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ISSN 2227-6017 (ONLINE), ISSN 2303-9868 (PRINT), DOI: 10.18454/IRJ.2227-6017
ПИ № ФС 77 - 51217, 16+


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Alieva T.V. et al. "TEACHING ESP: OPPOSITION “WE-THEY”". Meždunarodnyj naučno-issledovatel’skij žurnal (International Research Journal) № 04 (58) Part 2, (2017): 9. Mon. 17. Apr. 2017.
Alieva, T.V. & Tymbay, A.A. (2017). OBUCHENIE ANGLIYSKOMU DLYA SPECIALYNYH CELEY: OPPOZICIYA «SVOY-CHUGHOY» [TEACHING ESP: OPPOSITION “WE-THEY”]. Meždunarodnyj naučno-issledovatel’skij žurnal, № 04 (58) Part 2, 9-11.
Alieva T. V. TEACHING ESP: OPPOSITION “WE-THEY” / T. V. Alieva, A. A. Tymbay // Mezhdunarodnyj nauchno-issledovatel'skij zhurnal. — 2017. — № 04 (58) Part 2. — С. 9—11. doi: 10.23670/IRJ.2017.58.047



Aлиева Т.В. 1, Тымбай A.А.2, кандидат филологических наук, Московский государственный институт международных отношений (университет) МИД России;, кандидат филологических наук, Московский государственный институт международных отношений (университет) МИД России



В статье  рассматриваются особенности изменения лексических, синтаксических и просодических структур под влиянием  лингвокультурного концепта «свой-чужой». Данные изменения чаще всего являются неочевидными для носителей языка, однако требуют пристального внимания при изучении английского как иностранного, особенно в контексте политического диалога.  Особое внимание уделено случаям, когда  невнимание к оппозиции «свой-чужой» может препятствовать эффективной коммуникации. Основной задачей преподавателя английского для специальных целей в этом случае становится формирование у студентов лингвокультурной компетенции. Базой для ее формирования может стать как изучение актуальных текстов и видеозаписей, так и проведение дебатов и круглых столов по форматам, актуальным для политического дискурса. 

Ключевые слова: оппозиция «свой-чужой», политический диалог,  политический дискурс, дебаты, круглый стол.

Alieva T.V. 1, Tymbay A.A. 2, PhD in Philology, associate professor, MGIMO University; 2 PhD in Philology, associate professor, MGIMO University



The article focuses on the linguistic representation of the conceptual opposition “WE –THEY” in the English political discourse. The changing lexis, syntax and prosodic structures may go unnoticed by native speakers, yet require special attention when teaching ESP students. The article highlights language implications that may prevent adequate understanding of a political dialogue due to differences in cultural and linguistic background, the main objective of the teacher being to encourage intercultural awareness of students by means of studying samples of up-to-date texts and videos as well as conducting debates and round-table discussions.

Keywords: opposition “we-they”, political dialogue, political discourse, debates, round-table discussion.

It is essential that would-be politicians and Foreign Service officers who will use English as a means of communication in their work be able not only to merely express their ideas in English but to get their message across in a most diplomatic way. What is more, they should be equipped to read the received message most adequately understanding all the nuances and shades conveyed by a speaker. Being one of the fundamental concepts of the political discourse, opposition “we – they” manifests itself in various language devices. Reference to the opposition “we – they” runs through lexis, morphology, syntax; so, it is vital to raise students’ awareness of the whole range of linguistic tools which can be used in the language of politics. Though it is not only linguistic aspects that should be delved into, special attention should be also paid to building intercultural competencies. Students must be made aware that effective communication relies heavily on one’s understanding of other cultures and acquisition of intercultural competence is as important as acquisition of language skills, especially in terms of political discourse.

Opposition “we – they” being one of the central concepts of political discourse, it is essential to understand that in essence it is an evaluative category. Calling someone “we” or “they” does not always mean indicating, it implies evaluating. In the past this evaluation was fundamentally based on positive evaluation of “us” and negative evaluation of “them”. “We are good, they are bad” principle helped our prehistoric ancestors survive. Had they shown any sympathy to a man from an alien tribe he would have been stabbed to death and eaten for dinner. We live in a civilized world where people are less likely to be guided by this cruel principle. It is fortunate that the modern world of politics is not primitively all black-and-white; political relations represent a wide scope of attitudes and values. It is apparent that “they” can be seen not only as an enemy, but as a friend, a partner, or merely as someone different. Moreover, students acquiring political discourse competences should be made aware of a tolerant attitude to “them”, which is generally considered to be the most acceptable approach to otherness in the western culture. They should be exposed to the whole diversity of linguistic devices that would be appropriate to a particular situation involving “them” and that would let them avoid causing offence to their counterpart.

First of all, the study of English political discourse should focus on lexis, which seems to be the most apparent linguistic tool that can be employed to express various attitudes to “them”, i.e. someone viewed as a friend, a partner, an alien, or an enemy. It is recommended that students be exposed to the list of words which explicitly express the idea of friendly, positive attitude to someone (e.g. friend, ally/alliance, bond, close relationship, cooperation; to love, to like, to cling to, to support, to have a close interest in, to stand shoulder to shoulder, to see eye-to-eye); as well as the list of words with explicit negative meaning to refer to someone seen as an enemy (e.g. enemy, foe, adversary, hostile, threat, fear, evil-doer, contempt, resentment; to dislike, to confront, to hate, to be angry with; rival/confronting/warring camps).As most of the words are likely to be familiar to proficient students, on this stage students can be engaged in various activities aimed at distinguishing synonyms and their contextual differences as well as get an insight into cultural and/or political implications of their usage.

In terms of lexis a particular focus should be on metaphors, asthose images that may be seen as effective in one language may appear to be utterly inappropriate or incomprehensible in another language. Thus, students should get an exposure to the range of most frequent English metaphors and learn how to identify the evaluative meaning of various images. In the English political discourse the images that are evoked when you talk about someone you are strongly opposed to can be the images of war and crime; conversely, a speaker’s positive attitude to someone regarded as a friend and partner may be highlighted by the images of home, welcomed guests or close neighbors.

Apart from metaphors the use of derogatory words and phrases is to be accentuated. In some cultures the use of derogatory vocabulary would be regarded as appropriate in the context involving “them” (for example, during pre-election political debates when trying to repel one’s opponent’s attacks); however, students should be strongly discouraged from using offensive words and phrases as such communication may be most destructive to any diplomatic and political relations.

Meanwhile, derogatory remarks should be distinguished from dysphemisms, which are used to intensify negative meanings in the situations when such usage is justifiable. For instance, it may be acceptable when a speaker refers to terrorist attacks or atrocities of war. Cf.: killing || indiscriminate killing; to kill || to slaughter; acts of violence || random acts of savagery. Students should be also made aware that this linguistic device is frequently employed by the mass media and politicians as a tool of manipulation. If a need arises to present a person, a group of people, or an organization in a most unfavourable light and to prejudice the public against someone, dysphemisms are often used. Identifying such usages will help a recipient of the message interpret it adequately and decode the evaluative shades a speaker is trying to convey.

Conversely, euphemisms are applied in the context about “us” or someone seen as a friend or ally as they mitigate negative implications of an action. They are as effective as dysphemisms in guiding public opinion. Students should be exposed to examples of euphemisms as they may be different in different languages and cannot be always translated literally. It should be also explained that there is no fixed list of euphemisms, and along with quite common euphemisms (such as collateral damage, freedom fighters) there can be diverse ways of disguising negative meanings (e.g. “Afghan adventure” referring to the military intervention in Afghanistan). In fact, students are rarely aware of this linguistic device, and it is usually their first insight into the phenomenon. For this reason the primary task students may be asked to perform is trying to identify dysphemisms and euphemisms in various contexts (political debates, interviews, articles) and to look for their plain equivalents that would express a meaning more adequately. Later on students may be asked to apply euphemisms and dysphemisms in various texts making use of the lists they have compiled so far. To perform the task effectively they should be well-informed about the political situation in the world as well as a perspective from which a particular event is to be looked at, especially when they face a task of using either a euphemism or dysphemism.

Such activities raise students’ awareness of manipulation they can be exposed to in a political dialogue and equip them with the skills which may come in handy when they become professional Foreign Service officers or politicians.

Another important aspect that is not to be overlooked in the study of a political discourse is grammar manifestations of opposition “we-they”. ESP students are usually so focused on grammar accuracy that they fail to see the power of suggestionembodied in syntax.Special emphasis should be placed on the effectiveness of various voice structures as an implicit tool for shaping one’s positive or negative image; e.g. when a speaker refers to a hostile country or opposing party the active voice forms would be more effective as they highlight an initiator of an act of violence and aggression, or ill-conceived policy. By the same token the active voice form may enhance a positive role of “us”. It may be reasonable to get students to perform various tasks where they would change the voice to see how the focus is shifted to “us” or  to “them” depending on evaluative meaning. Another more challenging task is to transform the given sentences so as to enhance positive evaluation of “us” and to intensify negative evaluation of “them”.

Besides it is advisable that students be exposed to the range of morphological devices that can be applied to the opposition “we – they”. To identify someone with “us” prefixes “pan-” and “pro-” can be used, whereas to represent “them” one can apply such prefixes as “anti-”, “un-”, “non-”. The activities to be performed at this stage should not be limited to mere word-formation exercises; an intercultural component is to be integrated. Such tasks can be based on diverse political contexts; then in their choice of prefixes students are expected to be guided by their understanding of the recent political developments in the world.

One more fundamental aspect of studying a political dialogue is phonology, whose role is unfortunately underestimated by many teachers. The problem is that we often take our ability to communicate ideas for granted, however communicative tactics and rhetorical skills of making oneself understood are often overlooked.

To practice skills of interacting in a political dialogue it is advisable to organize a number of different events and practices. Audio and video examples of a political dialogue can easily be found on the Internet. As G. Snigarenko puts it, the texts that are produced directly by politicians in the form parliamentary debates, answers to questions of colleagues, public hearings and interviews of political leaders may serve as perfect samples of implied political intentions [1, P. 70-72]. Though difficult to imitate in class, videos of this kind can provide abundant material for their analysis.

Talking about introducing political dialogue into classroom practice, organized debates set a perfect example that can be used by students to take part in. Debates as nothing else divide the classroom into “we” and “they”. It should be said, however, that in most legislative bodies, the procedure of debates is strictly regulated and, in fact, participants rarely come into direct impromptu conversation without the mediation of the chairman or the speaker of the house, but if the debate moves into an active stage, this communication can be easily patterned on. If the subject of the discussion allows it, a teacher can also engage students in a panel discussion or a round-table discussion, which are not that strict in the procedure. The scope of this category also includes semi-spontaneous dialogues, reenactments of political cases and trials. A thing to remember here is to maintain different opinions regarding the matter.

Thus, the analysis of the content of various dialogues with students of diplomacy and foreign relations based on the conceptual opposition “we – they”, as well as the communicative-pragmatic perspective on a dialogue can establish a broad approach in teaching and understanding political discourse.

 Students have to learn that a huge role in choosing a technique of turn taking is played by the status of speakers, which is especially noticeable in interviews of politicians [2, P.44-45]. The higher the status of the participants is, the higher the incidence of smooth transitions. Participants of formal political dialogues strictly observe the etiquette of speech (as above mentioned, even the most heated debates are always strictly regulated). Pauses in this debate do not become a place of seizing the initiative. Communicants always wait until the statement of a previous speaker is completed. Students should also be aware of the distinctive intonation patterns of a political dialogue and possible communicative strategies acceptable in the language and culture they study as certain types of non-verbal behavior or some ways of interrupting a partner may be not only unacceptable but also even rude. Ignorance in such issues may hinder mutual understanding or even ruin effective communication process.  Teaching English for specific purposes in terms of a case study or a project work may form good understanding of a foreign political culture, provide classes with vivid examples and teach students to understand “we – they” opposition in the right way.

In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that all the above-mentioned activities involve intercultural competences, and English language classes can no longer be limited to considering only language matters. This implies that English classes should be seen as a part of a course which includes the disciplines aimed at raising students’ awareness of intercultural diversity, or acquisition of intercultural competences integrated into language classes.


Список литературы / References

  1. Снигаренко Г.П. Некоторые средства прагматической интенции в публицистических текстах / Г.П. Снигаренко // Филологические науки в МГИМО: Сб. научных трудов / МГИМО(У) МИД России; Отв. ред. Л.Г. Кашкуревич. – М.: МГИМО, 2002. – С. 63-72.
  2. Тымбай А.А. Политический диалог на занятиях со студентами, изучающими английский язык для специальных целей / А.А. Тымбай // Международный научно-исследовательский журнал. – 2017. – №02 (56) Часть 1. – С. 44-46.

Список литературы на английском языке / References in English

  1. Snigarenko G.P. Nekotorye sredstva pragmaticheskoj intencii v publicisticheskih tekstah [Some means of expressing pragmatic intentions in media texts] / G.P. Snigarenko // Filologicheskie nauki v MGIMO: Sb. nauchnyh trudov [Philological studies in MGIMO: a collection of articles]. – M.: MGIMO, 2002. – P. 63-72. [in Russian]
  2. Tymbay A.A. Politicheskij dialog na zanjatijah so studentami, izuchajushhimi anglijskij jazyk dlja special’nyh celej [Teaching political dialogue in ESP classes] / A.A. Tymbay // Mezhdunarodnyj nauchno-issledovatel’skij zhurnal [International Research Journal]. – 2017. – №02 (56) Part 1. – P. 44-46. [in English]

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