William C. Gay, "Nuclear Discourse and Linguistic Alienation"


Journal of Social Philosophy 18, n2 (Summer 1987), pp. 42-49



The lordly right of bestowing names is such that one would almost be justified in seeing the origin of language itself as an expression of the ruler's power

--Friedrich Nietzsche



I.   Introduction

A. Literature on Nuclear Weapons

l.   Few focus on nuclear discourse

a.  Politically, euphemistic and antiseptic character

b.  Psychologically, numbing effect

2.  Theoretical accounts lacking

B.  My Thesis

l.   Rossi-Landi on the social implications of language

a.  Categories of economic analysis (production, monopoly)

b.  Technical terminology as sublanguage

2.  Nuclear discourse as alienating sublanguage


II.    The Role of Special Sublanguages

A. Speaking as type of work

l.   "Sentences are verbal utensils"

a.  Linguistic markets in which words, like commodities, circulate

b.  Language can function as capital: control and profit

2.  Portions of language as private property

a.  Power for elite social groups

b.  Alienation for average citizen

B.  Language as Social and the Social Hierarchy

l.   Speaking as privileged

a.  Speaking (la langue) draws on sign system (la langue)

l)  Grammar and syntax are public

2) Lexicon is restricted

b.  Special sublanguages are organized systems of non-public discourse

2.  Personal vs Private sublanguages

a.  Analogy to property

1) Personal property includes one's toothbrush

2) Private property includes finance capital


b.  Sublanguages

l)  Personal sublanguage includes children's play and lovers' intimacy

2) Private sublanguage includes technical terminology of bureaucrats and strategists

3.  Function of Privileged Discourse

a.  Restricted communication of personal and private sublanguage

l)  Exclude others

2) Control information

b.  Distinct principles in control of personal and private sublanguages

l)  Rightly need control for love and friendship

a) Based on need for personal privacy

b) Preclude violation of privacy:  establish separation

c) Appropriate use of linguistic alienation

2) Wrongly pursue control for power and mastery of the public

a) Based on desire for public power

b) Involve violation by excluding public who should not  be separated

c) Inappropriate abuse of linguistic alienation

c.  Private sublanguages as covert institutional violence


III.     Gaining Voice and Linguistic Liberation

A. Nuclear Discourse as Private Sublanguage

l.   Private sublanguage

a.  Sublanguage because access to lexicon is restricted

b   Private because gives power to small group over a public issue

2.  Problems of private sublanguage of nuclear discourse

a.  Linguistic alienation of outsiders

l)  Acronyms like CEP, C3I, MIRV

2) Technical terms like strategic weapon, counterforce target, extended deterrence

b.  Affect on insiders

l)  Typically, power from mastery of technical terminology, e.g., control over nuclear debate

2) Distinctively, myopia

a) Thinking becomes value neutralized

b) Feelings become anesthetized

c.  Use of private sublanguage legitimates to nuclear weapons



B.  From Private to Public Language

l.   Critical vernacular

a.  Struggle for voice

l)  Close gap caused by privatization of terminology

2) Provide power to speakers

b.  Directions

l)  Abolition of nuclear discourse as a private sublanguage

2) Abolition of language of nuclear hopelessness

2.  Question of who abolishes

a.  Limited role of former governmental, military, and civilian planners

b.  Potential of outsiders who learn special sub-languages

3.  Types of images

a.  Negative images

l)  Horrors of nuclear war

2) Past concepts as no longer of value

a) Not nuclear 'war'

b) Omnicide

b.  Dangers of negativity

l)  Cut off from tradition's powerful criticisms of much warfare (not listen to past)

2) Prospect for elitist protest community with its own technical vocabulary (alienate masses in present)

3) Deny ourselves in imagination a future (impotent and hopeless regarding future)

c.  Positive imagery

l)  From critique to vision

2) Illustration of House-Friend

a) "The house-friend is friend to the house which the world is"

b) Watch for threats to our planet


IV.     Conclusion

A. Nuclear Discourse as Distorted Communication

l.   Example of private sublanguage

2.  Linguistic alienation of citizens in public policy arena

B.  Critical Vernacular

l.   Bring language to people

2.  We can have a critical vernacular which, in over-coming linguistic alienation, also becomes a voice of hope and empowerment