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Talking with the President
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Talking with the President,Talking with the President. THE PRAGMATICS OF PRESIDENTIAL LANGUAGE,John Wilson. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University s objective of excellence in research scholarship. and education by publishing worldwide,Oxford New York. Auckland Cape Town Dar es Salaam Hong Kong Karachi. Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Nairobi,New Delhi Shanghai Taipei Toronto. With offices in, Argentina Austria Brazil Chile Czech Republic France Greece.
Guatemala Hungary Italy Japan Poland Portugal Singapore. South Korea Switzerland Thailand Turkey Ukraine Vietnam. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press. in the UK and certain other countries,Published in the United States of America by. Oxford University Press,198 Madison Avenue New York NY 10016. Oxford University Press 2015, All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced. stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means. without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press. or as expressly permitted by law by license or under terms agreed with the. appropriate reproduction rights organization Inquiries concerning reproduction. outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department. Oxford University Press at the address above, You must not circulate this work in any other form. and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer. Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data. Wilson John 1954 December 12, Talking with the President the pragmatics of Presidential language John Wilson.
Includes bibliographical references and index, ISBN 978 0 19 985879 8 ISBN 978 0 19 985880 4 1 Rhetoric Political aspects. United States 2 Communication in politics United States 3 Presidents United. States Language 4 Pragmatics Political aspects 5 Discourse analysis Political. aspects I Title,P301 5 P67W55 2015,973 9201 41 dc23. 2014032367,9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1, Printed in the United States of America on acid free paper. For Linda my soul mate,Acknowledgments ix, 1 Hail to the Chief Pragmatics and the President 1. 2 Talking Pragmatics with the Best and the Brightest John F Kennedy 28. 3 Lies Truth and Somewhere in Between Richard M Nixon 55. 4 The Narrative Presidency Ronald Reagan and Stories. from the White House 90, 5 It s Language Jim but Not as We Know It William Jefferson Clinton 120.
6 Bring em on The Empire Strikes Back George W Bush 160. 7 There and Back Again with Barack H Obama 199,Afterword 245. References 249,ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, There are several individuals I would like to thank for their encouragement and. support in the process of producing this book Dr Karyn Stapleton for her help. ful discussions on the proposal Dr Diane Hazlett Professor Paul Carmichael. and Dr Cathy Gormely Heenan for their support in helping me secure a leave of. absence to complete the work Thanks to Professor Deborah Tannen Professor. Heidi Hamilton and staff and graduate students at the Department of Linguis. tics Georgetown University Washington D C where I got to try out an early. version of Chapter 2 Also a big thank you to the School of Communication. University of Washington Seattle and the Department of Linguistics Univer. sity of Florida Gainesville for hosting me as a Visiting Professor while I worked. on the final chapters of the book In particular I need to thank here Professor. Gerry Philipsen of the University of Washington and Professor Diana Boxer of. the University of Florida who both initiated the invitations and looked after me. while I was at the respective institutions Finally thank you to Hallie Stebbins of. Oxford University Press for her patience support and encouragement. Talking with the President,Hail to the Chief,PRAGMATICS AND THE PRESIDENT. Introduction,Consider the following brief exchange. a Should we trust John,b John is a Republican but he is honest.
The answer carries an implication that Republicans are dishonest and a state. ment that John is a Republican hence John would be dishonest see Lakoff. 1971 67 This is denied however through the clause introduced by but Most. readers will understand all of this intuitively but where in b does it say John. is dishonest It doesn t yet an expectation about Republicans in general and. therefore John in particular has been set up otherwise what is it that the but. clause denies How does but do that There is nothing in the conceptual nature. of but that says it must mean a denial of expectations Indeed it can be used. in other ways For example one can use but for contrast John is fat but Fred is. thin or one can use it for correction John is not married but he has a partner. Given that but may be used in several different ways it is sometimes called. procedural Blakemore 2002 This simply means that we must look at how it is. used in context taking account of interactional expectations along with local and. shared knowledge and when we do this we are doing pragmatics In b it only. makes sense to say but John is honest if there is an implication from the first. clause that Republicans are not normally honest Pragmatics helps us understand. how all this works that is it helps us understand the way s in which meanings. are worked out in context and this is not just a theoretical issue. On April 17 2013 President Barack Obama delivered a speech from the White. House Rose Garden This followed the Senate s rejection of an extension of gun. control checks brought forward following a growing number of fatal shootings in. various parts of the United States and in particular the Newtown School massacre 1. Talking with the President John Wilson Oxford University Press 2015. Published 2015 by Oxford University Press,2 Talking with the President. in Connecticut when 20 children and several adults were killed Reacting to the. Newtown tragedy Obama said he had a personal responsibility to help stop such. events from occurring again hence he brought forward plans for changes in gun. control Many considered the proposed changes relatively minor so the Senate s re. jection of even these minor changes made Obama visibly angry during his speech. This is also displayed in the way he makes use of but to set up contexts. where there is a denial of expectations, By now it is well known that 90 percent of the American people support uni. versal background checks that make it harder for a dangerous person to buy. a gun Ninety percent of Americans support the idea Most Americans. think it s the law And a few minutes ago 90 percent of Democrats just voted. for the idea BUT it s not going to happen because 90 percent of the Repub. licans in the Senate just voted against it, We can see how Obama constructs a numerical context in which the overwhelm. ing evidence suggests that universal background checks should proceed but they. won t and the reason for this denial of expectation is given in the final state. ment when we find it is the Republicans who are responsible Variations of this. use of but occur throughout the speech, That s why 90 of the American people supported it BUT instead of sup. porting this program the gun lobby and its allies willfully lied about the Bill. They claimed that it would create some kind of big brother gun registry. even though the bill did the opposite plain and simple there in the text. BUT that didn t matter, A lot of Republicans had that fear BUT Democrats had that fear too.
In these brief examples we see how but is not only encoded pragmatically. it is also used for the specific political goal of isolating the denial of expectations. that the universal gun control bill should be passed to one source the Republi. cans and in particular a subset ofRepublican senators. This is just one brief example of one pragmatic marker in action but it exem. plifies the important fact that meanings are not always reflected in a simple one. word one meaning equation It is frequently the case that social and structural. contexts interact with language to create specific interpretations and understand. ings and these in turn are produced for specific communicative purposes. Pragmatics is now central to any theory that attempts to explain human. language Huang 2007 in particular the ways in which we understand and in. terpret the relationship between what we say and what we mean It is also. central to our understanding of all aspects of everyday communication since our. understanding of what is said in context draws on a wide range of knowledge. types beyond the purely linguistic Given the centrality of language in politics. in general and presidential politics in particular it should not be surprising that. pragmatics could provide insights into particular forms and use of presidential.


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