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By focusing on an example of a public social debate on language policy, this article aims at showing the relevant contribution of argument analysis to the understanding of such debates. Argumentative discourse constitutes an essential condition for real democratic practice. Perelman & Olbrechts-Tyteca (1958: 73) point out that the commitment to argumentative practice offers an alternative to the use of violence. The relationship between argumentation and a democratic society is fundamental: argumentation is the substance of democracy, which differs from other social systems in that the only legitimate power is the power of the word. It is free will, which builds on the word alone, that enables us to live together in freedom. An important aspect of democracy, being based on a dialectic ideal, is its uncertain outcome: van Eemeren (2002: 71) characterizes democracy as «institutionalized uncertainty». Thus, insight into the functioning of argumentation contributes significantly to the understanding of democratic processes.