Friday, 21 November 2008

The power of language

I wanted to post this emailed comment from a writer called Naomi Alsop who I met at The Writer’s Toolkit – a conference organised by Birmingham Book Festival in October this year:

“Reading your blog from today about Obama’s victory and the role of fiction in preparing people for the idea of a black president, I thought about an article I read when researching my undergraduate degree in sociology, (Metaphors we discriminate by: Naturalized themes in Austrian newspaper articles about asylum seekers by Elizabeth El Refaie). El Refaie argues that the various metaphors used to describe asylum seekers in the press (flood, influx, army, horde etc) have become so naturalized that people don’t realize they’re metaphors and that can result in people accepting behavior against asylum seekers which they wouldn’t otherwise. So if you’ve internalized metaphors of asylum seekers as an invading army it’s acceptable to use the army to intercept and detain them (as in Italy, eg), if criminality metaphors are used it’s natural to detain them, if they’re a natural disaster we need to improve our defenses against them. That article was one of the points at which I decided I wanted to use stories to challenge the dominant discourses which divide people and instead work towards using language to foster understanding.”

(Naomi will have a website soon: - and can currently be contacted at

Her email reminded me of something Inua Ellams said at the TINAG roundtable discussion in October, about the power of words to change perceptions, and how the role of writers working in a community regeneration context could be to explore and positively impact on the meanings and power of the language used to describe a place.

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