A Study of Euphemisms in the Diplomatic Language!11

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A Study of Euphemisms in the Diplomatic Language!11

重庆理工大学外国语学院学年论文 A Study of Euphemisms in the Diplomatic Language

    1 Introduction

    1.1 Research Topic

    Euphemism is an indispensable and natural part of English language and has aroused peoples wide concerns. Many linguists and scholars have studied the linguistic phenomenon from perspectives like culture, semantics and pragmatics, etc. This paper will study euphemism from the aspect of diplomacy. It will study the characteristics, utilization and skills of diplomatic euphemism.

1.2 Brief Introduction to Euphemism and Diplomatic Euphemism

    Euphemism came from Greek, and according to the dictionary, euphemism is a substitution for an expression that may offend or suggest something unpleasant to the receiver, using instead an agreeable or less offensive expression, or to make it less troublesome for the speaker (Spears, 1982: 21). As a kind of language phenomenon

    and social cultural phenomenon, euphemism is infiltrating every corner of life and reflects extensive social psychology. In the world, international situation, regional situation and the relationships between countries are complicated. Each country has its own interests, considerations and intentions and has differentiated and intricate divergences and contradictions between each other. In order to solve such kind of divergences and contradictions without destroying the mutual relationships, diplomatic euphemism is one of the most common methods.

    Euphemistic diplomatic language is a mild expression. Someone said, "Even if it is an abuse, the euphemism would make it sound pleasant." Outspoken words, though it is straight-out, are often been avoided by diplomats (束定芳, 1989). This

    paper will analyze the characteristics of the euphemistic diplomatic language from the aspect of its functions and using occasions to promote the better application of euphemism.

    2 Characteristics of Euphemistic Diplomatic Language

    2.1 Studies on Diplomatic Language

    Diplomatic language is a kind of uncommon language to some extent, which is euphemistic, implicit, vague and eclectic. The first-lady of president Franklin d. Roosevelt Eleanor, who had served as a representative of the United States, once exclaimed: the same words have a kind of meaning in normal circumstances but have another kind of meaning in diplomatic files, which is like learning another language (杨鹏鲲, 2005). Thus, the using of reasonable language has significant effect on diplomacy and in a certain extent determines the success of diplomacy.

2.2 Relevant Researches on Diplomatic Euphemism

    It has becomes a public view that euphemism is t in a great deal of use in diplomacy. Thus, the phenomenon of diplomatic euphemism has been a great concern


重庆理工大学外国语学院学年论文 A Study of Euphemisms in the Diplomatic Language

    for the linguists and many scholars both at home and abroad.

2.2.1 Relevant Researches on Diplomatic Euphemism Abroad

    As a common linguistic phenomenon, euphemism has attracted people‟s

    attention for a long time. The most distinct characteristic of euphemism is its communicative function and diplomatic euphemism is the best embodiment of the communicative function. Diplomatic exists in almost every speech, every political, economic and national files or every military declaration and it has been occurring in diplomatic activities since diplomacy began to develop.

    After making a general survey of the researches of diplomatic euphemism abroad, researches on the respective of pragmatics are common. In 1967, the English philosopher of language H.P.Grice (1975) first outlined that in all verbal communications, there exists a kind of tacit understanding and cooperation between speakers and hearers. From this, the cooperation principle which

    embodied the communicative function of euphemism occurred first time and had been widely used in diplomatic activities. On the basis of cooperation

    principle, Linguist Leech proposed the “Politeness Principle”. Thus, the two

    principles have promoted diplomacy together.

2.2.2 Relevant Researches on Diplomatic Euphemism at Home

    In China, there has been tremendous interest in diplomatic euphemisms. Most of the researches focused on the perspectives of pragmatic point of view, specifically on the perspective of Cooperation Principle and Politeness Principle. In Pragmatic

    analysis of the fuzziness and accuracy diplomatic language by Guo Liqiu and Wang

    Hongli, they note that the diplomacy is to deal with the affairs among different countries. As a carrier of the diplomatic work, the diplomatic language has its distinct features of being tactful and polite. Other academic pursuits into diplomatic euphemisms by Chinese researches include the study by Ling Honghui(2000), Ma Li(2003), Huang Qiang and Liang Yin(2004), etc.

2.3 Characteristics of Euphemism

    2.3.1 Epochal character of euphemism

    Same things or same meanings have different euphemistic expressions in different contexts. The change of language lies in the social need and development. Euphemism also has its metabolism. Take the calling of “black

    people” for example, the euphemistic expression of “Negro” changed into the

    direct expression “black people” and now call them “African American (刘寅

    , 2000). All of these expressions are related to the changes of the rights of American black people.

2.3.2 Regional character of euphemism

     As the saying goes: Ten li apart, but the customs are quite different. Different regions have different histories and cultures, and their customs and taboos are also widely divergent. Such kind of difference is expressed as


重庆理工大学外国语学院学年论文 A Study of Euphemisms in the Diplomatic Language

    regional diversity in language. Euphemism often correlates with the folk customs. For example, bread is the homely food of British, thus, “take bread out

    of someone‟s mouth” means taking others jobs (刘寅齐, 2000).

2.3.3 National character of euphemism

     Euphemism is a common phenomenon of all languages, but euphemism in different languages has differences because of the different natural and social environment, mode of production, life style and culture. The most typical example is the view on “poor” in English. It is a terrible word in English, which means embarrassed and impoverished life and indicates the low status. The government often uses euphemism to express “poor” with the words “in an

    awkward financial situation”.

2.3.4 Register character of euphemism

     In different contexts or in the same context, people with different age, identity, and position or education level have different expression of euphemism. For example, women use “to powder one‟s noise”, “to freshen up” to express going to the toilet; men probably directly say “to go to the toilet”, “to relieve oneself”, “because nature calls” or “to rear”; children may say “go to the

    pot and make number one”. The utilization ratio of euphemism in women is

    higher than in men and higher in noble than in the common people.

2.4 Characteristics of Euphemistic Diplomatic Language

     First of all, diplomatic language stresses euphemism. In the diplomacy between countries, diplomats often use euphemism to express some ideas which are reluctant, inconvenient and cannot be said directly without losing the real intention and being understood by the other side. In the diplomatic negotiations, the expression of “be concerned on something” or “be deeply concerned on

    something” means that the country will take unyielding measures. “Cannot be

    indifferent” or “cannot be ignored” indicate that intervenes are inevitable if the

    situation unceasingly become worse.

     Diplomatic negotiation also has a set of euphemistic diplomatic language. If one side says that the negotiation is “constructive”, it means that both sides make progress through the negotiation but the settlement of disputes is still at opposite poles; one country says the negotiation is “beneficial”, which implies

    that the negotiations didn‟t get actual results but it is better than no negotiation; the expression of “outspoken” negotiation has distinct indication of the serious divergences, on the other hand, it also increases the understanding of the opposite party‟s standpoint.

     In the multilateral diplomacy, euphemism should be used almost in every sentence. In the international conferences, it is important to pay attention to the words after “but” in the speech of other counties‟ representatives. For example,

    “My delegation has maximal sympathy on this suggestion, but is willing to

    point out that......”, “I have profound respect on the outstanding representatives


重庆理工大学外国语学院学年论文 A Study of Euphemisms in the Diplomatic Language

    in some countries, but I think that ......” etc, these are all the euphemistic

    expression of “refusal”, “negation” and “disagreement” (Channel, 2000).

     From the above mentioned, it is clear that the euphemism is polite and cooperative, which are the two important principles in diplomacy. The utilization of euphemism is one way to promote the development of relationships between countries.

    3 Utilization of Euphemistic Diplomatic Language

    3.1 The Utilization of Euphemistic Diplomatic Language in Politics

    If euphemism in other aspects is mostly taboos to achieve the goal of being ineffable and elegant, the political euphemisms are deliberately mystifying and niminy-piminy or even mutilate the truth to deceive or mislead people. Such kind of euphemisms hides the ugliness in the beauty and conceals the truth. For instance, the policy of “tax boost” in the time of

    Reagan-administration didn‟t use “increase” but “Revenue Enhancement”; the

    expression “poor nations” is seldom used but to use “back nations”,

    “undeveloped nations”, “developing nations” and “emerging nations” in English (杨鹏鲲, 2005). In the notorious “Watergate scandal”, the euphemistic words-“Watergate language” Nixon and his colleagues used has become a set

    phrase in English which is specially used to express the twisted linguistic form. The participants of “Watergate scandal” called the “wiretapping or bugging” as “electronic surveillance” and called the “wiretappers” as “ESE” (Electronic

    Surveillance Experts). The government wanted to conceal the scandal by using such euphemisms. In 1976, Kissinger created the word “quiet diplomacy” to

    indicate the secret diplomacy. The familiar expression Ping-Pong diplomacy

    implies euphemistically the action of promoting the normalization of diplomatic relationship between America and China through table tennis teams (杨鹏鲲, 2005).

    3.2 The Utilization of Euphemistic Diplomatic Language in Economy

    The economy of one country has profound influence on its politic and social stability. Thus, it is also necessary to use euphemism in economy. The most typical example is the expression of “economic crisis”. In order to conceal

    the serious situation of one nation‟s economy and not give any chance to other

    counties to invade, the expression of “recession” and “depression” are often used. In such kind of way, it is difficult to know the exact economic conditions of the country. Another example is the expression of “strike”. In the diplomatic speech, diplomats would use “industrial action” or “industrial dispute” instead of “strike” to maintain the national image (郭立秋,王红利,2002).

    3.3 The Utilization of Euphemistic Diplomatic Language in Military Affairs

    The euphemisms in military affairs are often used to cover the essence of wars and the crimes and damages have been made. The expression of “international armed conflict” often be used to imply the “invading war”; “air


重庆理工大学外国语学院学年论文 A Study of Euphemisms in the Diplomatic Language

    attack” is called “air support” or “air strike”; “nuclear bomb” is called “nuclear device”. All of these euphemisms are used to conceal the real nature of invasion.

    In the war of Iraq in 2003, Americans called the large scale mad bombardments in air as “action of decapitation” to cover its outrage. They served an

    unreasonable and inhuman invasion as a kind of splendid “liberation” (黄金棋,

    1993). In using such a kind of euphemistic diplomatic language, the United States find an excuse to continue its invading actions without being blame by the world.

    3.4 The Utilization of Euphemistic Diplomatic Language in Press Speeches

     Press speeches are the most commonly employed area of euphemistic diplomatic language, where diplomats represent the whole country to communicate with the world. Some people say: Why the Foreign Ministry spokesmen always give irrelevant speeches? Yes, sometimes, the answers of Foreign Ministry spokesmen are not keeping to the point and seem to be irrelevant and unintelligible. They always say some meaningless words like that “we observe the declaration of ......”, “we take notice of the report of ......”,

    and we will continue to pay attention to ......” (Zhang Qiao, 1998). It is indeed

    that in the declaration of Foreign Ministry spokesmen the phenomenon of evasive answers and polite formula are common. On the other hand, the diplomatic language should be euphemistic, implicit and vague. That is, something inconvenient or cannot be said directly should be expressed in euphemistical language to make others understand without losing the original meanings. Therefore, the irrelevant speeches given by Foreign Ministry spokesmen are a kind of euphemistic diplomatic language, which would get better diplomatic effects.

    4 The Skills of Using Euphemistic Diplomatic Language 4.1 The Cooperation and Politeness Principle in Diplomatic Language

     Diplomacy is a kind of bilateral or multilateral activity. And in order to make sure that the communications go smoothly, diplomats should master some important skills, which are the “cooperation principle” proposed by H.P.Grice and “politeness principle” by Leech.

    In a series of lectures at Harvard University in 1967, the English philosopher of language H.P.Grice (1975) first outlined that in all verbal communications, there exists a kind of tacit understanding and cooperation between speakers and hearers, which makes all the words in the whole communicative process correspond with the goal and direction of the

     communication to promote the communication to be effective and smooth.It is

    called “cooperation principle”. There are four maxims under this general

    principle, which are quantity maxim, quality maxim, relevant maxim and manner maxim. Professor Brown and Levinson in Oxford believed that, everyone has his or her own “face”, thus, the discourse acts caused by preserving “face” is


重庆理工大学外国语学院学年论文 A Study of Euphemisms in the Diplomatic Language

    polite activities. Linguist Leech proposed the “Politeness Principle”, which is

    “minimize cost to other, maximize benefit to other”. The “Politeness principle” mainly consists of “Tact Maxim”, “Generosity Maxim”, “Approbation Maxim”,

    Modesty Maxim”, “Agreement Maxim” and “Sympathy Maxim (Leech, 1983:15).

    Paying more attention to the two important principles will make the diplomacy more successful.

    4.2 Utilization of Reasonable Euphemistic Diplomatic Language According

    to the Special Nature of Diplomacy

    Diplomatic language is different from the normal language because of the special nature of diplomacy and the complication of the diplomatic fight. Thus, it is important to use reasonable words and language in diplomacy. Firstly, the objects of diplomacy are mainly countries which have equal sovereign rights and should respect each other. Therefore, it needs particular care about the choice of reasonable diplomatic language which usually stresses gentleness and cultivation. Secondly, the diplomatic fights are constant change of events, in which every situation and possibility may exist. Generally, absolute words and language should be avoided in diplomacy to save some scope and avoid passivity. Depending on the strength and status, undeveloped countries devote particular care to strategy and choose more euphemistic language if they want to find their foothold in the world and influence others. Thirdly, as the results of diplomatic activities, the agreements in the bilateral and multilateral negotiation are often decided through consultation and negotiated compromise. The words and languages in the agreements are accepted by both sides and usually euphemistic to reach the goal of keeping secret.

4.3 The Methods of Expressing Euphemistic Diplomatic Language

    4.3.1 Telling stories to express euphemism in diplomacy

     Sometimes, stories are the good way to insinuate the stand one country holds. For example, in the negotiation during Nixon‟s visit to the Soviet Union

    in 1972, there were great differences between both sides on the problem of restriction on strategic nuclear weapon. Brezhnev once told Nixon a story about “asking road” between the woodman and Russian farmer. The farmer didnt told

    the distance until the woodman walked forward. Brezhnev served himself as the Russian farmer and Nixon as the woodman and wanted America “walk first in

    the negotiation” (Nicholson, 1950). In such a kind of euphemistic way,

    Brezhnev expressed the stand of Russia without impoliteness.

4.3.2 Choosing proper words to express euphemism in diplomacy

    The words and language in diplomacy should be implicit and euphemistic, especially in the multilateral diplomacy. The language in the files of the United Nations often employs neuter nouns, such as “opponent” instead of “enemy”. Besides, the utilization of formulae is a good way to express opinions


重庆理工大学外国语学院学年论文 A Study of Euphemisms in the Diplomatic Language

    euphemistically. However, diplomats should pay attention to the proper use of formulae, just like the former Prime Minister Macmillan said that a foreign mission‟ speech should avoid clichés and inappropriate words. Even the speech

    is actually nonsense, but it sounds like formulae. What‟s more, indirect lies are another way to achieve euphemism in diplomacy. For their own nation's interests, sometimes diplomats equated the diplomatic language with lies. In the th17 century, British ambassador Henry Wharton had blatantly admitted that "An ambassador is a honest person who is sent abroad to lie for their own

    thinterests". In 19 century, the Austrian foreign minister Metternich even said, "In terms of my strategy, telling the truth is their own infidelity" (文浩, 2000).

    In modern diplomacy, some of the bourgeois diplomats have inherited the tradition of lying and also developed the lying skills which are used to avoid "direct lies", that is, not lying in techniques.

    5 Conclusions

    Since the significance of “diplomacy” or “diplomatic language strategy” is maintaining good relations among nations, securing advantages without arousing instability so as to achieve win-win or all-win in the end, negotiations are playing more and more important roles in the present. Therefore diplomatic euphemism matters a lot in diplomacy. Knowing more about the characteristics of the diplomatic euphemism, learning more about the utilization of euphemism in diplomacy and mastering more about the skills of using euphemism properly in diplomacy will promote diplomatic activities to be more smooth and successful. In addition, appropriate diplomatic euphemisms are also helpful to the peace of the whole world. Thus, Knowing diplomatic euphemism well is necessary to both counties and international organizations.


重庆理工大学外国语学院学年论文 A Study of Euphemisms in the Diplomatic Language


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    [13] 文浩. 2000.《中外名人妙答记者问》. 西安: 陕西旅游出版社


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重庆理工大学外国语学院学年论文 A Study of Euphemisms in the Diplomatic Language


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