Recess Blog

President Trump and Linguistics

By Rob Schroeder
May 25, 2017

Among the many outcomes of the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, America's political and cultural lexicon changed - bigly, anyone?  Beyond the verbal gaffes and talking points, the College's Aria Razfar, PhD, professor of curriculum and instruction, sees a deeper linguistic shift in President Trump's populist appeal, both during the campaign and now as President.

President Trump delivers his Inauguration Address at the U.S. Capitol.

Razfar's analysis was featured in Anthropology News:

To understand Trump’s populist appeal we must go beyond linguistic form to focus on the semiotic and ideological dimensions of language use.

The rise of populist and anti-intellectual discourses have many scholars and educators concerned about the state of academic freedom. Since the election of Trump, the rise of anti-intellectualism has become a more urgent reality. Unfortunately, the vast majority of political scientists and media pundits took a major credibility hit when they wrongly predicted a Trump loss. This was partially due to their narrow assumptions and methods for gauging people’s attitudes and beliefs, reflected in a restrictive understanding about the nature and function of how language works, namely relying on linguistic form. A reliance on polls and transcript splices proved limited.

Over the last four decades, linguistic anthropologists have argued for the need to go beyond linguistic code (what is said?) and prosody (how it is said?) in order to better understand how people make sense of their life-worlds across time and space. The need to go beyond the transcript and focus our analysis on the semiotic and ideological dimensions of language has never been greater. In preparing educators for linguistically diverse environments, we use discourse analysis to prepare teachers for language and STEM learning. Four questions are the foundation of our discourse analysis: 1) What is said? 2) How is it said? 3) What is meant?, and 4) What are the underlying world views and histories that frame meaning? The latter two questions move us beyond isolated events and transcripts and into the homes and communities where our learners live. Over the last few months, I have used this approach to process the Trump in educational spaces and broader society (#ProcesstheTrump). Processing “the Trump” is a way of reframing our conversation about Trump beyond individual personality traits, psychological disorders, utterances, and/or an anomaly of history. Instead, processing “the Trump” foregrounds the use of discourse analysis to understand the emergence of Trump as a systematic process grounded in history and a conscious leveraging of American iconography.

Read the full analysis at Anthropology News.

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