Past Events

[Book Discussion] The Linguistic Approach To Politics: A Malaysian Contribution

About the Book

Linguistics, being the study of language, can examine various domains in our daily lives. Politics, particularly, deploys ‘language games’ because individual/institutional actors use language to legitimise actions and decisions that have real-life impact. In this talk, the speaker will be sharing how Discursive Approaches to Politics in Malaysia employs linguistic-based concepts to understand politics in Malaysia. This edited volume presents research on texts produced by and on Barisan Nasional, Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional from 2008 to 2020. These texts utilise language to favor/disfavor the government, a party and citizens, and hence can shape the representation and evaluation of multiple concerns facing Malaysia.


Date: 22 February 2023, Wednesday
Time: 7.30pm – 9.00pm (Doors open from 7.00pm)
Venue: Penang Institute, 10-12 Brown Road, George Town, Penang
Moderator: Dato’ Dr Ooi Kee Beng, Executive Director, Penang Institute

Registration link:

Access the book here:

About the Speaker

Dr Kumaran Rajandran is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia. He teaches BA and MA courses and supervises MA and PhD research in Linguistics. His research involves the multimodal study of various discourses, exploring the articulation of identity and ideology in contemporary societies.

Note: This event will NOT be streamed LIVE on our socials. Kindly join us on-site at Penang Institute, 10-12 Brown Road, George Town to be part of this exciting book discussion.

Key takeaways from the event:

The speaker highlighted the importance of Malaysian contributions to the field of linguistic analysis in politics, particularly emphasizing that such work is often dominated by European or North American perspectives. In Asia, the focus has typically been on countries like China or Australia. However, the speaker emphasized the intimate relationship between politics and language, as politics inherently relies on language, whether it be through individuals, institutions, politicians, or political parties. The analysis of political discourse is a relatively new field, though it has roots in ancient Chinese, Greco-Roman, and Indian traditions.

The speaker discussed the branch of linguistic study known as discourse analysis, which examines language in use across various contexts such as religion, politics, and business. While traditional linguistics tends to focus on language structure and vocabulary, discourse analysis looks at the text, context, and meaning to understand the linguistic aspects of communication.

In terms of Malaysian research on political discourse, the speaker noted that it gained momentum in the late 1990s. Initially, Malaysian linguistic research primarily focused on teaching English or studying specific language elements such as sounds or structures. However, over the past three to four decades, there has been a shift towards analyzing political discourse, with a particular emphasis on speeches. Political elites, such as prime ministers or presidents of political parties like UMNO, have been the primary subjects of analysis. This research often explores topics such as elections, ethnic justice, and economic policies.

The speaker acknowledged that there has been a strong bias towards studying government or pro-government actors in the literature. This bias can be attributed to the dominant position of the BN (Barisan Nasional) party in Malaysian politics for a significant period. However, the speaker emphasized the need for a more inclusive approach, considering the recent changes and increased autonomy given to East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak). The research project the speaker was involved in focused on the period from 2008 to 2020, encompassing the end of BN’s two-thirds majority and the subsequent governments of PH (Pakatan Harapan) and PN (Perikatan Nasional).

The speaker provided an overview of a book, part of the transition series by the University of Brunei Darussalam, which examined Malaysian politics and discourse. The book consisted of 13 chapters, with a focus on the Peninsular region of Malaysia, but the speaker acknowledged the importance of including research from Sabah and Sarawak as well. The chapters covered various aspects of political discourse, including the role of race, religion, and royalty in Malaysian politics, the influence of media ownership on reporting, and discussions on women’s rights. The book also touched on events like the Tanjung Piai by-election and the 1MDB scandal.

The speaker concluded by stressing that the language used by the government aims to bring Malaysians together and mitigate differences. However, it is up to individuals to critically assess and respond to the government’s communication. The speaker encouraged awareness and the calling out of inconsistencies, insensitivity, and discrimination in the language used by any ruling government.
This post-event recap provides a brief overview of the speaker’s content, highlighting the significance of Malaysian contributions to political discourse analysis and the key themes covered in the book they discussed.