Globial Media and Speech: Linguistic Competence
My name is Meaghan Casey, and I am a senior graduating in Spring 2008. I concentrate in International Relations with a track in Global Security. I am interested in the power of language and media to shape individual perceptions and actions. I first became interested in the topic through research on the strong role both the local and international media played in constructing the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. The local media was an influential player in shaping the manner in which the genocide in Rwanda was carried out internally, and international media reports powerfully shaped understandings and conceptions of the genocide for both Rwandans and the international community at large. Canadian General Romeo Dallaire admits that the genocide might have been prevented or reduced if he had shut down or stalled the hate speech on RTLM (the local radio) and better attracted international media attention to the Rwanda genocide at an earlier stage in the conflict. The link that local and international media fueled and fostered the genocide in Rwanda is undeniable, but it is important to explore the threat media power poses to countries in or on the brink of ethnic conflict in order to better understand the causes of genocide and seek ways and means to prevent future outbreaks of genocide, but the lesson is important regarding issues across the board. Those with access to media have the power to change the way in which events are perpetuated, interpreted, and what consequential action occurs.
In “Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers” Tel Quel comments on the constraints on speech including: its irreversibility, the necessary speed of delivery, and the use of staging. These concepts highlight the competence aspect of language, in which speech is a performance. Performance can be defined as any use of competence, any communicative linguistic attempt. Performance, inherently in its definition however, includes such emergence qualities unavoidable in this particular display of competence, such as grammatical errors, hesitations, the response to a unique setting, and the particular performer-audience relation.
Yet speech can be delivered with a strategic purpose and successful results, just as written work can be strategic and successful. A scientist or a student may use the passive tense to describe lab results in order to connote truth and impartiality. I believe that this is an example of strategic use of competence. Although written work, which can be polished and reworked before audience evaluation, has less emergent qualities than speech, I disagree with Tel Quel that this necessarily makes speech impossible as compared to written work. The reason I posit this is because both written work and performed speech have the power to move people and affect actions in different ways. One does not always supersede the other.
In both cases, however, I agree that language is power because power relations are established through language and are indicated by language. The most obvious example Tel Quel brings up in the Familiarity section in which the formal vous or informal tu may be chosen in conversation to establish the power relationship between two people talking. But often language can indicate power relations and structures much more subtly, and these subtle indications are not less important or indicative than those explicitly expressed, and sometimes it may be more indicative of entrenched social structures within societies.
In conclusion, both written language and speech hold tremendous power, but are best understood when the level of competence in the language is high. Performing is an art, and I argue that current media, both written and performed, can be and should be evaluated by a critical audience. I hope to participate in this critical endeavor through the course work in Global Media this semester.