The Ministry of Information and the linguistic design of Britain's World War II propaganda: what archival documents can tell us about political discourse

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This article argues that metalinguistic documents in historical archives are a useful source for political discourse analysts to explore. With reference to the archives of the British Ministry of Information in World War II, it shows that such documents are revealing of the orders of discourse and the language ideologies that contribute to the production of political discourse. Archival documents can help us to understand the ways in which political actors conceive of the linguistic strategies that are typically the focus of our discourse analytic work. In a field which places great theoretical emphasis on the contextual significance of political language, archival documents thus represent a crucial, but hitherto overlooked, source of evidence. More specifically, the article demonstrates that the Ministry of Information’s civil servants paid a great deal of attention to language, working in highly reflexive ways to produce their discourse, and that one of the linguistic strategies that was particularly intensely discussed was the use of informal and personalised language. Those civil servants were working on a ‘synthetically personalised’ language half a century before discourse analysts began paying sustained attention to such a strategy.


Original languageEnglish
JournalDiscourse and Society
Early online date25 Nov 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Nov 2019


  • political discourse analysis, metalanguage, informalization, technologisation, synthetic personalisation, propaganda, World War II