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Language and Politics

John E. Joseph

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Language, this book argues, is political from top to bottom, whether considered at the level of an individual speaker's choice of language or style of discourse with others (where interpersonal politics are performed), or at the level of political rhetoric, or indeed all the way up to the formation of national languages. By bringing together this set of topics and highlighting how they are interrelated, the book will function well as a textbook on any applied or sociolinguistic course in which some or all of these various aspects of the politics of language are covered.

The chapter headings include:

  • How politics permeates language (and vice-versa)
  • Language and nation
  • The social politics of language choice and linguistic correctness
  • Politics embedded in language
  • Taboo language and its restriction
  • Rhetoric, propaganda and interpretation
  • Power, hegemony and choices


1. Overview
2. Language and nation
3. The social politics of language choice and linguistic correctness
4. Politics embedded in language
5. Taboo language and its restriction
6. Rhetoric, propaganda and interpretation
7. Conclusion: power, hegemony and choices.

About the Author

John E. Joseph is Professor of Applied Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh and currently holds a three-year Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust. His previous book, Language and Identity (2004) has found a wide readership among sociologists, political scientists, historians, anthropologists and others besides linguists, many of whom will want to read his Language and Politics as its successor and complement.


Few applied linguists in the 21st century either could or would want to deny the significance of political questions for their thinking and their practice. Teachers and students of applied linguistics will therefore welcome John Joseph’s wide-ranging and informative text. In the spirit of his initial declaration that ‘language is political from top to bottom’, Joseph brings together issues that are often kept apart, draws on insights from a range of disciplines and thinkers, and offers - while explicitly inviting the reader to argue or disagree with him - his own perspectives on such topical questions as linguistic imperialism and the global spread of English, hate speech and politically correct language, and the ‘manufacture of consent’ through political propaganda. The result is a grown-up introductory text, addressed to readers who want their textbooks to make them think.
- Deborah Cameron, Rupert Murdoch Professor of Language and Communication, University of Oxford
Joseph provides a sweeping yet succinct analysis of key issues in the politics of language and the language of politics. What is impressive about this book is his synthesis of a wide range of topics, many of them based in disparate analytical traditions. Better yet, Joseph writes in a clear and engaging – often humorous – style, perhaps itself a very intentional political choice. I believe it is an effective one, and I highly recommend this book.
- Lauren Hall-Lew, Stanford University, Discourse & Society
Joseph's volume is a much needed exploration of of the political aspects of language and would undoubtedly serve as a useful course text... This text is invaluable in that it is able to take up the key ideas that surround issues of language and politics and includes an excellent introduction to the theories and theorists who have contributed to the debates.
- Lindsay Bell and Mirielle McLaughlin, Language Policy

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