Over the past few weeks I’ve been involved in two events that have tested my analysis skills. The first was as “Rhetoric Officer” in the first sitting of The Rational Parliament. This innovative new forum for public debate on issues that matter took place in London last week. The organiser Adam Smith invited me to comment on how members of the parliament were using language, and to alert them to any attempts to use “rhetorical tricks” to manipulate the audience. What made this unlike any other analysis I’d done before was that it had to happen in real time. There I was, on the night, sitting next to the “Speaker” (Michael Brooks, the moderator of the debate) and giving my thoughts on language use every so often.
The good news is the audience seemed to appreciate my contributions, and I quite enjoyed it. Someone commented that it really “cooled off” the debate – perhaps making people think about how they were speaking discouraged them from verbal attacks. I think the way the session was introduced by Adam and moderated by Michael had a much bigger impact in this regard.
Having observed my live analysis at the Rational Parliament, Daniel Trilling, editor of New Humanist magazine, approached me earlier this week to ask whether I would perform a similar kind of analysis on the UK party leaders’ speeches being broadcast over the next fortnight. Though I had some doubts over whether I wanted to open my analysis to the scrutiny of potentially thousands of followers of the Rationalist Association twitter feed, I agreed, because I have for a long time believed that we critical discourse analysts need to get out of the ivory tower and communicate our research, and above all our analyses,
to a wider public. This is the result of my first live-tweeting, then writing up in a slightly more coherent fashion (you may disagree with the latter statement), my analysis of the speech.
I got some help along the way from my colleague Veronika Koller, my PhD student David Pask-Hughes, and several other linguists and non-linguists who were watching the debate. I wonder if this could become a trend? At least for important public events and speeches, if enough linguists, logicians, political scientists, sociologists, and other thinkers, make a concerted effort to post their on-the-fly critiques of poliiticans’ speeches and actions, would this make a difference? Perhaps I’m being idealistic, but it sounds like something to try.
Comments and thoughts, and above all critiques of my analysis (bearing in mind it was done in real time) are very welcome!