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In the second US presidential debate, Republican nominee Donald Trump repeatedly used the definite article ‘the’ – before descriptions of African-Americans and Latinos.

While seemingly innocuous, many commentators have been frustrated at Trump’s use of ‘the’ before describing groups of people and Linguists agree, calling it a form of ‘othering. Lynne Murphy, reader of Linguistics at the University of Sussex, argues that “’the’ makes the group seem like it’s a large, uniform mass, rather than a diverse group of individuals.” She argues that when people say “the Americans say it that way” rather than “Americans say it that way,” there is a clear indication that the group saying the former have a more negative attitude towards Americans.

Murphy notes that Clinton also uses the definitive article, but when discussing governments or military groups (‘the Russians, the Syrians’) rather than everyone of a particular nationality or ethnic group.  HSPS and PPE applicants should consider what presidential language choice suggests about the candidates and their political affiliations.

English and Modern Languages students should look into the idea of language as a tool of Othering, and how words become slurs used to malign certain groups of people.

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