Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. April 2006

14.1. Re-Shaping Eastern Communities’ Patterns through the European Union Context
Herausgeberin | Editor | Éditeur: Anca Irinel Teleoacă ( "Lower Danube" University, Galati, Romania)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation

Gina Necula ("Lower Danube" University): Linguistic patterns as means of persuasion

Gina Necula ("Lower Danube" University)



"God spoke before all things and said 'Let there be light'. In this way he created both heaven and earth; for with the utterance of the divine word 'there was light' (Genesis 1:3-4). Thus Creation itself arose through an act of speech" [Umberto Eco - 'The Search For a Perfect Language']


Engaging in any discourse presupposes a collage of ready made linguistic structures likely to be decoded by speakers under certain conditions such as: sharing the same code, assigning the same meaning to the structure in case, etc. Linguistic patterns are condensed formulas communicating universal wisdom whose occurrence in the discourse confers argumentative authority. Originating in a former or present lingua franca and being widely recognized, such structures have invaded other languages, serving the same strategic use in view of reaching persuasive goals.


This essay tries to offer a perspective on different possibilities of structuring the discourse so as to be persuasive. Effective persuasiveness is brought about by many linguistic variables that powerful communicators use as a tool to make the listeners accept their ideas. A skilled communicator, with a high social position can impose his power on those with less. In this respect, discourse is dependent on both the context of the conversation and the vocabularies that are acquired over the course of social, professional, and vocational training. In other words, we communicate to some extent using a vocabulary contained in the scripts of our daily lives and daily experiences(1). We are, in fact, concerned with language use beyond the boundaries of a sentence/utterance, with the interrelationships between language and society and with the interactive or dialogic properties of everyday communication.

As Labov (1977) noted, "one of the most human things that human beings do is talk to one another. We can refer to this activity as conversation, discourse, or spoken interaction"(2). As "one of the most human things" which we do, it stands to reason that meaning is often assumed to be shared in verbal interaction. However, we know that words are laden with symbolic meaning in addition to being tools for simply sharing information or experience. A critical point is that each of us differs in terms of our information and experience, and despite the ideal of having a "standard language" even among people speaking the same dialect of the same language, or being truly "bilingual" the fact is that each of us on this planet adds our own nuance to words, or phrases, or intonation, or some combination thereof.

Bronislaw Malinowski(3) tried to prove that language is used to perform social functions; in other words, social relationships and interaction are geared to the use of linguistic expressions. One such functions consists of what he called fatic communion - a feeling of belonging to a community. He observed that women used different expressions from those used by men in order to conform to their social role. Fatic communion also implies being aware of a particular status within the hierarchies of the group, and at the same time a feeling of accepting others and being oneself accepted by others.

In his essay Functional Language (i.e. language at work within a discourse frame), the Romanian linguist Eugen Coseriu(4) states that the process of speaking can be generally seen as a mixture between linguistic patterns, in a special category called repeated discourse (that is reproducing fixed/preset formulas) and free technique (which means - freedom in combining the formulae mentioned above). Coseriu tries to prove that the speakers bear in mind a number of linguistic patterns which they experience throughout their entire life and make use of them in order to ease their conversation. This way, speakers get acquainted with a series of preset formulae (specific to their culture) by interacting with the others, and their only freedom in the speech act is that of originally and personally combining these patterns. In other words repeated discourse stands for linguistic clichés that share some specific features. According to the cultural critic Umberto Eco(5), we live in an age where the diminutive, the brief and the simple are highly praised in communication.

When talking about persuasion we should remember some features observable in these linguistic patterns:

Taking into consideration all these opinions, we may say that there are some elements, which the encoder and the decoder of the message have in common in order to interact. The communication process depends on a series of factors: social relationships are negotiated and controlled through such means. A speaker's choice of linguistic means can signal his/her perception of the interactional context, including the elements of formality, acquaintance etc. The elements that facilitate communication are:

fatic communion
social relationship / social status
the same culture
proper decoding of the context of situation

linguistic activity having
a persuading goal

Here we can mention different types of linguistic patterns that have the function of persuading the listener into doing something without any particular contextual specification: we think of proverbs and sayings, comparisons, idioms, quotes.


1. Proverbs and sayings

The category in question here stands for preset formulae bearing a generally accepted meaning. Firstly, they have the authority of being processed in advance, and secondly, of being known and used similarly by all the speakers. This way, they become a kind of 'imperative communication' their advantage being that nobody questions them, because they are condensed formulae communicating universal wisdom whose occurrence in the discourse confers argumentative authority.

For exemple we can think of some proverbs such as:

2. Idioms

Growth in language abilities takes place as a result of planned language experiences. The ability of using and correctly decoding the idioms proves that language develops in use. The words are used so as to get the receiver to go along with what the speaker intends, perhaps without him or her having to really make a full case.

3. Comparisons

A third type of repeated discourse is the category of traditional comparisons, which are largely used by speakers in order to give their message a certain degree of authority. For example, nobody questions the truth of the saying 'as blind as a bat'. Such structures have invaded other languages, preserving the same strategy to reach their persuasive goals. We can identify certain comparisons in different languages carrying the same meaning: snow white in English,blanc comme neige in French, alb ca zăpada in Romanian. These cast an issue in a favorable or unfavorable light, or can highlight or suppress certain aspects. They work by suggesting a likeness between a character and the listener, or a situation and the listener's. What is emphasized or suppressed is key.


When discussing the quotes we should firstly state that they can be of different derivation (i.e. literary, political, etc.). Wolfgang Iser(6) explains what happens when quotes are inserted in a discourse. "The text provokes certain expectations which in turn we project onto the text in such a way that we reduce the polysemantic possibilities to a single interpretation in keeping with the expectations aroused, thus extracting an individual, configurative meaning".

It is obvious that quotes like the ones presented below have a strong impact on the receiver due to their redundancies.

These are just a few samples of famous sayings that are endowed with a strong authority which therefore cannot easily be contradicted.

We have already mentioned that quotations are a very effective way of inducing certain reactions and attitudes. Most of the time, the speaker does not need the complete text, especially when dealing with famous literature or lyrics. This is the case with "To be or not to be", where no contextual specification is needed. The same happens when trying to embellish a message with lyrics, such as: Love of my life..., I've just called...,I've got you babe... The speaker is able to decode the meaning of such text even if he/she is not provided with a complete text.

To conclude we can say that with these prefabs the receiver of a message is assigned the same linguistic competence as the one composing it in order to either persuade or manipulate. Linguistic clichés are used to create or emphasize power so that the communicator can enhance his or her superiority. The present study has provided some initial evidence of the interaction between discoursive sequence and affective strategies. It seems that different cultures may utilize different dimensions of linguistic and discourse strategies. Communication between human beings, therefore, involves an active receptivity on the part of the hearer and not a mere passivity. The pattern actualizes some potential in the mind of the receiver. It prompts him or her to look at things in a certain way so as to be able to form an opinion and grow in understanding. Their value lies precisely in the attitude that they induce into speakers.

© Gina Necula ("Lower Danube" University)


(1) Fenichel, M. and Dan, P. "Heads from Post and Times on Three-Mile Island", Journalism Quarterly. Vol.77. No.2. (Summer 1980) pp.338-339, 368

(2) Labov, W. Therapeutic Discourse: Psychotherapy as Conversation, NY.: Academic Press. 1977.

(3) Malinowski, B. "The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages", in The Routledge Language & Cultural Theory Reader, Edited by Lucy Burke, Tony Crowley & Alan Girvin. London. Reprinted 2001. p. 390.

(4) Coşeriu, E. Lecţii de lingvistică. Bucuresti: Editura Arc. 2000. pp. 246-265.

(5) Eco, U., 2002, "Diminutive, but perfectly formed", Guardian Newpaper. 20 April 2002.

(6) Iser, Wolfgang, "The reading process: a phenomenological approach" in Modern Criticism and Theory. A Reader, Edited by David Lodge. New York: Longman INC. 1988. p.213.


1. Coşeriu, E. Lecţii de lingvistică, Bucuresti: Editura Arc. 2000

2. Eco, U., The Search For a Perfect Language, Blackwell Publishers. 1995

3. Eco, U., "Diminutive, but perfectly formed", Guardian Newpaper. 20 April, 2002

4. Fenichel, M. and Dan, P. "Heads from Post and Times on Three-Mile Island", Journalism Quarterly, Vol.77. No.2. Summer 1980

5. Iser, Wolfgang. "The reading process: a phenomenological approach", in Modern Criticism and Theory. A Reader. David Lodge (ed.). New York: Longman INC. 1988

6. Labov, W. Therapeutic Discourse: Psychotherapy as Conversation. New York: Academic Press. 1977

7. Malinowski, Bronislaw. "The Problem of Meaning in Primitive Languages", in The Routledge Language & Cultural Theory Reader. Lucy Burke, Tony Crowley & Alan 8. Girvin (eds.). London: Routledge. 2001

8. Thun, Harald. Probleme der Phraseologie. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer. 1978

14.1. Re-Shaping Eastern Communities’ Patterns through the European Union Context

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  16 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Gina Necula ("Lower Danube" University): Linguistic patterns as means of persuasion. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW: ../../../index.htmtrans/16Nr/14_1/necula16.htm

Webmeister: Peter R. Horn     last change: 15.4.2006     INST