Water Debate: Language and power

Language is a powerful tool. It can be used as a way of controlling or shaping the thoughts of others. Indeed, if used effectively, language can help to maintain or change power relationships in contemporary society.

In this course we will look at the various ways in which different activist groups as well as those who are in power use language in a long and impassioned debate over the distribution and control of the world’s water resources. We will examine a variety of written and spoken languages, as well as the language of the media and the internet on the subject. Furthermore, we will analyse and compare various forms for argumentation and try to pinpoint the key elements of an effective communication strategy, be it verbal or visual.

Finally, we will analyse the role of the electronic media, e.g. documentaries, news, and internet pages in helping to inform as many people as possible about the shortages of freshwater supplies and water-related health problems in much of the world. How effective are they? And why?

What is language?
When we think of language, we usually think of sounds, words and grammar. Yet there is more to language than grammar which regulates how words are connected into intelligible sentences. Indeed, language is a system of communication which among others entails social skills and conventions, thinking skills and strategies.

Language is:
- what we hear/see and how we hear/see it.
- how we interpret it and how we remember it.
- what we say and how we say it.
- when, where and why we say it.
- what, how and why we think and do.

Language is an integral part of our lives allowing us to decode, organize and understand our world. Yet language is also a powerful tool. It can be used as a way of controlling or shaping the thoughts of others. Indeed, if used effectively, language can help to maintain or change power relationships in contemporary society, it can make us buy products that we have been persuaded are desirable or essential for our health or happiness. Although one might discern between many different uses of language, in the following we will focus on:
- political and activist rhetoric.
- persuasive language of advertising.

Political and Activist Rhetoric
Political and activist languages vary. And so does the purposes they serve. Still, politicians and activists alike have one thing in common – both groups try to persuade us about their views on certain issues, make us adopt certain political or social attitudes, convince us about the rightness of a given policy or a cause.

Among some of the persuasive language techniques are:
- alliteration,
- allusion,
- antithesis,
- asking questions and suggesting answers,
- lists (often of three items),
- metaphor,
- parallelism,
- parenthesis,
- repetition and
- redundant questioning.

Persuasive language of advertising
Advertisers resort to various methods to promote their product. Here are some those:
- Repetition (especially for branding of a product).
- Scientific authority (referring to pseudo-scientific testing to endorse the quality, durability or purity of the product).
- Emotional appeal (sex, manliness, femininity, maternal instincts, fear).
- “Keeping up with the Joneses” (appeals to our desires to own the same expensive objects as our friends or neighbours because you are worried about seeming less important socially than they are).
- Humour (makes fun of the techniques of advertising).



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A. Persuasive language techniques:
1. Look up the words in the dictionary and be prepared to give examples.
2. Which of the language techniques, mentioned in the list, is used most often? Why?

B. Bottled water
1. Why do we buy bottled water?
2. How do the advertisers persuade us to buy bottled water? Make a list of the techniques used in TV as well as magazine ads.

C. Water debate
One of the claims in the water debate is that the world's supply of freshwater is running out. Hence, some argue for privatization and international water marketing as some of the ways for improving the distribution of freshwater problem in the world.
Depending on the position taken in the debate, the participants use various techniques to convince their audience. So what are the tactics and techniques applied in the water debate by different activist groups as well as those who are in power? What are the arguments, and how well are they put to the public by activists as well as politicians and decision makers?





SPA water website

Evian’s Website

Dasani (Coca Cola's Water)

Things get worse with Coke
Bottled tap water withdrawn after cancer scare.

The Bottle Boom

Parisians tempted with tap water

The Economist on the water debate
Audio interview with John Peet, business affairs editor of The Economist.

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