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Language and Persuasion




Admission Requirements



The aim of this course is to make students critically aware of the persuasive power of language in politics and media. How do politicians make strategic use of language to sell their policies? How can linguistic analysis reveal hidden ideologies in news texts? The starting point for this course is the insight that the way in which an object or event is portrayed in language is never neutral: linguistic choices generate rhetorical effects. It therefore makes a difference whether people who oppose a political leader are characterized as freedom fighters or as rebels, or whether the European Union is characterized as a family or as a bottomless pit.

In this class we will investigate the rhetorical consequences of linguistic choices in the domains of media and politics by studying insights from critical discourse analysis, stylistics and modern persuasion research. The theoretical insights will be put into practice by analysing actual texts.

This course is complementary to the course on The Power of Words (taught in Block 2). However, it is possible to participate in Language and Persuasion without having attended The Power of Words.

Course Objectives

  • Knowledge of the aims and methods of (critical) discourse analysis

  • Knowledge of the most important stylistic features that are analyzed within Critical Discourse Analysis

  • Broad familiarity with stylistic means that contribute to the persuasiveness of texts

  • Ability to use methods of (critical) discourse analysis in the analysis of actual texts

  • Ability to recognize the rhetorical effects of stylistic devices in actual texts

Mode of Instruction

In each class we will discuss parts of books and articles. Active participation is paramount. The reading work has to be prepared by uploading weekly web postings; during class all students are expected to engage in discussions. We will apply the theoretical insights to actual texts. Each week a number of students will be asked to prepare and lead parts of the group discussions about the assigned literature.


To be confirmed in course syllabus:

In-class participation: 10%
Weekly web-postings (500 words): 25%
Group presentations (2 per student): 25%
Final research essay (3000 words): 40%


The literature for each class will be placed on Blackboard. Students are required to print the compulsory literature themselves, and bring to class. In the case that material cannot appear on Blackboard due to copyright restrictions, a web link will be placed. Again, students will then need to retrieve and print the compulsory literature themselves.

Contact Information

Drs. Maarten van Leeuwen,

Weekly Overview

Week 1: Introduction / (critical) discourse analysis
Week 2: (critical) discourse analysis in practice / hiding and taking for granted: nominalisation and presupposition
Week 3: Strategic use of active and passive voice / language and identity
Week 4: Transitivity analysis / Language and advertising
Week 5: (Critical) discourse analysis and argumentation / Humour, language and power
Week 6: Political bias and informalization in the news / Criticisms of CDA
Week 7: Presentations by students
Week 8: Reading week (no classroom hours)

Preparation for first session

Homework for the first session will be published on blackboard, a week before the course starts.