Coming this year: Corpora and Discourse Studies (Palgrave Advances in Language and Linguistics)

Three members of CASS have contributed chapters to a new volume in the Palgrave Advances in Language and Linguistics series. Corpora and Discourse Studies will be released later this year.


corpdiscThe growing availability of large collections of language texts has expanded our horizons for language analysis, enabling the swift analysis of millions of words of data, aided by computational methods. This edited collection of chapters contains examples of such contemporary research which uses corpus linguistics to carry out discourse analysis. The book takes an inclusive view of the meaning of discourse, covering different text-types or modes of language, including discourse as both social practice and as ideology or representation. Authors examine a range of spoken, written, multimodal and electronic corpora covering themes which include health, academic writing, social class, ethnicity, gender, television narrative, news, Early Modern English and political speech. The chapters showcase the variety of qualitative and quantitative tools and methods that this new generation of discourse analysts are combining together, offering a set of compelling models for future corpus-based research in discourse.

Table of Contents:

  1. Introduction; Paul Baker and Tony McEnery
  2. E-Language: Communication in the Digital Age; Dawn Knight
  3. Beyond Monomodal Spoken Corpora: Using a Field Tracker to Analyse Participants’ Speech at the British Art Show; Svenja Adolphs, Dawn Knight and Ronald Carter
  4. Corpus-assisted Multimodal Discourse Analysis of Television and Film Narratives; Monika Bednarek
  5. Analysing Discourse Markers in Spoken Corpora: Actually as a Case Study; Karin Aijmer
  6. Discursive Constructions of the Environment in American Presidential Speeches 1960-2013: A Diachronic Corpus-assisted Study; Cinzia Bevitori
  7. 7. Health Communication and Corpus Linguistics: Using Corpus Tools to Analyse Eating Disorder Discourse Online; Daniel Hunt and Kevin Harvey
  8. Multi-Dimensional Analysis of Academic Discourse; Jack A. Hardy
  9. Thinking About the News: Thought Presentation in Early Modern English News Writing; Brian Walker and Dan McIntyre
  10. The Use of Corpus Analysis in a Multi-perspectival Study of Creative Practice; Darryl Hocking
  11. Corpus-assisted Comparative Case Studies of Representations of the Arab World; Alan Partington
  12.  Who Benefits When Discourse Gets Democratised? Analysing a Twitter Corpus Around the British Benefits Street Debate; Paul Baker and Tony McEnery
  13. Representations of Gender and Agency in the Harry Potter Series; Sally Hunt
  14. Filtering the Flood: Semantic Tagging as a Method of Identifying Salient Discourse Topics in a Large Corpus of Hurricane Katrina Reportage; Amanda Potts

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.

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.

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.

New CASS Briefing now available — What words are most useful for learners of English?

CASSbriefings-EDLWhat words are most useful for learners of English? Introducing the New General Service List. Learning vocabulary is a complex process in which the learner needs to acquire both the form and a variety of meanings of a given vocabulary item. General vocabulary lists can assist in the process of learning words by providing common vocabulary items. In response to problems identified in the currently available General Service List, the authors decided to investigate the core English vocabulary with very large language corpora using current corpus linguistics technology.


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

New CASS Briefing now available — The EDL: moving right-wing populism online in the UK

CASSbriefings-EDLThe EDL: moving right-wing populism online in the UK. The English Defence League (EDL) is a far-right populist political movement and campaigns specifically on issues concerning the presence of Muslims and Islam in Western societies. This briefing from CASS presents the results of a corpus study on the online activities of the EDL and its supporters. The briefing shows that, although the hierarchy of the EDL claims to be specifically concerned with radical Islam, the discourse of supporters is less focussed and contains more explicit forms of Islamophobia.


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

A three-parent baby or a change of battery? Language in the ethical debate on mitochondrial donation

On 22nd October 2014, the House of Commons Science and Technology committee will hold a one-off evidence session on a new human fertilisation technique variously known as mitochondrial donation, mitochondrial transfer or mitochondrial replacement. This technique is intended to help women who carry serious genetic diseases that are passed to the embryo through the mitochondria – the outer layer of the egg (e.g. muscular dystrophy). In such cases, the cell’s mitochondria would be replaced with mitochondria from a healthy donated egg immediately before or after fertilisation, thus eliminating the possibility that the child will inherit the genetic disease.

The first embryo with donated mitochondria was successfully created at Newcastle University in 2010. In 2012, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics approved the procedure. However, the technique has not yet been legally approved in the UK. Two public consultations have found that the majority of people are in favour of introducing the technique, but have also revealed some opposition. Previous parliamentary discussions have primarily focussed on the safety of the procedure. However, concerns have been expressed both in Parliament and in the media about the ethics of manipulating the genetic make-up of human embryos.

As far as the ethical issues are concerned, the language used to describe the procedure is crucial, especially in media reporting. In order to study this language systematically, we constructed a dataset (corpus) including all relevant news reports published in the UK press between April 2010 (when the Newcastle team announced the success of the technique), and September 2014. The corpus contains a total of 119 news articles, amounting to 64,804 words. We have found that, in our data, the words used to express the case for or against approval frame the issue in opposite and irreconcilable ways. This, we suggest, reduces the chances of a reasoned debate, and makes it difficult to see the merits of the case.

The case in favour: changing a faulty battery

In April 2010, Newcastle University issued a press release in which one of the directors of the research, Professor Doug Turnbull, explains the new procedure as follows:

‘Every cell in our body needs energy to function. This energy is provided by mitochondria, often referred to as the cells’ ‘batteries’. Mitochondria are found in every cell, along with the cell nucleus, which contains the genes that determine our individual characteristics. The information required to create these ‘batteries’ – the mitochondrial DNA – is passed down the maternal line, from mother to child.

[…]

“What we’ve done is like changing the battery on a laptop. The energy supply now works properly, but none of the information on the hard drive has been changed,” […] “A child born using this method would have correctly functioning mitochondria, but in every other respect would get all their genetic information from their father and mother.”

The ‘battery metaphor’ is one of the main rhetorical strategies used in our data to suggest that the procedure poses no ethical issues, and should thus be approved on medical grounds: most people can relate to how changing the battery in an appliance does not affect its essential characteristics. The noun battery occurs 38 times in the data, including both the singular and plural forms. We used a new software tool to find the top ‘collocates’ of the singular form battery, i.e. the words that are strongly associated with this word in our corpus. This tool displays collocates as a network with the search word in the centre (see figure 1).

figure1

Figure 1 – Collocation network for battery

Battery is closely linked with the technical term mitochondria on the one hand, and, on the other hand, with a small set of words that belong to the ‘battery’ metaphorical scenario: pack, faulty, replacing and changing. The extracts below are instances of the pattern displayed in figure 2:

About one in 6,500 children are born with defects in their mitochondria – the “batteries“ that power each cell.

The new techniques would see defects in a cell’s battery pack, the mitochondria, replaced by a healthy version supplied by a woman donor

[Mitochondria] are like batteries in a camera or a laptop – you can change them without changing anything else. The child’s identity will come from its two parents, who determine the nuclear DNA.

In these extracts, the focus is on the way in which serious medical problems can be avoided by means of an intervention at the level of cells.

The case against: three-parent babies

The case against approval focuses on the babies who would be born as a result of the procedure, and particularly on their kinship relationships with the people whose cells would be involved in the creation of the embryo: the woman who carries the genetic disease, the woman who donates the healthy mitochondria, and the man whose sperm is used to fertilise the egg.

The word baby as a singular noun occurs 99 times in the corpus, and the plural form babies occurs 268 times. Figure 2 shows the network of words that centres around the plural form babies in our corpus.

figure2

Figure 2 – Collocation network for babies

As figure 2 shows, the collocates of babies include:

  • Words that relate to the debate, and to the issue of official approval: approve, legalise, draft, sanction, permit, backing, comment, ministers.
  • Words that relate to the procedure itself and its outcome: create, created, creation, order, genetically, modified, GM, designer, eugenics, three, three-parent.

The second group in particular reveals the main argument against approval of the procedure, namely that it involves the creation of genetically modified babies with three biological parents. This, it is argued, would pave the way to a future where prospective parents can choose the characteristics of their children, such as eye colour. The following extracts express this position:

Three-parent babies may never know their ‘second’ mother

Government accused of dishonesty over GM babies

Dr David King, of watchdog Human Genetics Alert, said: “This will eventually lead to a designer baby market. [...]”

Done differently, it could lead to the creation of designer babies , made to order by hair colour or eye colour.

More specifically, the corpus contains 40 instances of three-parent baby/babies, 33 instances of designer baby/babies and 12 instances of GM babies. In some articles, these phrases are used to place mitochondrial donation alongside other ethically controversial issues:

Issues ranging from fracking to three-parent babies and genetically modified crops are all difficult […].

The problem with the two alternative linguistic framings

The cases for and against approval or mitochondrial donation are expressed in the press in ways that polarise the issue in an extreme, and arguably unhelpful, fashion. In the case against, the creation of a human baby from the genetic material of three people results in a genetically modified, designer human being, and in an abnormal kinship relationship involving two mothers and three parents. In the case in favour, the use of mitochondria from a donated egg is a mechanical process that has negligible genetic implications and no abnormal kinship implications at all. More generally, the case against focuses on the people involved in the process and their relationships, while the case in favour focuses on what scientists do in a lab in order to prevent serious incurable conditions. As figures 1 and 2 show, the two networks centering on babies and battery do not meet: they have no words in common. For example, the verb form associated with the battery network is replace, whereas for babies it is create.

In this context, it is difficult for non-experts to make sense of the complex scientific issue that underlies the ethical questions, namely the function of mitochondria and their role in the genetic make-up of human beings. Those who adopt the ‘battery metaphor’ tend to point out that mitochondria only provide 0.1% of a human being’s genetic material, none of which influences the characteristics that we associate with identity and uniqueness. Those who adopt the ‘three-parent’ view implicitly suggest that two women are equally involved in the creation of the embryo, presumably because the provision of any amount of genetic material would constitute biological parenting.

The language used in the media to represent both sides over-simplifies and polarises the issue, and therefore makes it difficult to understand the basis of the disagreement. It would be desirable to have a debate that enables the public to appreciate the nature and complexity of the scientific issues, so that they can form a reasoned view of the implications of the introduction of the procedure. To achieve that, both sides have to abandon the current linguistic framings, and find a common linguistic ground from which to argue their respective cases.