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Hateful and oppressive communication surrounds us: cat calls and (to paraphrase Kamala Harris) dogwhistles through bullhorns. Yet the standard paradigm for analyzing meaning in analytic philosophy of language and generative linguistics involves identifying “content”, the neat and sterile way that a description of the world is "packaged" into words. Orwell saw clearly that the power of propaganda rests not in what it describes, but in how it takes hold of people, and forms them into a mass with collective behaviors and emotions:
Oppressive speech practices must be understood not in terms of how they describe the world, but in terms of their emotional impact, cultural resonances, and power to mark group affiliation. I will outline a model in which the resonances of words help establish collective attunement to communicative practices and to the broader oppressive ideologies. In this model, notions of attitudinal accommodation (from David Lewis) and behavioral accommodation (from Howard Giles) are seen as special cases of a general tendency people have to harmonize attitudes, dispositions and emotions both internally, and with the groups to whom they are affiliated.
My presentation will be drawn from a forthcoming book with Jason Stanley, “The Politics of Language”, to appear with Princeton University Press. The view we develop is in line with Orwell and Klemperer: what is central in shaping both short and long-term impacts of oppressive speech is not intentions and truth conditions, but resonance and coherence.
Bio: David Beaver (PhD University of Edinburgh, 1995) has been a faculty member at UT since 2006, with a primary affiliation in the Department of Linguistics. He is also a professor by courtesy in the Department of Philosophy, and a faculty affiliate of the Human Dimensions of Organization program. He works primarily in the semantics and pragmatics of language, with broader interests in cognitive science. He is a managing editor of the LSA journal Semantics and Pragmatics, which he co-founded. Prior work includes the books "Presupposition and Assertion in Dynamic Semantics" (CSLI Publications, 2001) and "Sense and Sensitivity: How Focus Determines Meaning" (Oxford: Blackwell 2008, coauthored with Brady Clark). Current projects include building up a new UT undergraduate program in Applied Cognitive Science.
Via Zoom: 2:00PM - 3:15PM CST
Meeting ID: 942 6225 2906
Tuesday, April 27 at 2:00pm to 3:15pmVirtual Event