How Language Can Influence Perceptions & Thoughts: 2017

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How Language Can Influence Perceptions & Thoughts!

In this article, I’ll be looking at how language can be used to influence perceptions and thoughts. What does this mean exactly? Well, language can be used manipulatively to make you see something better or worse than it actually is (in simple terms). Is this an assessable topic? Of course, it is! Have a look at the screenshot below from the 2010 exam:

Screen Shot 2016-04-21 at 2.12.48 pm

The classic example that I give students is the use of the phrase ‘celebration day’ instead of ‘muck up day’. By continually saying ‘muck up day’, it gives the perception to students that they must ‘muck up’ or create havoc and mayhem. I had a student two years ago whose school had decided to make this change to ‘celebration day’ – in fact, the students were taken off campus and sent somewhere else for celebration (obviously so as to not cause havoc). Therefore the perception that has been changed creates a sense of harmony and not mayhem.

Another example is the creation of the ‘Inclusive Language Guide’ by the Victorian Government in late 2016. In this guide, the Government tells public servants not to say husband or wife because it’s too ‘heteronormative’ and it might offend people.

The guide encourages both the public and businesses to use the word ‘partner’ than wife, girlfriend, husband or boyfriend, to avoid heteronormativity and promote sexual freedom and equality.  

Victorian Equality Minister Martin Foley said the guide was part of a measure to eliminate homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

The guide was developed with support from Victoria’s LGBTI Taskforce and aims to break down the binary constructs of male and female. This is an example of postmodernist ideology whereby we aim to change the public’s thoughts and perceptions BY CHANGING the language.

Do you think this was a successful campaign?

Further, in the middle of last year, I came across this article talking about how ‘king hit’ should be renamed to a ‘coward’s punch’ (note: I’ve only photographed part of the article):


According to Danny Green, “using the words “king hit” or even “one punch” glorifies a cowardly act”. It seems that we “should call it out for what it is – a coward’s punch”. Danny Green believes that by changing the wording of the offence to a coward’s punch, the amount of attacks would decrease. The lexeme ‘king’ in my opinion has connotations of dominance, honour, pride and achievement, whereas the lexeme ‘coward’ has quite a negative connotation (that of shame and disappointment). This is just another example of language can be used to affect people’s behaviour – in that the current phrase could incentivise people to conduct these cowardly acts, and therefore feel less shame and disappointment.

Can you think of any other terms in the current vernacular that glorify something that shouldn’t be glorified?

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How Language Can Influence Perceptions & Thoughts: 2017