Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Diplomatic language

Think of the word 'ambassador' and what do you see? I thought so, piles of Ferrero Rocher chocolates! And who's at the ambassador's party in that ad but other people in tuxes and ballgowns, sweeping gracefully along under the chandeliers, being wealthy, witty, charming and sophisticated. It's a stereotype, one that also implies Received Pronunciation, and a polite, reserved speech style that leaves unpleasant things unsaid.

I don't know how valid the stereotype still is, but the Foreign Office has certainly tried to get with it by appointing people from more diverse social and educational backgrounds. The trouble is that not all of these "new" people buy into the "stiff upper lip" style of speech, and this week's media has been buzzing with talk of the "undiplomatic" language of the British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray.

You see, in October 2002, as British ambassador to Uzbekistan, he gave a very frank and forthright speech about human rights abuses in that country. He stated the corroborated facts of the situation directly and was unequivocal about the moral imperative for change - not something his host country's government were particularly keen to hear. His speech was dynamic, confrontational and impassioned - er, the opposite of what is regarded as "diplomatic".

It's all come to a head now because after some "diplomatic" time back in Britain, Craig Murray was due to return to Uzbekistan. But a confidential memo got itself leaked to the Financial Times and Craig Murray is in the news again. His language use in this is again dynamic, confrontational and impassioned. This time his career may be over.

Whatever you think of the politics, read the links. Read Murray's speech and think about the power of language to articulate human concerns in a way that can genuinely make people sit up and listen. Read the background articles and think about the power of language to so upset your bosses that they want to sack you for it. And if you're interested in language and international relations, check out the last link for a new journal on just that - interesting article about the term "suicide bombing". Check it out.

Speech by HM Ambassador, Craig Murray

Intelligence from tortured Uzbeks attacked

The envoy who said too much

The Journal of Diplomatic Language


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