarcastic
Conservative Enthusiastic Opinionated Sensitive Anxious
Considerate Facetious Optimistic Solemn Aggressive
Apologetic Critical Forceful Passionate Understanding
Appalled Cynical Pensive Vindictive Appraising
Defensive Persuasive Voracious Approving Hopeful
Bitter Direct Indifferent Quizzical Biting
Direct Dogmatic Detached Humorous Boastful
Insensitive Reasonable Calm Disrespectful Insulting
Respectful Cautious Ironical Restrained Cheerful

Images

Images have a strong and immediate impact on readers and audiences in various ways. They:

  • Transport us visually to a story’s location
  • Give us a sense of the appearance and personality of key individuals/events
  • Illustrate the central elements of a story, enabling them to be quickly understood
  • Quickly and effectively jump out to the reader and usually asserts the writer’s contention.

The real meaning and persuasive effect of images come from their association to the viewpoint presented in the article; or they can suggest a contrasting viewpoint, perhaps making us regard certain statements in a more critical light.

Photographs

Photographs associated with an article do more than simply illustrate what is said in words. In general, they often have a powerful emotive impact that underpins their persuasive effect on a reader. More particularly, photographs can present or support a point of view by:

  • Highlighting an extreme aspect of the issue; for example, through a photograph of injured victims in a war zone.
  • Showing expressions on people’s faces that convey an emotion (eg happiness, anger, concern, sadness) and therefore making an impact on the reader.
  • Showing people in a familiar context in a way that encourages the reader to empathise with those people; for example, people standing in a crowded train carriage to reflect inadequate public transport.
  • Presenting a landscape – a natural or built environment – in a way that emphasises the beauty or ugliness of that setting, eg a panoramic photograph of a once beautiful beach, now littered with rubbish and plastic bags.
  • Setting up other ways to persuade the reader to agree; for example, by using graphic techniques and colour to show a key individual in a positive or negative light. This can position the reader to like/sympathise with/believe and support the person, or to dislike/distrust/reject them.

Cartoons

Because cartoons combine images and text, they can present a clear point of view on an issue, often embellishing or supporting the writer’s contention. Cartoons can also present a point of view that is related to, but distinct from, that of an accompanying article. They often don’t need any further explanation and are quicker to ‘take in’ than words and generally stay with the reader longer.

Cartoons use many persuasive techniques such as hyperbole, irony, puns and personal attack. They almost always use humour, and often satirically identify a comical or ridiculous angle to a current news story. They are an excellent way to attack individuals and comment on issues, especially in the political arena.

Emotional Appeals

Emotional appeals play on people’s feelings. They are called emotional appeals because they appeal to feelings rather than to people’s reasoned/logical responses. Many emotional appeals play on human vulnerability – insecurity and fear and threaten to deprive individuals of highly valued things like freedom, individual rights or justice. Writers can use emotional appeals in an overt or subtle way to influence the reader’s opinions and to evoke an emotional response. This manipulates the reader to respond to issues emotionally rather than rationally.

Appeal to a Sense of Justice

This is an appeal to a deep-seated belief that we all have the right to be treated fairly. It is a common form of appeal as people react quickly when they think they, or others, are victims of unjust circumstances. In Australia there is a keen sense of the right ‘to a fair go’ that is often used to appeal to our sense of justice.

Appeal to a Sense of Security

Appeals to our sense of security play on our need to feel safe and free from unexpected attack. These appeals are powerful because people strongly value adequate and continued protection from random attacks, acts of violence and other destabilising events that threaten to disrupt their lifestyle. If readers have been exposed to threats to their security either in person or because they lived through a major event, such as September 11, they may be more easily persuaded because of their heightened sense of fear. Writers may try to exploit the existing need for increased security, in order to persuade the reader to accept their viewpoint.

Appeal to a Fear of Change

As most people tend to resist change, this is a common way to play on people’s insecurities and increaser their desire to cling to what they know. Often the idea of confronting or experiencing new things is more challenging for people than staying within their comfort zone. Writers play on the human desire for comfort, safety and routine in order to make people uneasy about embracing new ideas, developments, social changes and new ways of doing everyday tasks.

Appeal to Freedom

Appeals to freedom tap into people’s deep desires for a sense of unrestricted possibilities. Everyone yearns for an ideal state of freedom. In democratic countries, where personal and political freedoms are highly valued, governments support individual human rights. People feel angry, cheated and protective of their own rights, especially if they believe their freedom is threatened. This strong desire for freedom can leave people open to manipulation by those who aim to exploit it for their own gain.

Appeal to Group Loyalty

Group loyalty is an appeal to the need to stick together under any circumstances. It does not allow for personal differences or disagreements within a group. This appeal can be used to inspire people to take action or it can play on their guilt, making them feel obliged to join or support a cause of their membership of a group.

Appeal to Patriotism

Patriotism is a devotion to the homeland and a readiness to support or defend the country. An appeal to patriotism exploits people’s loyalty to their country by suggesting it is under some kind of attack. These appeals can arouse feelings of anger, defensiveness, even outrage. Writers often use these kinds of emotional responses to elicit support from the reader.

Appeal to Tradition

This is an appeal to retain traditions and customs, which at one level is a resistance to change. However, it is also an appeal to retain links with the past and to value history and heritage. Appeals to tradition and custom include the protection of rituals that are seen to mark special occasions (a wedding) or have social significance (Anzac day marches or April fools day pranks). Writes often use this appeal to persuade people that a failure to retain tradition or observe customs will result in the breakdown of social cohesion and a sense of community or even undermine our national identity and weaken our moral values.

Generalisations

A generalisation is a sweeping statement that claims or asserts that something is true for most or all people because it is true in one or some cases. So we hear statements such as ‘the youth of today are irresponsible, selfish and lazy’ or ‘cities are not as safe now as they used to be’. Generalisation scan be very persuasive because they appeal to our general sense of what seems true and they also tap into social stereotypes and racial prejudices which are familiar. This familiarity can lull the reader into accepting the claim. The power of generalisations lies in their ability to appeal emotionally to untested opinions and group prejudices.

Inclusive Language

Inclusive language aims to involve the reader directly by assuming that everyone agrees or disagrees with the point being presented, Thus type of language engages the audience because of its friendly tone. Inclusive language is usually combined with appeals to community, family or patriotism to fuel the audiences feelings of social responsibility or common good, It directly involves us in the debate; we cannot sit back and be innocent bystanders when a writer used inclusive language.

The next step for someone on this road, is to begin writing language analysis essays in order to sharpen their own eye for persuasive techniques. The next part of this guide, fortunately enough for you, is a structured outline for writing these essays. So whether you are studying for your final VCE exams, undertaking a journalism degree, or simply love to learn and aquire new skills, the ‘how to write a language analysis essay’ guide will surely help you out!

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9 thoughts on “Guide to Language Analysis

  1. Pingback: How to Write a Language Analysis Essay | END OF THE GAME

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