Three CASS articles for special issue of Discourse & Communication available Open Access now

Discourse & Communication 9(2) will be an exciting Special Issue containing a number of articles which examine corpus-based approaches to the analysis of media discourse. CASS members Tony McEnery, Paul Baker, Amanda Potts, Mark McGlashan, and Robbie Love have contributed to three of these articles, all of which are now available for Open Access early download. Read abstracts of the articles below and follow links to download full PDFs of the works. More interesting papers are also available OnlineFirst for those with subscriptions to Discourse & Communication.


Picking the right cherries? A comparison of corpus-based and qualitative analyses of news articles about masculinity 

Paul Baker (Lancaster University, UK) and Erez Levon (Queen Mary University of London, UK)

As a way of comparing qualitative and quantitative approaches to critical discourse analysis (CDA), two analysts independently examined similar datasets of newspaper articles in order to address the research question ‘How are different types of men represented in the British press?’. One analyst used a 41.5 million word corpus of articles, while the other focused on a down-sampled set of 51 articles from the same corpus. The two ensuing research reports were then critically compared in order to elicit shared and unique findings and to highlight strengths and weaknesses between the two approaches. This article concludes that an effective form of CDA would be one where different forms of researcher expertise are carried out as separate components of a larger project, then combined as a way of triangulation.


How can computer-based methods help researchers to investigate news values in large datasets? A corpus linguistic study of the construction of newsworthiness in the reporting on Hurricane Katrina

Amanda Potts (Lancaster University, UK), Monika Bednarek (University of Sydney, Australia), and Helen Caple (University of New South Wales, Australia)

This article uses a 36-million word corpus of news reporting on Hurricane Katrina in the United States to explore how computer-based methods can help researchers to investigate the construction of newsworthiness. It makes use of Bednarek and Caple’s discursive approach to the analysis of news values, and is both exploratory and evaluative in nature. One aim is to test and evaluate the integration of corpus techniques in applying discursive news values analysis (DNVA). We employ and evaluate corpus techniques that have not been tested previously in relation to the large-scale analysis of news values. These techniques include tagged lemma frequencies, collocation, key part-of-speech tags (POStags) and key semantic tags. A secondary aim is to gain insights into how a specific happening – Hurricane Katrina – was linguistically constructed as newsworthy in major American news media outlets, thus also making a contribution to ecolinguistics.


Press and social media reaction to ideologically inspired murder: The case of Lee Rigby

Tony McEnery (Lancaster University, UK), Mark McGlashan (Lancaster University, UK), and Robbie Love (Lancaster University, UK)

This article analyses reaction to the ideologically inspired murder of a soldier, Lee Rigby, in central London by two converts to Islam, Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo. The focus of the analysis is upon the contrast between how the event was reacted to by the UK National Press and on social media. To explore this contrast, we undertook a corpus-assisted discourse analysis to look at three periods during the event: the initial attack, the verdict of the subsequent trial and the sentencing of the murderers. To do this, we constructed and analysed corpora of press and Twitter coverage of the attack, the conviction of the suspects and the sentencing of them. The analysis shows that social media and the press are intertwined, with the press exerting a notable influence through social media, but social media not always being led by the press. When looking at social media reaction to such an event as this, analysts should always consider the role that the press are playing in forming that discourse.

New CASS Briefing now available — A ‘battle’ or a ‘journey’? Metaphors and cancer

CASSbriefings-melcA ‘battle’ or a ‘journey’? Metaphors and cancer. Metaphors matter because they ‘frame’ topics in different ways, which can affect our perception of ourselves and our experiences. The ‘battle’ metaphor for cancer has become controversial because of the framing it may impose on the patient’s experience; the ‘journey’ metaphor frames the cancer experience very differently. We were particularly concerned with whether and how different metaphors may place the patient in an ‘empowered’ or a ‘disempowered’ position, and with the resulting emotional associations.


New resources are being added regularly to the new CASS: Briefings tab above, so check back soon.

Big data media analysis and the representation of urban violence in Brazil: Kick-off meeting

urbanviolencemeeting

The first meeting of the project took place earlier this month at CASS, Lancaster. This kick-off meeting brought together the Brazilian researchers Professors Heloísa Pedroso de Moraes Feltes (UCS) and Ana Cristina Pelosi (UNISC/UFC) and the CASS team (Professors Elena Semino and Tony McEnery, and Dr Carmen Dayrell) to plan the project’s activities and discuss the next steps.

The meeting was an excellent opportunity to discuss the partners’ role and activities in the project and to clarify how CASS can provide the Brazilian researchers with the expertise needed in a corpus investigation. A key decision towards this goal was to run a two-day Workshop in Corpus Linguistics in Brazil. This will be run by the CASS team (also counting with the expertise of Dr Vaclav Brezina) in the last week of May.

The workshop aims to reach a wider audience and not only to the Brazilian researchers’ team. It will be open to their colleagues, graduate and undergraduate students, and anyone interested in learning and using corpus linguistics methods and tools in the research.

We are all looking forward to that!

Mahmoud El-Haj has recently joined CASS working on the ESRC funded project “Understanding Corporate Communications”

mahmoudThe project is a comprehensive analysis of the form, content and impact of communications between large, publicly traded corporations and their key stakeholder groups concerning the following three key aspects of corporate governance: i) compliance with governance requirements and recommendations (e.g. The Combined Code in the UK); ii) executive remuneration; and iii) senior management turnover.

Mahmoud is a Senior Research Associate at Lancaster University. His main research interests are natural language processing, corpus linguistics, information extraction, machine learning and computational linguistics. In his research he worked with multidisciplinary multilingual big data including financial narratives, news articles, medical journals, and data from social science and humanities. Mahmoud is also working with the School of Computing and Communications at Lancaster University on a project funded by UCREL working on VardSourcing and SenseSourcing – the use of crowdsourcing to build lexicons and check spelling variation in historical data.

Recent publications and presentations related to this project include:

El-Haj, M., Rayson, P., Young, S., and Walker, M.. ”Detecting Document Structure in a Very Large Corpus of UK Financial Reports”. In The 9th edition of the Language Resources and Evaluation Conference, 26-31 May 2014, Reykjavik, Iceland. http://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/cfie/El-HajEtAl_lrec14.pdf

Athanasakou, V., El-Haj, M., Rayson, P., Young, S., and Walker, M.. “Computer-based Analysis of the Strategic Content of UK Annual Report Narratives”. In American Accounting Association Annual Meeting, August 2-6, 2014, Atlanta, USA. http://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/cfie/AthanasakouEtAl_AAA_outline.pdf

IR Group Glasgow University, 2015 / School of Computing Science: Analysing UK Annual Report Narratives using Text Analysis and Natural Language Processing, Glasgow, Scotland. http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/staff/elhaj/docs/GlasgowTalk.pdf

Bangor University: PhD Training Session at Bangor Business School: Analysing Annual Report Narratives (co presented with Steve Young, LUMS, Lancaster University), 2014, Bangor, Wales. http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/staff/elhaj/docs/bangorSlides.pdf

The 8th LSE/LUMS/MBS Conference 2014 / London School of Economics: Natural Language Processing of UK Annual Report Narratives (co presented with Paul Rayson, SCC, Lancaster University), London, England. http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/staff/elhaj/docs/RaysonElHaj.pdf

New CASS Briefing now available — How to communicate successfully in English?

CASSbriefings-EDLHow to communicate successfully in English? An exploration of the Trinity Lancaster Corpus. Many speakers use English as their non-native language (L2) to communicate in a variety of situations: at school, at work or in other everyday situations. As well as needing to master the grammar and vocabulary of the English language, L2 users of English need to know how to react appropriately in different communicative situations. In linguistics, this aspect of language is studied under the label of “pragmatics”. This briefing offers an exploration of the pragmatic features of L2 speech in the Trinity Lancaster Corpus of spoken L2 production.

New resources are being added regularly to the new CASS: Briefings tab above, so check back soon.

The spectre of Nazism haunts social media

Each time there is an upsurge in the Israel-Palestine conflict there is a rise in violent and other abusive incidents against Jews around the world. This phenomenon is now well-known. So it was in 2014 with Israel’s military operation ‘Protective Edge’ in July and August. Numerous backlash incidents against Jews in the UK and elsewhere in the world were reported by news media.

The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has become a global phenomenon spreading from Gaza and the Occupied Territories of the West Bank into some of Europe’s major cities and other cities around the world. Jews are seemingly targeted as representatives for the State of Israel and attacked as proxies for the Israel Defence Force. It is a crude form of political violence.

In the UK we have the most robust data collected internationally on the problem of anti-Jewish incidents. Last year, such incidents reportedly more than doubled compared to 2013, according to a report published by the Community Security Trust.[1]

What was noticeable this last time around in the Israel-Gaza conflict of July and August 2014 was an apparent upsurge of abuse against Jews on social media. By the end of July 2014, some of the press were reporting an “explosion” of such abuse.

John Mann MP, the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, instigated a parliamentary inquiry into the lessons that could be learned from the upsurge of anti-Jewish incidents associated with last year’s conflict. The report of that inquiry was published this week. It includes some of the key findings concerning anti-Jewish abuse on social media produced by a rapid response analysis commissioned from a team at Lancaster University — Paul Iganski and Abe Sweiry from the Lancaster University Law School, along with Mark McGlashan — as part of their work with the Lancaster University ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science.

We downloaded a sample of 22 million Tweets from July and August 2014 and carried out a detailed analysis of a sub-sample of 38,460 Tweets containing the words “Israel” or “Gaza”, along with the words “Jew”, “Jews” or “Jewish”.

The results were very telling:

  • A keyword analysis – one of the core methods of corpus linguistics – showed that in the sub-sample analysed, the spectre of Nazism, with words such as “Hitler”, “Holocaust”, “Nazi” and “Nazis”, was present in the top 35 keywords for the downloaded sample. “Hitler” was mentioned 1117 times; “Holocaust” was mentioned in 505 tweets, and; “Nazi” or “Nazis” were mentioned in 851 tweets.
  • The Nazi theme was also evident in hashtags analysed for the sub-sample, with the high frequency of the hashtags #hitler, # hitlerwasright, and #genocide.

While providing a very useful indication of patterns of discourse, keyword analysis and hashtag analysis alone is never sufficient: the contexts of the tweets in which the keywords and hashtags are situated need to be interpreted. Using the linguistic technique of collocation analysis, tweets that seemed to express negative sentiment targeted explicitly at ‘Jews’ were isolated and subjected to a closer reading. Sadly, there was little interpretation that needed to be applied to our sample. The sentiments conveyed were stark:

  • Some contained explicit anti-Jewish invective which if shouted out on the streets – as does happen in many incidents – would clearly be racially or religiously aggravated public order offences.
  • Others wished violence upon Jews as proxies for Israelis, or simply just as Jews.
  • A number expressed the type of sentiment that “Hitler should have finished the job”. Some of these invoked Hitler to return for the task.
  • In other tweets, the use of gas chambers for Jews was invoked.
  • Others simply included Nazi-slogans.

Deep wounds are scratched when the Nazi-card is played in this way in discourse against Jews. Playing the Nazi-card is not simply abusive. It invokes painful collective memories for Jews and for many others. By using those memories against Jews it inflicts profound hurts. Those who play the Nazi-card know exactly what it means.

Reaction to the military practices of the Israeli state can be expressed in a variety of forceful and trenchant ways – none of which would be antisemitic. The hurts inflicted against Jews when the Nazi card is played cannot be written-off as collateral damage in the protest against Israel, just as the deaths and injuries of innocent Palestinian civilians cannot be written-off as the inevitable casualties of war. As Professor David Feldman, Director of the Pears Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, stated in his written evidence to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Against Antisemitism, playing the Nazi-card with a statement such as ‘Hitler was right’, “invokes both a set of antisemitic stereotypes and a genocidal project targeted at Jews”.[2]

In the UK a sufficient statutory framework is arguably in place to prosecute against the types of anti-Jewish abuse we identified by proceedings under the Malicious Communications 1988 or the Communications Act 2003.[3] In such proceedings courts can treat the anti-Jewish abuse as racial or religious aggravation according to the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The inquiry’s recommendation therefore that the Crown Prosecution Service should give consideration “to the suitability of existing guidance on communications sent via social media” and  ”that hate crime guidance material on grossly offensive speech be reviewed to clarify what amounts to ‘criminal acts’ that ‘will be prosecuted’”[4] is opportune.


[1] Community Security Trust (2015) Antisemitic Incidents Report 2014, London: Community Security Trust, page 4.

[2] All-Party Parliamentary group Against Antisemitism (APPG) (2015) Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, London: APPG, page 103.

[4] All-Party Parliamentary group Against Antisemitism (APPG) (2015) Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, London: APPG, para. 13, page 114.

Trinity Lancaster Corpus at the International ESOL Examiner Training Conference 2015

On Friday 30th January 2015, I gave a talk at the International ESOL Examiner Training Conference 2015 in Stafford. Every year, the Trinity College London, CASS’s research partner, organises a large conference for all their examiners which consists of plenary lectures and individual training sessions. This year, I was invited to speak in front of an audience of over 300 examiners about the latest development in the learner corpus project.  For me, this was a great opportunity not only to share some of the exciting results from the early research based on this unique resource, but also to meet the Trinity examiners; many of them have been involved in collecting the data for the corpus. This talk was therefore also an opportunity to thank everyone for their hard work and wonderful support.

It was very reassuring to see the high level of interest in the corpus project among the examiners who have a deep insight into examination process from their everyday professional experience.  The corpus as a body of transcripts from the Trinity spoken tests in some way reflects this rich experience offering an overall holistic picture of the exam and, ultimately, L2 speech in a variety of communicative contexts.

Currently, the Trinity Lancaster Corpus consists of over 2.5 million running words sampling the speech of over 1,200 L2 speakers from eight different L1 and cultural backgrounds. The size itself makes the Trinity Lancaster Corpus the largest corpus of its kind. However, it is not only the size that the corpus has to offer. In cooperation with Trinity (and with great help from the Trinity examiners) we were able to collect detailed background information about each speaker in our 2014 dataset. In addition, the corpus covers a range of proficiency levels (B1– C2 levels of the Common European Framework), which allows us to research spoken language development in a way that has not been previously possible.  The Trinity Lancaster Corpus, which is still being developed with an average growth of 40,000 words a week, is an ambitious project:  Using this robust dataset, we can now start exploring crucial aspects of L2 speech and communicative competence and thus help language learners, teachers and material developers to make the process of L2 learning more efficient and also (hopefully) more enjoyable. Needless to say, without Trinity as a strong research partner and the support from the Trinity examiners this project wouldn’t be possible.

New open-access CASS publication on discourses of maritime security

Dr Basil Germond’s latest article discusses the geopolitical dimension of maritime security, which has been neglected by scholars so far. The article analyses three practical examples of maritime security geo-strategies (texts) all released in 2014; one by the UK and two by the EU. The results demonstrate that states’ and international institutions’ maritime security objectives and interests are indirectly and directly influenced by geographical and geopolitical considerations, although this link is only tacitly acknowledged in official documents (narrative). Scholars and practitioners interested in maritime security are encouraged to further engage with this dimension at the practical and discursive level.

Basil Germond “The Geopolitical Dimension of Maritime Security”, Marine Policy 54 (April 2015), pp.137-142. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308597X14003509

Marine Policy is an interdisciplinary journal in social science devoted to ocean policy studies. It has a 5-year impact factor of 2.948. 

Latest research on executive compensation by CASS co-investigator featured in Financial Times

Debate surrounding executive compensation is an enduring feature of the U.K. corporate landscape. Although concern over compensation levels continue to grab the attention of politicians and headline writers, concern is also growing over the extent to which performance measures that are widely used in executive compensation contracts (e.g., earnings per share growth and total shareholder return) represent appropriate measures of long-term corporate value creation. This debate partly reflects fears that U.K. executives face excessive pressure to deliver short-term results at the expense of long-term improvements in value.

The Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA) Society of the UK commissioned researchers at Lancaster to undertake a pilot study of executive compensation arrangements and their association with corporate value creation using a subsample of FTSE-100 companies over the period 2003 through 2013. While the results provide a degree of comfort they also create cause for concern. On the positive side, we document evidence of a material positive link between CEO pay and several measures of value creation. The evidence suggests that prevailing executive pay structures incentivize and reward important aspects of value creation even though contractual performance metrics are not directly linked with value creation in many cases.

More troubling, however, is the evidence that: a large fraction of CEO pay appears unrelated to periodic value creation; key aspects of compensation consistently correlate with performance metrics whose link with value creation is indirect at best; and in many cases the metrics used to incentivize and reward senior executives are not directly aligned with the key performance indicators (KPIs) that firms highlight as fundamental drivers of business value..

Although the structure and transparency of executive compensation practices has come a long way since the “fat cat” headlines of the 1990’s, the journey appears far from complete.

Read more details about this research as featured in a recent article in the Financial Times.