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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versão On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versão impressa ISSN 0041-4751


MARITZ, Ansie. Propaganda language: Quantifiers and pronouns. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2021, vol.61, n.4-1, pp.1057-1078. ISSN 2224-7912.

A variety of studies have been conducted on the language used in propaganda, but often from a critical discourse perspective, which emphasises power relations and frequently draws text-specific conclusions. To draw conclusions about the systematic aspects of the language used in propaganda texts, Systemic Functional Linguistics was used in this study. After using a content-based identification model to sort the texts used in this study as either non-propaganda (as a control group) or propaganda texts, the quantifiers and pronouns were analysed in both text groups. This is a qualitative study: each text group consists of eight texts of which six texts are in English and two in Afrikaans. The texts thematically pertain to former South African president Jacob Zuma and his involvement in the Nkandla and state capture scandals. The conclusions of this study include the following: by analysing quantifiers according to specificity, certain differences between the text groups can be identified. Non-specific quantifiers can be used in propaganda texts to hide true information as they can be used to create the idea that there is either more or less than what would constitute an accurate representation of reality. Where specific quantifiers are used in non-propaganda texts to report events accurately, specific quantifiers can be used in propaganda texts to imitate scientific discourse (which should include media discourse and therefore points to the expansion of the technique) in order to increase the validity of a text. With reference to the use of pronouns in general, more pronouns are used in the propaganda text group than in the non-propaganda text group and certain types of pronouns are only present in the propaganda text group. Personal pronouns feature more frequently in propaganda texts, namely 61,1% (of the total number of pronouns in both text groups), as opposed to possessive pronouns, namely 23,4% (of the total number of pronouns in both text groups). When comparing the number of personal pronouns in non-propaganda texts with those used in propaganda texts, there is a smaller difference between the two text groups than the difference in respect of the number of possessive pronouns in the text groups under discussion. Possessive and personal pronouns are used for similar propaganda techniques, such as dysphemism, polarisation and deflection being used for purposes of creating a smokescreen. Some of these pronouns -for example the personal pronoun "we" - can be used to create a feeling of inclusivity between the propagandist and the reader and can also be used to enhance exclusivity. Pronouns can be used in non-propaganda texts to describe and, if necessary, create links of ownership according to facts. In comparison to this function, pronouns can be used to make strategic ownership links if or when they suit the propagandist's cause. Sometimes a similar function can be seen in non-propaganda texts, but it is usually due to referencing and can therefore not be ascribed to the text author directly, but to the referenced source. When demonstrative pronouns in propaganda texts are compared to non-propaganda texts, it is necessary to further analyse this pronoun group in order to better understand its functions. Anaphoric pronouns feature in a similar way in both text groups, except when a propagandist, for example, places a pronoun strategically, with a specific aim in mind. Apart from its normal cohesion function, certain pronouns are repeated strategically, adding an extra semantic layer to a text. Cataphoric pronouns are only present in propaganda texts and can be used to create distance between a propagandist and a certain action in order to deflect attention. Similar to anaphoric pronouns, the placing of cataphoric pronouns can be done strategically. There are no emphatic pronouns in the non-propaganda texts of this study. These pronouns are used in propaganda to, from a distant position, show disapproval and to integrate dysphemism in this way. Although there are similarities between the text groups regarding the ideational meta-function, a propagandist depends on the interpersonal metafunction in order to integrate subjective meaning in the text.

Palavras-chave : propaganda; language properties of propaganda; language characteristics of propaganda; political language; South African politics; Jacob Zuma; Nkandla; state capture; Guptas; Systemic Functional Linguistics; textual analysis; discourse analysis.

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