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Global warming and the role of language in social transformation 808
This paper explores the proposition that the world is shaped by language. It takes as axiomatic the notion, familiar to critical discourse analysis (CDA), that language (discourse) and society are mutually constitutive. It reviews several key notions of CDA, including framing, presupposition, naturalisation and memetic transfer to develop a model of the processes involved. Just as the institutional structures in society have been shaped, over the years, by the discourses that have circulated about them so, it is argued, the future of the planet depends on the successful naturalisation of the ‘human agency hypothesis’ in the matter of global warming. The paper uses CDA tools to examine a blog which advances the ‘anti-human agency’ hypothesis, to explore the way such ideas might be spreading around the worldwide web today. Although up to 97% of the world’s scientists accept that human industrial activity is responsible for climate change, the fact that protocols such as that of Kyoto (1992) are consistently flouted demonstrates that meaningful social change has yet to result from widespread acceptance of the idea. The opposite hypothesis still finds supporters in the global business community and the U.S. Republican Party. Human agency in climate change, then, can be seen as the ultimate test case for the proposition that language and the social world are mutually constitutive, since the survival of the planet itself is at stake in the conflict between the two hypotheses.
This paper explores the proposition that the social world is shaped by language. It explores an approach to language, Critical Discourse Analysis, which has attempted, over the last forty or so years, to present a systematic account of the processes involved.
It describes the current debate on global warming as one which sees two competing discourses on the topic in conflict for hegemony; on the one hand, the ‘human agency hypothesis’, which claims that mankind is responsible for the phenomenon, and that dire consequences will follow for the planet if appropriate measures are not taken. On the other, the hypothesis that global warming is due to some other factor/s. The shape of our future world and, arguably, its very survival, will depend on which of these views succeeds in supplanting the other. In the famous words of Gorgias of Lentini, language is a powerful lady.
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