Socio-Political and Linguistic Cohesion

Actors in a civil war retain private information about their willingness and ability to fight in a conflict. This allows them to bluff more effectively with the anticipation that they will gain more in concessions from their opponents. Traditional IR scholarship maintains that actors reveal this information through active combat, and that this is how they learn about each other’s resolve and capabilities to wage war. However, there are other routes to learning during conflict as well. The respective parties can also learn about each other through official state communiqués and social media, thus revealing some their private information. In this paper, we explore how parties to a conflict reveal their private information to each other, signaling their strengths and weaknesses. We assert that linguistic cohesion mirrors social and political cohesion, i.e. that messages with more coherence indicate cohesiveness and a strong opponent. We examine the conflict dynamics between the Syrian regime and opposition groups using data from Syrian Twitter feeds between March and June 2012, as well as speeches given by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to determine if linguistic cohesion manifests as political and military strength. This proxy communication includes official state speeches, social media, and event data. We find that the regime and the opposition reveal their preferences through their use of formal and cohesive language. Event data coded using the CAMEO scheme confirm a strong relationship between words and actions during this conflict. This paper uses computational linguistics and dynamical systems modeling to clarify the relationship between government and rebels’ resolve (their willingness to fight) and their capabilities (their material assets for engaging in combat) in the Syrian civil war.

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