Sunday, March 12, 2017

Discourse analysis

I look for samples of deceptive speech in the news. Happens more frequently than casual observation would lead me to believe. We don’t process speech like a linguist. It’s too ephemeral. We listen for meaning and not a literal transcript of what's said, which makes it easy for speakers to pass-off fiction as fact and make implications sound like direct assertions. The original sentences don’t hang around long enough for us to tell the difference and we’re left with a more general sense of what's said. The new administration provides a lot of examples. Here are a few I've come across lately.

 1. It’s deceptive when press secretary Spicer defends Trump’s travel ban by saying: The power given the president to protect our country is substantial and without question.” It’s deceptive because he’s implying that Trump’s actions are ‘beyond question’ because the constitution is beyond question. However, it is not unreasonable to ask whether his actions were a legitimate use of power and met the criteria proscribed by the constitution. The courts clearly found his actions questionable.

 2. It’s deceptive when the administration says they didn’t fire secretary of state Flynn because he did anything wrong but because it was leaked. According to press secretary Spicer: “leaks are criminal and what should be investigated here.” It’s deceptive when he deflects attention by implying that some kind of “breach in security” was at fault and not the actions of the secretary of state.

 3. it’s deceptive when attorney general Sessions says marijuana use should be prosecuted under federal law because: When you see something like the opiate addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing that we should be doing is encouraging people.” He’s implying that marijuana carries the same health and safety risks as opioids.

 4. It’s deceptive when the administration denies ever saying: “We are conducting mass-deportations using the U.S. military.” But that is exactly what Trump was implying when he announced: “ We are conducting deportations at unprecedented levels and doing them as efficiently as a military operation.” What’s the difference. Since speech perception is not literal …implications get treated as direct assertions and “ ..mass-deportations by the U.S. military” is exactly what gets conveyed. Denying it because it was not part of the ‘actual transcript’ is like something you’d hear in a court of law. It’s deceptive because it’s not the natural way we process information. We don’t keep record of things like a stenographer and the administration knows this.

 5. It’s deceptive when Trump characterizes undocumented immigrants as criminals based on one case. As tragic as it was … a single case does not represent an entire population. However we don’t think like statisticians. We mistake sensationalism for the size and magnitude of a problem. The administration knows this and they’re relying on it to help make their case.

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