Saturday, April 30, 2005

An interview with George Lakoff

Transcript: Interview with George Lakoff on PBS’s “NOW with Bill Moyers”
July 23, 2004
Interviewed by David Brancaccio
Transcribed by Meghan Baker

DB: Tonight you’re going to meet a fellow who has a hand in the ways that some Democrats put their ideas. His name is George Lakoff. Four years ago, he and colleagues at the University of California-Berkeley and UC Davis decided to start a think tank, called the Rockridge Institute. They felt Republicans were awfully good at winning the battle of words. They wanted to come up with new rhetorical weapons for the other side. Lakoff is a noted linguist, and the author of 8 books, including Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. We began our conversation with ways in which language builds the frame, in which we view political issues.

DB: You say “frame,” that’s a key to understanding this. What kind of frame?

GL: Well, uh, frames are everywhere. Think of what happened on the very first day that George Bush took office. A press release came out using the words “tax relief.” Now, a linguist who looks at the word relief would say “Aha, there is a frame in which there is an affliction, an afflicted party who’s harmed by this, a reliever, who takes away this affliction, and if anybody tries to stop them, they’re a bad guy.” You add “tax” to that, and you get taxation is an affliction, and if the Democrats oppose the president’s tax relief plan, they’re the bad guys.

Bush clip: “We need tax relief now. In fact, we need tax relief yesterday. And I will work with Congress to provide it.”

GL: So, the word “tax relief” goes out to every radio station, every TV station, every newspaper, day after day after day. Soon, everybody’s thinking tax relief with the idea that taxation is an affliction, unconsciously automatically.

Bush clips: We’re gonna talk about some of that tax relief right quick. What was in the tax relief package. If you pay taxes, you’re gonna get relief. Tax relief. Tax relief. Because of the tax relief package we passed.

GL: And then the words become part of normal everyday language, and the conservative’s frame becomes part of the way you think about it. If you’re a Democrat, you want to really change the frame. The problem is that there is no existing frame out there. You have to create it. How do you think about taxes? Taxes are what you pay to be an American, like paying your dues to have democracy and freedom and opportunity and all the infrastructure that America provides.

Full Story
George Lakoff at Chelsea Green Publishing
Don't think of an elephant!