Projekt:European Sociolinguistics/Manipulating Language

Are there prominent examples in the history of your country where language has been a prominent factor for manipulating people


In Belgium, there can be observed a special language situation, because of the territory’s history. Therefore, one could say people were manipulated through language (use) in their social and business life. In the last century one was forced to know French in order to get a high education, a job at the military service or a job as official or in public life. If they were not French speaking, children were not educated in their mother tongue. Even today language strongly manipulates public life in Belgium. If you would like to get a job at a higher level you should be able to speak perfectly French, Flemish and English (especially in Brussels).

Have a look at the history:

A few hundred years ago, Belgium was part of the French kingdom. In 843, the kingdom of Charlemagne was divided into three parts, as agreed in the Treaty of Verdun. Lothar was given the present Benelux-States.

„Im Jahre 925 gehörte das gesamte Areal westlich der Schelde, also Flandern im historischen Sinne, zu Frankreich. Die anderen Gebiete standen unter germanischer Herrschaft. Sie setzten sich aus Herzogtümern, Grafschaften und Fürstentümern zusammen und waren nahezu autonom.“ (1)

The consequence was that there had not been any awareness of unity. By contrast, the Flemish became very patriotic.(2) But after the victory over France in Kortrikijk sense of community arose. This victory is still celebrated in Belgium on 11th July.

In the Burgundian period (1384-1482) Burgundian chancellors governed Flanders and French became language of government. In this period bilingualism was accepted in the whole country.

In the middle of the 18th century a social language boarder divided the population into two parts: on the one hand the French speaking nobility, the clergy and the bourgeoisie and on the other hand the Dutch-speaking crowd. (3)

In 1793 the Belgian provinces were annexed by France and the contemporary political and cultural system was destroyed. Wallonia discovered somehow the “Francophony”. The regime demanded one language of government: French. The administration was totally in French and the French language distributed enormously in towns and among the bourgeoisie. But with the fall of Napoleon, Belgium became part of the Netherlands in 1815. The Dutch king Wilhelm I. wanted Dutch to be the singular language of administration and military. But he gained dissatisfaction. The population, especially the French speaking middle class, protested. One consequence was the banishment of the Dutch army and another was the Belgium Declaration of Independence in 1830.

With the Declaration of Independence the kingdom was divided into three linguistic parts: „Im Norden sprach man germanische Dialekte, dem Niederländischen sehr ähnlich. Im Süden wurden drei französische Dialekte gesprochen, das Wallonische, das Pikardische, das Lothringische, dem klassischen Französisch sehr weit entfernt. Als Reaktion gegen die holländische Autorität wurde Französisch die Kultur- und Verwaltungssprache in ganz Belgien.“(4)

In the northern part the most spoken language was Flemish, in the south it was French and in eastern parts it was German. But in reaction to the Dutch authority French became language of administration and culture. According to the constitution there was freedom of choosing one of these languages, but the bourgeoisie spoke French in the north as well as in the south and therefore the only official confirmed language was French, all over the kingdom. (5) „Flämisch war keine Sprache, sondern ein Dialekt; Französisch hingegen war eine Kultursprache und wurde bevorzugt, Niederländisch […] akzeptiert.“ (6)

In 1849 the Vlaamse Beweging achieved progress for the acceptance of Flemish: · 1873: Flemish was accepted as language for criminal law · 1878 Flemish was allowed as language of administration in Flanders · 1883 Flemish became languages of education in some classes But these laws were rarely realized.

The situation of the language policy changed slowly in the 19th century with Flanders becoming more and more important as industrial power. „Erst 1914 wurde ein Gesetz erlassen, das Muttersprache und Unterrichtssprache in der Grundschule gleichsetzte. Nur in Brüssel ging man mit diesem Gesetz etwas milder um, so daß die Französisierung der Hauptstadt fortschritt.“

In 1930 the University of Gent became (Flemish) monolingual. In 1932 a law forced communal councillors to speak the language of the majority of the population. And therefore, there exist one monolingual French and one monolingual Flemish territory.

In 1938 another law was ratified: the education of soldiers ought to be in their mother tongue.

But this was all theoretical, in reality many problems prevented to realizing these laws. And for parents there was another difficulty: Flemish parents were in favour for the education of their children in their mother tongues, but, however, finally they preferred French in order to improve their children’s´ career.

 (1)Panowitsch, Doris: Französisch und Niederländisch in Brüssel. Frankfurt am Main. 1994. p. 4
 (2)cf. p. 4
 (3)cf. p. 5
 (4)p. 6
 (5)cf. p.. 6
 (6)p. 6

Marion Abel

Czech Republic


"Especially during the communist era there was very strong pressure on whole society which included censorship and of course influence on language trough medias and public manifestations. There were many mottos written everywhere and repeated many times. Some of them: With the Soviet Union hand in hand forever and never in another way. Proletarians of all countries get together! Meanings of some words shifted such as words bedevil, traitor (everybody who was against communistic regime), political party (just the one Communist party of Czechoslovakia), patriotism (in general each patriot was made to look to the Soviet Union and to the ideology). In official communication people had to call themselves “comrade”. Also pupils at schools had to call their teachers this way. Everything bourgeois was nasty and suppressed. And what was American or just western was the worst and banned in most cases (for example rock&roll music, literature…). Before Christmas children were persuaded that not “Ježíšek” but “Děda Mráz” (Grandpa Frost) brings Christmas presents."

Source: Andrea Novotná (student)

After the Treaty of Roskilde in 1658, the Danish region consisting of Scania, Blekinge and Halland (collectively known as Skåneland) became a Swedish dominion, but was allowed to keep its old privileges, laws and customs. However, from the 1680s, a process of swedification was introduced, including a switch of languages. From this time on, Swedish was supposed to be the standard language in Skåneland.

Nevertheless, the Danish dialect never faded completely, and even nowadays the scanic dialect includes Swedish as well as Danish characteristics, which is also the reason why the scanic dialect is either called South-Swedish dialect or Eastern- Danish dialect.

Until the 1950s, the vast majority of the Danish population used to speak some kind of dialect, so that every region used to have a specific dialect.Nevertheless, the media were still published in standard Danish and the Danish population had to speak standard Danish at school or at work.

Another kind of manipulation of people through language happened at the university of Kopenhagen until the 1960s. Until this time, students coming from Jytland had to take a special language course in order to learn standard Danish.




In Hungary people have always been manipulated or at least influenced with help of language.

Until the 19th century the official language in Hungary was Latin, afterwards for a short time German, since then Hungarian. The particular language was introduced by the particular ruler as a sign of advance and to convey values.

In the 20th century especially the two totalitarian regimes (National Socialism (1939-1944), Communism and Socialism (1944-1989)) wanted to exert pressure on the people by using euphemisms.

(Hr. Akos B., Gymnasiallehrer)

In the statues of Kilkenny, enacted in 1367, it is said thats forbidden for English people to speak Irish or mary Irish people ant thus mix up with the Irish. Language was used to diverse people. The English tried hard to distinguish the Irish language completely, but it was only in the 18th century that it became thel official language of the government. This may be the reason why so many people in Ireland see the Irish language as their cultural heritage.


In the aftermath of World War I, the government of Benito Mussolini forced all the Slavic, francophone, German and Greek populations living in Italy to adopt Italian culture. This process is known as Italianization. Among others, two of its aims were to create a sense of cohesion among the people living within the borders of Italy and to make them adhere to the government. An important manipulating instrument, which Mussolini and his government used in order to achieve these aims, was imposing Italian as the official language. They tried to force all the members of the diverse ethnic groups living in Italy to adopt Italian names, attend Italian language schools and churches and speak only the Italian language in public.

Characteristic items of the Italianization:

• obligatory Italianization of surnames (e.g. LiberovićLiberovici) and names of famous persons (e.g. William ShakespeareGuglielmo Scuotilancia)

• Italianization of the names of towns and villages (e.g. in South Tyrol: BruneckBrunico, Sterzing → Vipiteno; in the Aosta Valley: Sauze d’OulxSalice d’Ulzio).

The process of Italianization also included the prohibition of newspaper publications in non-Italian languages. In addition, efforts were made to "purify" the Italian language from anglicisms.

Sources:;; (28-08-2007)

In this context, it should be mentioned that also nowadays politicians often make use of language in order to manipulate people.

In Italy, a famous example for this is Silvio Berlusconi, who was Italy’s Prime Minister until 2006. He is the founder and main shareholder of Fininvest, the owner of three (out of seven) national television channels and of some of the country's most important newspapers. With this background information, one can easily imagine (and Berlusconi’s adversaries are persuaded of it) that his TV channels might have played an important role in his political career by airing some kind of propaganda during news or other information-oriented programming.

During his time as Prime Minister, Berlusconi was also accused of abusing his position to control the publicly owned RAI TV channels (→ that would mean that he controlled almost all TV sources of information!). Independent observers maintain that RAI 1 and RAI 2 were indeed controlled by him, while RAI 3 managed to remain independent.

Example: Berlusconi’s media control could be recognized in 2003 when he called Martin Schulz (a German politician, Member of the European Parliament) a "Nazi-Kapo": the RAI 1 news program showed this occurrence without audio and with a misleading comment.

Source: (28-08-2007)

As a consequence, if one regards all this information on Berlusconi’s media control as true, under him it was very difficult for the Italian population to find neutral and reliable sources of information on politics and news. So one can assume that many of the Italians might have got manipulated without realizing it at all.



Lithuania has a long history of suffering manipulation and repression by the Russian language. Russification measures though means of language were both used by the Tsarist authorities during the occupation of 1795 – 1915 when Russian was the only language sanctioned for public use, and re-emerged in more subtle fashion during the Soviet occupation of 1944 – 1990. During the Soviet administration people (p. e.) were supposed to use the old traditional word tėvynė (fatherland) to designate the entire Soviet Union while Lithuania was referred to as tėviškė (home area, home village, home town, native area).The Soviet Lithuanian press also frequently used phrases like "the dear Fatherland of socialism," and "the dear Soviet Fatherland". [1]



Today, it is self-evident that Luxemburgers speak German, Luxemburgish and French; although not always equally well. Most Luxemburgers speak German and Luxemburgish better than French, though. Of late this has the effect that some people do not understand their own laws any more, because since the liberation from the Nazi regime in 1944, all national laws are written in French.

Another way in which language manipulates people is when it is used by politicians; by capable rhetoricians like Jean-Claude Junker, who is a popular politician in Luxemburg, mostly do to his rhetorical skills. At present, he is the acting Prime and Finance Minister of Luxemburg. During his time as President of the European Council in 1995 he accomplished his greatest achievement, the ‘Dublin Compromise’ of 1995; this got him the honorary title ‘Hero of Dublin’. He manages to manipulate his fellow citizens by rhetoric means if he has to. This he did for example in 2005, when the people of Luxemburg were about to not accept the new EU-Constitution. He successfully persuaded the Luxemburgers and the new constitution was accepted by 57% of the voters.

Two examples of J.-C. Junker’s rhetorical skills:

„Ich glaube nicht, dass man in den USA und den angelsächsischen Ländern unzufrieden über eine französische Ablehnung [der EU-Verfassung] wäre. Das entspräche eher ihrer Vorstellung eines Europas, das geschwächt wäre, weil es die edelsten seiner Zukunftsambitionen aufgegeben hätte.” (Jean-Claude Juncker ; April, 19th 2005 on French radio)

„Die Länder, die mit Nein stimmen, müssen die Frage erneut stellen.” (May, 26th 2005; three days prior to France’s referendum on the EU-Constitution)


--Miriam B. 19:59, 30. Aug. 2007 (CEST)



"Z.B. der Umgang mit der Sklaverei-Vergangenheit (die Niederlande haben eine prominente Rolle im Sklavenhandel vom 17. Jh. an gespielt und man hat die Sklaverei z.B. mit Argumenten aus der Bibel gerechtfertigt.

ein anderes Beispiel war der Unabhängigkeitskrieg in (der ehemaligen NL-Kolonie) Indonesien Ende der 40er-Jahre: der wurde euphemistisch 'politionele actie' (Polizeiaktion) genannt." (Ulrike Vogl; FU Berlin)

"Ja: 'de Vlaamse taalstrijd' in Belgien: der Streit der 'flämische Bewegung' um für das Niederländische die gleiche Rechte als für das Französische zu bekommen." (Prof. Dr. Ann Marynissen; Universität Köln)

--Marina Liebel 20:34, 9. Sep. 2007 (CEST)

- Facing the Teutonic knights and the threat of Muscovy, Poland formed a union with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 16th century. This personal union was soon to be transformed into a Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Rzeczpospolita) by the Union of Lublin 1569 in which Poland was the dominating partner. Thereby the southern territories of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (roughly modern Ukraine) came under direct rule of the Polish Crown. Here the new official language was Polish and Latin. Although the original language Ruthenian remained as a lingua franca, it was more and more replaced through Polish in literature, religious polemic and official documents. So a huge part of the formation of opinion in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was expressed through Polish and their conceptions of the world.

- During WWII, the occupation of Poland by Nazi-Germany led to a "General Government" runned by the Germans. Its aim was to eradicate the Jews in Poland and to cast out the original Polish population in order to create living space for the Germans. For the realization of this aim language indirectly was a prominent factor again. Systematically Jews were isolated via leaflets that forbidded any help for the Jewish by the inhabitants and threatened with hard punishments for those who did. In addition the poles should be robbed the possibility of autonomy. Therefore education and press was cut to a minimum. The Polish youth should only visit a four-year school in which they learn to count to 500, to write their name and to obey. Reading was not neccessary. If there inhuman plans would have been successful, a new generation of Polish people would have been created with the lack of important parts of language and knowledge, manipulation in its worst form.

- After WWII Poland became a satellite nation of the Sovjet Union. In this postwar-period the Polish United Workers´ Party, the Communist Party of Poland, used language to spread their ideas in the form of posters, leaflets, radio, newespapers and television. Here is a link to specific propaganda posters published in the 50s in Poland:

The headlines of these poster are among others (translated):

- "The whole nation rebuilts its capital."

- "By the struggle of the whole nation we will top the 6-year-plan."

- "Our pride- constructions of socialism."

- "We work threesome, we build like a dozen."

Analyzing the headlines, one can see different methods of language use the authors are working with: Exaggerations and generaliazations ("whole nation", "threesome-dozen", "we"), ellipses, 1st Person Plural. Consequently, these headlines are suggestive.

Again, language was used to manipulate people. Here, to manipulate their opinion.



Obwohl ich Historiker bin (wenn auch im Bereich der Arbeiterbewegung), ist mir hierzu nur eingefallen, daß es eine Art von Manipulation durch das Lateinische der Kirchenensprache im Mittelalter gegeben hat (gegenüber dem ”einfachen” Volk) oder während der Hansezeit durch das Deutsche oder durch das Französische als Sprache des Adels. Eine Art von Manipulation ist natürlich auch die Behördensprache contra normale Sprache oder die Norm der Schriftsprache gegenüber der Umgangssprache. Und natürlich gehören die bereits allgemein genannten manipulativen Formulierungen und euphemistischen Umbenennungen von Politikern, der Regierung, von Behörden und in der Presse zum Bereich Manipulation. (Hr.Dr Grass;deutscher der aber schon seit 1964 in Uppsala wohnt)

The way the history is told is always a good way for manipulating people, the southern part of Sweden used to belong to Denmark, but was conquered in mid 17th century by the Swedes, the language was changed to Swedish. Now no one thinks about it anymore and people in the south of Sweden feel that they belong more to Sweden then Denmark, which wouldn’t be the case if the language would have remained Danish. Danish TV made a series about the war, from Danish eyes, which was broadcasted in Sweden, and due to the way the story was told I was for the Danish soldiers, quite different to to what I felt when I read in the History books at school. (John Wadbro from Seweden)



In the history of Switzerland, language has not been a factor for manipulating people but it has been a factor for political importance and influence. During the period of the Old Swiss Conferderacy (1291- 1798), the German language dominated other languages. Political power lay in German hands in the six cantons as well as in the seven cities. People who did not speak German only existed as subjects, not as equal members. Even though a large percentage of the German population was also subjects, only counties with German-speaking leaders could become full members.

Fribourg is especially interesting. It had been French and German from its birth, but in order to become a full member of the Confederacy, politicians decided to exclude French from the official languages even though a significant percentage of the population spoke French. All official documents were in German, and French schools were forbidden in 1495. In spite of all these efforts to promote German, it only took hold at the public level. People at home spoke as much French as they did before.


Bickel, Hans u. Schläpfer, Robert (Hrsg): Die viersprachige Schweiz. Frankfurt am Main 2000, S. 49-54.

--JohannaB 12:33, 22. Sep. 2007 (CEST)

United Kingdom


Manipulation through language is ubiquitous, but we encounter it above all in advertising, in the media and in political speeches.

A prominent example of manipulating people in the UK was the media coverage of the Gulf War (January - March 1991). According to Andreas Bohlen, both quality papers like The Guardian and tabloids like The Daily Mirror used plenty of euphemisms to convey that brave Englishmen were fighting against mad Iraqis. Antithesis as stylistic device ensured that the emotions of even those were stirred who were usually not interested in warfare. To illustrate the process of manipulation I would like to quote some examples given by Bohlen which appeared as such in the British press:

The British had an "army/navy/air force" whereas the Iraqis had a "war machine".

British "press briefings" were juxtaposed to Iraqi "propaganda".

The British "neutralised/decapitated" whereas the enemy "killed".

Moreover, the Englishmen were described as "professional, lion-hearts, cautious, confident, heroes, dare-devils, young knights of the skies, loyal, resolute and brave". The others on the other hand were regarded as "brainwashed, paper tigers, cowardly, desperate, cornered, cannon fodder, bastards of Baghdad, blindly obedient, ruthless and fanatical".

The British missiles caused "collateral damage" and not "civilian casualties" as did those of the enemy.

British "precision bombing" was juxtaposed to "firing wildly at anything in the skies" and whereas British planes "suffered a high rate of attrition" or simply "failed to return", Iraqi planes "were shot out of the sky" or "were zapped".


Bohlen, Andreas. Die sanfte Offensive: Untersuchungen zur Verwendung politischer Euphemismen in britischen und amerikanischen Printmedien bei der Berichterstattung über den Golfkrieg im Spannungsfeld zwischen Verwendung und Mißbrauch der Sprache. Frankfurt a. M.: Lang, 1994.

--SaskiaS 19:36, 12. Sep. 2007 (CEST)




  1. [1]Litaunus - Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Science, Volume 38, No.1 - Spring 1992