The word choices speakers and writers make can tell us much about their
world views and attitudes toward political situations. Analysis based on
lexicon is most profitably undertaken with a computer. One may use special
programs for word analysis, such as Diction 5.0 (Sage Publications Software),
or text editing programs that report extensive data about text files. The
old-fashioned way works well, too, if you have the time. Here are things to
- Nouns: Nouns tell us what interests a speaker. Are they
concrete or abstract? Do they identify things or feelings? In what proportion
do they balance the concrete and the abstract? Do they specifically define
their abstract nouns or do they rely on the audience to supply a culturally
- Verbs: Verbs tell us what actions interest a speaker. Does the speaker use active verb forms so that the agent of
the action is clear. Or does the writer hide the agent in passive
constructions. Does the writer use metaphoric verbs?
- Ultimate or "god" terms: These are words that have a special force
within a culture, i.e. "freedom" or "liberty." Communications scholar
Roderick Hart1 claims that "much public oratory is little more than a clever
interspersing of such words at appropriate times, which often turns genuine
communication into mere word-saying."
- Code words or jargon: These are words meant to communicate special
messages to a subgroup or limited members of a broader audience. Code words
are meant to exclude some people from the communication. Code words may often
be euphemisms, such as "collateral damage" for the killing of innocent
civilians in a war zone.
- Adjectives: Words that writers use to modify nouns
often reveal bias, such as the term "arch" used to modify "conservative."
Adjectives also tell us much about the emotional involvement of the speaker.
For example, there is a big difference between the "homeless" and the
- Adverbs: Adverbs tell us much about what a speaker intends to do
and how they intend to do it. Compare these statements: "We must save Social
Security" and "We must move quickly to save Social Security."
Hart, Roderick. Modern Rhetorical Criticism. Boston:
Allyn & Bacon: 1997.