‘Tweeting engagement’. Strategies of identity construction and ‘alignment-disalignment’ in Donald Trump’s use of social media
The main aim of this study is to describe the linguistic and discursive strategies of speaker-hearer alignment used by Donald Trump in his tweets about ‘fake news’. As previous work by Miller (2002; 2004) and Quam and Ryshina-Pankova (2016) has shown, Engagement theory (Martin and White 2005) can shed light on particular strategies politicians employ to strengthen their arguments and persuade their audiences to adopt their views. Starting from the assumption that Donald Trump’s use of Twitter played in his favour already in the 2016 Presidential campaign, the present analysis shows that Donald Trump tends to privilege meaning-making choices which ‘fend off’ or ‘shut down’ dialogistic alternatives: typically, his tweets contain either ‘bare assertions’ which take shared assumptions for granted, or ‘contractive heteroglossic’ options that make the dialogic space very constrained. In general, the ‘Engagement moves’ deployed are quite limited and repetitive, consisting mainly of ‘Denials’, ‘Pronouncements’, and ‘Counters’: this might work to Donald Trump’s advantage, as repetitions can give the speaker an air of authority and provoke an unconscious response of support among his followers (Lakoff 2016). This study also shows that the distribution of linguistic and discursive strategies in Donald Trump’s tweets is very similar to the distribution of the same resources in non-Twitter contexts: therefore, his ‘Engagement style’ in Twitter does not seem to be due to the character-limit of the platform, but to a more general ‘cross-media’ tendency that tends to tune down alternative positions.
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