Language and Power

Martin A. Mohr

Article Type: Perspective

Publication Date: 7/1/1990

Issue: Church Talk: Slogans and Shibboleths (Vol. 10, No 3, Summer, 1990)

No one will be surprised to learn that language is power. Those who make it their business to deconstruct discourse seem almost jealous of the power of words to determine meanings. All seem agreed that words shift in meaning, depending on user, place, and historical circumstance. In my discipline—English language and literature—conferences and journals are filled with phrases like “empower the marginalized.” Leaving aside for the moment the jargon of that phrase, translated into action it means that English teachers empower students by helping them to undermine meanings that old power elites had constructed. This power reality functions in church talk just as it does in English teaching. The words I wish to discuss relate in some fashion to two key concepts which I believe lie behind many of the current arguments within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The two categories of controversy relate to the words “unity” and “process.”

Download Article PDF