The Language Game
“Guns don’t kill people, the National Rifle Association likes to say: people kill people. In the same sense, “words don’t change reality, people change reality. But like guns, words make it possible for people to achieve the effects they seek” (Lakoff, 104). But what about if someone puts the gun in the other person’s hand and persuades the person to use the gun? Whose fault is it? Is it the person who’s using the gun? Or is it the voice behind it? This question comes to mind during the trial of Tavares D. Harris. This Rockville teen supplied the gun to his accomplice, Kevin Nguyen, and aided him in planning a shooting and attempted murder at the Rockville Metro station in May (Arias, 2012). The events that transpired behind this tragic event correspond to the correlation between the three concepts: language, politics, and power.
During opening statements at the trial, the state attorneys accused Harris of providing the handgun used in the crime and discussing the shooting with other teens, including the shooter, in the days leading up to it. Harris is charged with attempted murder. The connection between the incident and the trial brings the ideas of Robin Lakoff’s piece “Language, Politics, and Power” into focus. Language is a source of power. The words itself are empty. They are “mere words,” “empty rhetoric,” “just semantics” (Lakoff, 104). It is the speaker’s skill in phraseology and how he/she delivers them that gives the words power. The power to persuade someone to think the way you want them to. This action is what Harris was triumphant in doing to Nguyen, which is parallel to what the attorneys are attempting to achieve with the jury. Consequently, the results of the effectiveness of their linguistic proficiency with the attorneys are unsure given that the trial has just begun. On the other hand, we can speculate that Harris has high “recognition of the ability of language to create, highlight, and distort reality,” therefore giving him the “power to force language to do their will,” since he was successful in persuading Nguyen to carry out the shooting (Lakoff, 102).
Harris held the power. To get that power, he utilized politics by means of his own personal gains. In order to drive politics, Harris used language. Nguyen acted as a mere puppet. One that moved in sync with the commands of his puppeteer’s fingers. It was suspected that Harris “aided and abetted the shooter” (Arias, 2012). Whatever Harris commanded, Nguyen sought it through. In this case, politics seems to have worked at the level of the individual. As Lakoff suggests, “there are winners and losers: winners get the power, the means to do as they choose and to define their own actions and those of others” (Lakoff, 102). The winner in the context of the news article would be Harris. Then there are the losers. “Losers get destroyed or devalued or otherwise reduced in status.” (Lakoff, 102) At the whim of Harris: a teenage boy was manipulated, and two victims were taken to the hospital for non life-threatening injuries. Not only that, it was also reported that the victim was in possible confrontations with Nguyen before the shooting occurred. This phenomenon relates back to Lakoff’s idea that “language has tremendous potency, often more than the reality it stands for, because so much volatile emotion attaches to them” (Lakoff, 104). Harris played on that emotion, that hatred between Nguyen and the victim. He manipulated and