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Language and Persuasion
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  1. Language and Persuasion

  2. What’s in a Name? • Don’t give your kid a weird name • Researchers studied 15,000 first names given to baby boys from 1987-1991. • The more unusual the boy’s name, the more likely he was to commit a crime. • “Each 10% increase in the popularity of a name correlates with a 3.7% decrease in the number of juvenile delinquents who have that name” (Kalist & Lee, 2009, p. 47) • Why? • Names can be targets for discrimination. • Self-concept is based on reflected appraisals from others (the “looking glass” self) • People with unpopular names may come from underprivileged families or lower socio-economic groups.

  3. Symbols • Symbols are arbitrary words, images, or behavior that stand for or represent something else. • Symbols are arbitrary: The word for “pig” could just as easily be “garp.” • Symbols include images (peace sign, thumbs up gesture) • Symbols can include behavior (rituals and rites or other symbolic action)

  4. Symbols, Meaning, and Persuasion • Denotative meaning • A word’s strict dictionary definition • Animals’ names Alligator Moose Bison Python Elephant Rooster Leopard Zebra • Connotative meaning • Emotional associations surrounding a word • References to females/males using animal names Bitch Fox Chick Pig Cougar Stud Cow Tiger Dog Wolf

  5. Ultimate Terms • God terms • family values, progress, freedom, democracy • Devil terms • deadbeat dad, sexual predator, socialist, sweatshop, gang member, racist • Charismatic terms • green, change, freedom, democracy • Terms may change, evolve over time • political correctness, affirmative action, liberal

  6. Familiar Phrases • Famous sayings, proverbs, and folk wisdom can facilitate persuasion. • Familiar phrases function as peripheral cues. • “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” • “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” • “Money doesn’t grow on trees.” • Students heard a persuasive message that included familiar phrases. • Some students were distracted while listening. • Some students were not. • The distracted students were more persuaded than the ones who paid full attention (Howard, 1997).

  7. The Power of Labeling • People’s names influence: • Where they live • Their choice of professions • Implicit Egotism people favor things that they associate with themselves. People named Dennis are more likely to become dentists. People who live in Virginia are more likely to be named Virginia.

  8. The Power of Labeling • Naming prescription drugs • branding companies typically earn between $50,000 and $250,000 for coming up with a unique name for a prescription drug. • Names that sound scientific, with an “X” or “Z” are popular. • Paxil • Prozac • Zoloft • Xanax • Lexapro • Nexium

  9. The Power of Renaming • “progressive” versus “liberal” • “death panels” versus “health insurance” • “troop reduction” versus “cut and run” • “peer-to-peer file sharing” versus “internet piracy” • “pre-owned” versus “used” • “womyn” instead of “women”

  10. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis • Language shapes the way we think. • Language can facilitate or inhibit certain types of thinking. • More precise language enables more focused thought. • Texting versus writing • Texting is fast, generic • Writing is slow, nuanced • The average Joe or Jill might call a color “off-white.” • A painter or clothing designer might differentiate between subtle shades. • alabaster • antique white • bone • China • cream • eggshell • ivory • parchment

  11. Euphemisms & Double-Speak • It sounds so much better when you put it that way. • pre-owned versus used • peer-to-peer file sharing versus Internet piracy • gaming vs. gambling • commercial sex worker vs. prostitute • enhanced interrogation techniques vs. torture • rendition versus kidnapping • faith-based vs. religious • downsizing vs. fired

  12. Language Intensity, Vividness, and Offensiveness • Profanity is rarely a persuader’s friend. • Profanity tends to lower perceived credibility. • Perceptions of profanity are topic, audience, and situation specific.

  13. Political Correctness • Evolving terms for African-Americans • N-word • Darkie • Colored • Negro • Black • African-American • Person of color • Bi-racial, multi- • racial • The control of language entails the control of social reality. • terrorist vs. martyr • The power of naming shapes perceptions and confers power. • The gay community has taken back the word “queer” and made it socially acceptable.

  14. Political Correctness • The language of disability • Saying “wheel chair bound” emphasizes the disability first. • Saying “person with a disability,” (PWD) emphasizes the person first. • Persuaders who used empowering terms (heroic) for PWDs were perceived as more credible. • Persuaders who used pejorative terms (pathetic) were perceived as less credible.

  15. Language Intensity • Intense language demonstrates a source’s bias on a topic or issue. • National health insurance will lead to “death panels” (Sarah Palin). • “Humans have no more value than slugs” (John Daley, editor of Earth First!). • People who aren’t shifting to bio-diesel fuel are “raping the planet” (Fuel: Uncovering America’s Dirty Little Secret, 2008 documentary). • Reinforcement Theory • Intense language facilitates persuasion with a friendly audience. • Intense language can alienate a hostile audience. • Language Expectancy Theory • Violations perceived positively facilitate persuasion. • Violations perceived negatively inhibit persuasion. • How a violation is perceived depends on the status and reward power of the violator.

  16. Language Intensity • Information Processing Theory • Intense language persuades via message discrepancy. • A previously unthinkable position becomes more thinkable. • Intense language may also backfire based on the contrast effect. • Communication Accommodation Theory • Persuaders who match the language style of their audience are more effective. • Intense language users prefer intense speakers. • Non-intense language users prefer non-intense speakers.

  17. Vividness • Vivid language is more memorable than pallid language. • Colorful, picturesque language increases attention and retention. • Pallid language is, well, boring. • Vivid language must be congruent with the message.

  18. Powerful Language • Powerful, assertive language is generally more persuasive. • “I have an important question…” • “I loved that movie.” • “Let’s grab some coffee and talk.” • “My skill set is a perfect fit for your company.” • Powerful language conveys confidence, credibility. But… • Powerful language requires good arguments and evidence. • Females may need to moderate their assertiveness for male audiences.

  19. Powerless Language • Powerless language signifies low status, low credibility • This may sound like a dumb question but…” • “That was a good movie, don’t you think?” • “I was kind of hoping that maybe we could get together for coffee sometime, if you want.” • “Uh, so I would, really, um, like to work here, at, like, your company.” • Types of powerless language • Disclaimers • You’ll probably say ‘No’ but…” • Hedges • “kind of,” “sort of,” “I guess” • Hesitations • “uh,” “um,” “like,” “you know” • Intensifiers • “Very,” “really,” • Polite forms* • “If it’s okay…” “I’d appreciate it if…” • Tag questions • “don’t you think?” *Note: Some types of diplomatic language are polite, but not powerless