Thursday, May 7, 2009

Deborah Tannen on the Argument Culture

The linguist Deborah Tannen has conducted, for example, a comprehensive
research of the metaphorical concept argument is war that is seen in the
various aspects of American culture (politics, election, sports, news, litigation,
gender issues, etc.).24 According to Tannen, American culture is essentially an
“argument culture” or “aggression culture”, wherein the people perceive and

describe events in their society in terms of battle or game.25 To list but a few
examples of the characteristic utterances in the argument culture:26
Who won? (presidential campaign)
Join the battle as opinion leaders fi re off their views about today’s hot issues on two
of the most dynamic shows on the air (media advertisement)
It’s not how you play the game but whether you win or lose (sports)
Knockdown pitch (sports)
When I get out there, I’m going to attack you. But don’t take it personally. Th at’s
why they invite me on, so that what I’m going to do (a fellow guest on a television
Th e Battle of the Sexes (a title of a gender-issue forum)
attorneys . . . routinely twist the discovery rules into some of the most powerful
weapons in the arsenal of those who abuse the adversary system (litigation)

Tannen discusses the U.S. litigation system as one of the distinct manifestations
of the confrontational inclination of this culture. In that system, she
points out, the whole process of prosecution and defense is conceived in terms
of war (i.e., litigation is war) and, therefore, the ultimate objective which is
supposed to be “fi nding the truth” seems to be subordinate to “winning and
losing”.27 In other words, the metaphorical model of litigation is war determines
a priori the mindset of the people in court, and sets the plaintiff and the
defendant as adversaries.
As Tannen fully demonstrates, the metaphorical concept argument is
war is so deeply ingrained in the mindset of the people of this culture
that it is hard for them to think of anything other than war in relation to
argument. If, however, as cognitive linguists George Lakoff and Mark

qtd in

Vetus Testamentum 59 (2009) 222-243
Toward a Poetics of the Biblical Mind:
Language, Culture, and Cognition