November 19, 2012

Keller and Burke and the linguistics of identity

Upon reading George's article "Mr. Burke, Meet Helen Keller", i was struck by a particularly profound realization of the nature of the practice of linguistic articulation itself is a manifestation of and a variable factor within the epistemological framework of any given society. However it is important to note that the fundamental element which dictates the way in which a speech or text is interpreted doesn't lie within the meaings granted to the words themselves, but it may more lie within the way in which the perceived accepted meanings of words are exploited to serve within a certain frame of context. Such an example of the manipulation of linguistics may be observed in the "power of cultural pieties to blind people to alternative perspectives"(george340).

Both Burke and Keller realized the power of social conditioning, particularly within the capitalistic society of the United States, and particularly in regards to the enormous influence of the construction of "cultural values" in relation to the manner in which people perceived reality in general. "Burke uses the terms trained incapacity and piety to account for people's resistance to change."(George341). In this observation we may realize that the cultural precepts that we acknowledge and accept as members of a certain culture, in this case American culture, we are endowed with certain frames of thought that mold and shape our conception of the nature of our reality, such as the commonly held ideal of "liberty". Liberty is an immaterial form, or a symbolic representation of a system of belief of which we have all been taught to cherish as members of a democratic society, and it is undoubtedly true that our concept of liberty as a cornerstone of our society shapes the manner in which we act and react to other societies throughout the world. However, the immaterial cultural values of which we base our interpretations of reality are easily seen as a linguistic interpretation of the nature of actual reality, and therefore the linguistic element present within our interpretation of liberty may be misused or manipulated to serve a particular perspective of focus, usually motivated through the pursuit of self-interest.

It is here that the linguistic strategies of interpretation such as boring from within, translation, and perspective by incongruity play their role in shaping the nature of the rhetor as well as shaping the manner in which the linguistic elements of communication are interpreted, through building a faithful audience who identifies with the values of the speaker or text .Using liberty as an example, we can elaborate on this by observing how a politican who gives a speech to the public regarding the war in Iraq will most likely evoke a communal sense of patriotism by using language such as "we're defending freedom" to appeal to the cultural value of liberty within our society, and to garner support for a conflict which otherwise might be seen as unjust. From this example of "boring from within", we may also see how the translation of the linguistic terminology itself determines and is determined by how and for what purpose it is used within a certain context. "At its most extreme, translation amounts to redefinition by shifing a term's application or moral weighting or connotations" (George342)

For example, look at how the values of religious fundamentalism are utilized by both religious extremists and political interest within the U.S, to create the common enemy of religious intolerance for secular purposes. In this i mean that religious radical ideology is most notable to be influenced by nationalistic policy, and that the relationship between the national interest and the moral fabric of religious observance is in most cases ambigious and vague.

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