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The manipulative force of the metaphor in the political and social context

The manipulative force of the metaphor in the political and social context

In an article published in October in the journal Discourse & Society by Mario Bisiada, researcher with the Discourse and Translation Studies research group of the Department of Translation and Language Sciences, in which he analyses the appearance and context of the term “do [one’s] homework” in a corpus of English and German texts.

28.11.2018

The term “do [ones] homework” is a recurring phrase in both oral and written political discourse. The expression is often used in Catalan and Spanish, and also in other languages ​​such as German and English.

“It was used extensively in the last U.S. presidential election campaign speeches, for example, when Hillary Clinton accused Bernie Sanders of not having done his homework (5 April 2016) or when Barack Obama said about Clinton that she “has worked tirelessly and diligently. She has done her homework. She has performed” (14 October 2016), asserts Mario Bisiada, a researcher of the Discourse and Translation Studies Group, Gedit, of the Department of Translation and Language Sciences (DTCL) at UPF in an article published in October in the journal Discourse & Society.

Multidisciplinary research of textual corpora of the metaphor “do [one’s] homework”

This study involves preliminary multidisciplinary research of textual corpora of the “do [one’s] homework” metaphor within a line of research being carried out by Bisiada with which he aims to contribute to the in-depth study of this metaphor. In this first article, the author discusses the emergence of the figurative use of the phrase and studies its context of evaluation in the North American newspapers that belong to the Corpus of Historical American English / Corpus of Contemporary American English, as well as the German newspaper Die Zeit.

Based on the analysis of the study corpus, the author shows that the metaphor first became widespread in the English language in the 1960s and about 20 years later in German. Although previously the expressions that used to be used were “we have done our job” or “X has not done their homework”, praising or blaming others, now it is used regularly in neutral contexts. Instead, it has become widespread in public debates to refer questions understood as “tasks”.

The use of the “homework” metaphor shapes and manipulates public debates by establishing unequal power relations between the actors involved in current affairs

As the author of the work explains, the application of “doing [one’s] homework” has become widespread, and it is not only found to refer to individual acts but is also applied to entire civilizations. For example, there are expressions like this: “the Arab world has not done its homework for centuries”, says Bisiada. In the light of this research, the author argues that the use of the “homework” metaphor shapes and manipulates public debates by establishing unequal power relations between the actors involved in current affairs. In spite of its manipulative force, the evolution of the application of this metaphor, which originally comes from the field of education, had not received sufficient attention.

For example, a recurring accusation in political discourse in different languages is that someone “has not done their homework”, along with other metaphors such as “model pupil” and “learning lessons”. Thus, the expression is a metaphor taken from the field of education. The author claims that the term “homework” is a structural metaphor and an understatement, and therefore works like a figurative frame, presenting often complex tasks as a simple school tasks, thus manipulating public debates.

An expression frequently found in political discourse

The results, both in English and in German, show that, despite the fact that the metaphor was used originally to get a positive representation, it is now used more often, without specifying if someone has done their homework or not, which shows that it has broken into public discourse as a normal way to frame political issues

As Bisiada highlights, the reality is that “to do (or not to do) [one’s] homework” is an expression commonly found in several languages in political discourse. And he adds “often, this is a way to simplify public debates on complex issues, such as economic reform, moral issues or situations of equity among people”.

Hence, “I investigated its emerging and pragmatic effects in the discourse of American and German newspapers through the Corpus of Historical American English / Corpus of Contemporary American English and Die ZEIT. The results, both in English and in German, show that, despite the fact that the metaphor was used originally to get a positive representation, it is now used more often, without specifying if someone has done their homework or not, which shows that it has broken into public discourse as a normal way to frame political issues”, states Bisiada.

The study concludes that this is problematic due to the manipulative force of the metaphor, as it frames political and social issues in a school context, shapes how the actors of the discourse perceive and pre-establishes the possible criticisms presenting a particular solution as a non-negotiable duty, in the form of “homework”. Bisiada hopes to continue this line of research in other languages such as Spanish and Catalan.

Reference work:

Mario Bisiada (2018), “A cross-linguistic analysis of the ‘homework’ metaphor in German and English political discourse”, Discourse and Society 29(6), pp. 609−628. doi:10.1177/0957926518802916

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Unidad de Comunicación y Proyección Institucionales

93 542 21 00

[email protected]

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