Social Scientist. v 14, no. 155 (April 1986) p. 67.


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BOOK REVIEW

PAUL CHILTON (ed.) LANGUAGE AND THE NUCLEAR ARMS DEBATE :

NUKESPEAK TODAY, London. Frances Pinter, 1985

IN A newspaper article discussing the capability of the Tomahawk land attack missile, the reporter wrote that, "it would disable an airbase for a significant period." The unwary reader would hardly suspect that a nuclear armed Tomahawk missiles carries war heads in the 200-250 kiloton range. The Hiroshima bomb was a mere 12.5 kilotons and it killed 140,000 people (1945 figures) and reduced an area of 13 sq. km. to ashes. Therefore, to call the capacity of such a missile 'disabling' is a gross deception. The existence of growing arsenal of weapons which can annihilate the world many times over has, ironically, come to be seen as necessary and this has, among other things, affected the way we talk and think about them. On the one hand, their capacity for destruction is sought to be attenuated in language. On the other hand, we tend to speak of the weapons in non-nuclear terms. So a missile is named after a bird or a god and a nuclear attack against civilian targets is called 'countervalue'. As power is unevenly distributed in society, so the power toxommunicate and our perspectives vary with our position. In the nuclear discourse, the voice of the victims is excluded. Language is a form of power, and through a whole range of techniques, through syntax and vocabulary, through metaphors and euphemisms, reality is obfuscated in certain ways to ensure the hegemony of the ruling discourse.

We need a counter reading or critical reading to clear away the obfus-cations and among the many techniques available, is linguistic analysis. Paul Chilton's book offers twelve essays which are concerned with "Nukespeak", the language used in the nuclear arms debate. Just as the purpose of Newspeak was "not only to provide a medium of expression for the world view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible", so, in a similar manner, the language of nuclear discour&e seeks legitimacy for the Defense of the undefensible'. That it is not restricted to political speech is well brought about by the essay which examines humour in the nuclear debate. The book is divided into four pans and the essays cover a wide range of topics anaylsing the language used against peace groups, the rhetoric of deterrence, the way the media covers nuclear issues and theoretical issues raised by linguistic anaylsis.

The argument of the book is premised on me understanding that, a) samples of text indicate ideologically structured meanings and b) that the language resource itself is conceivably ideologically affected. The con-tributors do not accept that there is a "semiotic free market in which all interests have opportunities leading to a natural equilibrium.' (p. xx) The overemphasis on forms of language as opposed to meanings, notably irt the structural analysis of lanaguage, has been questioned by those who, like Harold Garfinkel, seek to include the relation between linguistic and non-



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