Language of war
In our studies of language in a cultural context, we can explore the culture of war. Just as every industry has its jargon, every region has its accent and every social group has its slang, so too does war have its unique use of language. We are talking about the kind of language that is used to manipulate people and make them believe in a cause that may not even affect them. We are talking about the kind of language that political leaders use in private telephone conversations. We are talking about the use of euphemisms, bias and epithet used in newspaper reports on tragedy and violence.
The following activities asks you to engage with four texts on the Vietnam War. How much do you already know about the war? What kinds of questions do these texts raise? What kinds of stylistic devices do these texts use, which are characteristic of the language of war? We will ask ourselves these questions in order to meet the learning outcomes for Part 1. We will analyze how audience and purpose affect the structure and content of various texts. We should also be able to show how language and meaning are shaped by the culture of war.
What do you already know?
What do you already know about the Vietnam War? Before you start any unit or lesson on a topic, it is useful to make a KWL diagram: What do you KNOW? What do you WANT to learn? And what have you LEARNED (to be filled in after the lesson). Try filling out left two columns of the following table individually or in a group.
Asking the right questions
Below you see four texts (A-D) that appear in a random order. They all have to do with the Vietnam War. Notice that the title of the texts, the authors' names and the year of publication have all been removed. Place these texts in the order in which they were created (not necessarily the order in which they were published). In order to do this activity, you have to play detective and look for contextual clues within the text. Good detectives ask questions. Make a list of the questions that you had to ask in order to place these texts in the right order. Your list of questions may start like this list:
The language of war
Below you see several kep concepts and some passages from Texts A-D. What do these concepts mean? Which passage from the right column illustrates each concept from the left column?
These activities raise a lot of questions about teaching texts in and out of context. Two of the three activities rely on an information gap exercise, and one relies on a knowledge sharing exercise. How do these strategies facilitate learning language in a cultural context?
Paper 1 - Text B is an excellent text to analyze as a practice Paper 1 at SL. Even HL students can benefit from analyzing single texts before doing comparative analyses.
Written task 1 - The author of Text C, Walter Cronkite, received a lot of criticism for writing that text. It was a very controversial piece in its time. You could write several shorter etters to the editor of the newspaper that published this piece. Be sure to question his role. Is he writing as a news reporter or an opinion columnist?
Further oral activity - The telephone conversations can be heard in the 2003 documentary on Robert McMamara titled, The Fog of War. As you watch the documentary, take notes on how language is used by both McNamara and others in relation to war. Present your findings in a presentation.