Tuesday, October 9, 2018

What If Christine Blasey Ford Said This?

So, here we are, post the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings, and the Republicans have ramped up the rhetoric, taken control of the story line once again, this time casting democrats, and particularly women democrats as angry mobs of extremists –vigilantes running wild in the streets.  (and they’re not referring to Charlottesville).

And here we are with the media (the” liberal” media) hysterically calling Trump out as a blatant liar.  Just this morning I heard a frustrated CNN anchor proclaimed, “But the truth is the truth?” 

Classical theories of rhetoric aside ( Plato, Socrates and that gang) you don’t have to look much further than Lakoff, (just about anything he’s written, but particularly Don’t Think of an Elephant– discussing the difference in how republicans and democrats frame political narratives), or Kevin DeLuca ( Image Politics) to be reminded that the truth often takes a back seat to the message and how it’s delivered ( performed).

In my last post I looked at the difference between what Christine Blasey Ford did with her language and what Kavanaugh did with his.  His choice of words - attacked, accused, directed the Senators to take action and warned what would happen if they didn't.  
Ford labeled herself terrified, reluctant and apologizing for not being more reliable.

But I’ll say again.  I respect her immensely.  I am in awe of what she did.  I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have done it myself.  We should hold her forever as a hero to women and girls and as a haunting reminder to men, all men.

I’ve taken Blasey Ford’s opening statements again and I’ve add a gloss that reframes how she shows up and what she does with her speech.  

What if Christine Blasey Ford had said it this way?

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Kavanaugh: a master of speech acts

Yes, I sat riveted listening to the testimony Bret Kavanagh and Christine Blasey Ford gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept 27th.   The post-play analysis ranged from calling both emotional, Blasey Ford “credible” “compelling”, and Kavanagh  “unrestrained” and “combative".

OK.  I confess. I’m a linguist. And I study speech acts – what people actually “do” when they speak.  Simple speech acts are things like. “I do” when I take wedding vows;  “ I promise to do it.” So when you say “promise” you’re actually making the promise.  “I accept your apology.” Saying is doing.

There are many, many ways we “do” something by speaking.  If I am sitting in a cold room and someone is sitting by an open window, I can say to that person, “Gee, it’s cold in here.”  My utterance is really an indirect request for the person to close the window. ( See Austin, How to Do Things With Words (1955) ; Searle Speech Acts (1969))

Without getting us all tripping over every daily conversation we have,  in critical situations, like this Senate hearing, what we say and what that does can make the difference between winning and losing.

Let’s get one thing straight.  I will always be thankful and awed by Blasey Ford's  bravery and riveted by her truth. 

I will always be appalled by the Republicans, their egregious use of power and their ugly ideologies. 

But, I’ve been replaying what Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh said in the Senate hearing with an ear to what their remarks really did.  What they did when they spoke.

Here are the two speakers:
Bret Kavanagh, the accused - known to the committee as a prestigious jurist. We could expect the accused to be defensive and ready to refute charges.  Blasey Ford’s remarks lasted about 18 minutes.

Christine Blasey Ford, the unknown person accusing the powerful jurist, speaking in the era of the MeToo movement. What could we expect from her?
Kavanaugh’s remarks went on for 47 minutes.  

Length of talk is something we always look at.  And more can be analyzed about that metric. But I wanted to unpack what each said.  A line by line analysis would likely bore you all.  So, what I’ve done (below)is a speech act analysis of the early opening remarks of both Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford.

I tried to move through each of their opening remarks using the topic sentence or utterance from each new paragraph.  Sometimes the topic sentence, the sentence that makes the point of the paragraph chunk, comes in the third or the fourth sentence.  In those cases I used this later sentence.

I’ve taken the key topic sentences uttered by each person and looked at the structure and function of their speech.  I wanted to uncover what they said, and what saying that then actually did.

For those who are following along closely in the published transcripts you’ll see that I’ve condensed some sections by summarizing what certain paragraphs were about. I do this because writing about every utterance would yield a very long essay, more suited for a linguistics journal than this blog. 

In my next blog entry I’ll finish analyzing the remainder of the opening remarks and then I'd like to re-image Blasey Ford’s opening statement.  Knowing full well that she told her story as she needed to tell it. But a linguist is always working and reworking language – that most powerful of human tools.