‘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.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v28p337

Keywords: discourse analysis; political discourse; engagement theory; dialogue space; communication strategies


Austin J.L. 1962, How to do things with words: The William James Lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1955, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

Bakhtin M.M. 1981, Discourse in the Novel, in Holquist M. (ed.), The Dialogic Imagination: four essays by M.M. Bakhtin, University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas, pp. 259-422.

Biber D. and Finnegan E. 1988, Adverbial stance types in English, in “Discourse Processes” 11 [1], pp. 1-34.

Biber D. and Finnegan E. 1989, Styles of stance in English: lexical and grammatical marking of evidentiality and affect, in “Text” 9 [1], pp. 93-124.

Chafe W. 1986, Evidentiality in English conversation and academic writing, in Chafe W. and Nichols J. (eds.), Evidentiality: the linguistic coding of epistemology, Ablex, Norwood, N.J., pp. 261-272.

Dawsey J. 2017, How Trump’s disciplined speech came together, in “Politico Magazine”. http://www.politico.com/story///trump-speech-backstory-201703235552 (3.05.2018).

Demata M. 2018, I think that maybe I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for twitter. Donald Trump’s Populist Style on Twitter, in “Textus” 31[1], pp. 67-90.

Golshan T. 2016, Donald Trump’s strange speaking style, as explained by linguists, in “Vox”. https://www.vox.com/2016/8/18/12423688/donald-trump-speech-style-explained-by-linguists (15.05.2018).

Halliday M.A.K., and Matthiessen C.M.I.M. 2004, An introduction to functional grammar, Arnold, London.

Hyland K. 1996, Writing without conviction: hedging in science research articles, in “Applied Linguistics” 17 [4], pp. 433-454.

Iyengar, S. 2005, Speaking of values: The framing of American politics, in “The Forum” 3 [3], pp. 1-8.

Krämer B 2017, Populist Online Practices: The Function of the Internet in Right-wing Populism, in “Information Communication & Society” 20 [9], pp. 1293-309.

Labov W. 1972, The transformation of experience in narrative syntax, in Ders (Ed),

“Language in the inner city”, Pennsylvania University Press, Philadelphia, pp. 354-390.

Labov W. 1984, Intensity, in Schiffrin D. (ed.), Meaning, Form and Use in Context: linguistic applications, Georgetown University Press, Washington D.C., pp. 43-70.

Lakoff G. 2004, Don’t think of an elephant! Know your values and frame the debate. The essential guide for progressives, including post-election updates, Chelsea Green Publishing, Chelsea.

Lakoff G. 2016, Understanding Trump. https://georgelakoff.com/2016/07/23/understanding-trump-2 (22.05.2018).

Liberman M 2016, The em-dash candidate, in “Language Log”. http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=27479 (15.05.2018).

Liberman M 2016, The rhetorical style of spontaneous speech, in “Language Log”. http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=27515 (15.05.2018).

Martin, J. R. 2000, Beyond exchange: APPRAISAL systems in English, in S. Hunston and G. Thompson (eds), Evaluation in Text: Authorial Stance and the Construction of Discourse, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 142-175.

Martin J.R. and White P.P.R. 2005, The Language of Evaluation: Appraisal in English, Palgrave, London.

Melchior C. and Romoli A. (eds.) 2018, La strategia della persuasion, Franco Angeli, Milano.

Miller, D.R. 2002, Multiple judicial opinions as specialized sites of ENGAGEMENT: conflicting paradigms of valuation and legitimation in Bush v. Gore 2000, in Gotti M., Heller D. and Dossena M. (eds.), Conflict and negotiation in specialized texts, Peter Lang, Bern, pp. 119-141.

Miller D.R. 2004, “...to meet our common challenge”: ENGAGEMENT strategies of alignment and alienation in current US international discourse, in “Textus” 18 [1], pp. 39-62.

Napolitano A. and Aiezza M.C. 2018, The Press War in the Post-Truth Era: A Corpus-Assisted CDA of the Discourse of US Political Analysts on Trump’s Figure and Policy, in “Textus” 31[1], pp. 91-117.

Norman M. 2016, Whoever wins the US Presidential Election, We’ve Entered a Post-Truth World – There’s No Going Back Now, in “The Independent”, 8.11.2016. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/us-election-2016-donald-trump-hillary-clinton-who-wins-post-truth-world-no-going-back-a7404826.html (16.05.2018).

Ott B. 2017, The Age of Twitter: Donald J. Trump and the Politics of Debasement, in “Critical Studies in Media Communication” 34 [1], pp. 59-68.

Oxford Dictionaries. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/post-truth (12.05.2018).

Page R. 2012, The Linguistics of Self-branding and Micro-celebrity in Twitter: The Role of Hashtags, in “Discourse of Communication” 6 [2], pp.181-201.

Pullum G. 2015, Trump’s aphasia, in “Language Log”. http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/ nll/?p=20490 (14.05.2018).

Quam J. and Ryshina-Pankova M. 2016, “Let Me Tell You…”: Audience Engagement Strategies in the Campaign Speeches of Trump, Clinton, and Sanders, in “Russian Journal of Linguistics” 20 [4], pp. 140-160.

Simon-Vandenbergen A.M., White P.P.R. and Aijmer K. 2007, Presupposition and 'taking-for-granted' in mass communicated political argument, in Lauerbach G.E. and Fetzer A. (eds), Political Discourse in the Media, John Benjamins, Amsterdam/Philadelphia, pp. 31-74.

Sparks A. 2009, Minstrel politics or “He speaks too well”: Rhetoric, race, and resistance in the 2008 presidential campaign, in “Argumentation and Advocacy” 46 [1], pp. 21-38.

Swift 2016, Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to New Low. http://news.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx (18.05.2018).

Wang Y. and Liu H. 2017, Is Trump always rambling like a fourth-grade student? An analysis of stylistic features of Donald Trump’s political discourse during the 2016 election, in “Discourse & Society” 29 [3], pp. 140-160.

Westen D. 2008, The political brain: The role of emotion in deciding the fate of the nation, Public Affairs, New York.

White, P.R.R. 1998, Telling Media Tales: The News Story as Rhetoric, Ph.D dissertation, Sydney, University of Sydney.

White, P.R.R. 2000, Dialogue and inter-subjectivity: Reinterpreting the semantics of modality and hedging, in Coulthard M., Cotterill J. and Rock F. (eds), Working With Dialogue, Tübingen, Max Niemeyer Verlag, pp. 67–80.

White, P.R.R. 2002. Appraisal–the language of evaluation and stance, in J. Verschueren, J.-O. Östman, J. Blommaert and J. and C. Bulcaen (eds), Handbook of Pragmatics, John Benjamins, Amsterdam, pp. 1–27.

White, P.R.R. 2003, Beyond modality and hedging: A dialogic view of the language of intersubjective stance, in “Text” 23 [2], pp. 259-284.

White, P.R.R. 2006, Evaluative semantics and ideological positioning in journalistic discourse – a new framework for analysis, in Lassen, I. (ed.), Mediating Ideology in Text and Image: Ten Critical Studies, John Benjamins, Amsterdam, pp. 37–68.

Zappavigna M. 2012, Discourse of Twitter and Social Media, Continuum, London-New York.

Full Text: pdf


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribuzione - Non commerciale - Non opere derivate 3.0 Italia License.