September 09, 2004

More on Lakoff on framing

Yesterday, AlterNet posted selections from chapter 1 of George Lakoff's forthcoming book Don't Think of an Elephant, as well as the book's Introduction (by Don Hazen).

The posted selections feature George's story about the metaphorical content of the phrase tax relief, as well as his riff on the strict father vs. nurturant parent dichotomy.

Reading the parenting discussion, I was reminded of the now-conventional point that Satan gets all the best lines in Paradise Lost. As William Blake put it

The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it.

I don't say this because I'm a fan of James Dobson (whom Lakoff discusses at length), or for that matter of Satan. It's just that George's account of the "strict father model" seems crisp and sharp, while his description of the "nurturant parent model" seems fuzzy and distant in comparison. Read what he wrote, and see what you think.

It starts with the words he chooses for the names of the models, which contrast in word frequency (strict with 6,430,000 web hits on Google, vs. nurturant at 8,130 whG) as well as syllable count. In his discussion as excerpted on AlterNet, there's also a contrast in scope: in 340 words, the strict father section lays out a view of the world, human nature, and the roles of father and child; in 720 words, the nurturant parent section mentions a contrasting idea about human nature, but otherwise focuses on the attitudes and actions of the parents. There's no clear characterization of relation of the family to the world outside it, and no discussion at all of the child's role in the family.

(Previous Language Log posts on Lakoff's analyses of political ideas and political language are here, here, here, and here).

[AlterNet tip by email from Abnu at WordLab]


Posted by Mark Liberman at September 9, 2004 10:40 AM