25th Anniversary Conference for the Muslim News

muslimnews0I was honoured to attend the 25th Anniversary Conference for the Muslim News on the 15th September. The event was organized by the Society of Editors and the Daily Telegraph had provided the venue – the spectacular Merchant Taylor’s Hall in the City of London. The event began with a speech by the Bob Satchwell, Executive Director of the Society of Editors and a welcoming speech by Lord Black of the Telegraph Media Group. Following that, Fatima Manji of Channel 4 News introduced me and I gave the morning’s keynote speech discussing the work which I did with Paul Baker and Costas Gabrielatos (Discourse Analysis and Media Attitudes, The Representation of Islam in the British Press) looking at the representation of Islam and Muslims in the UK press. I was also very happy to be able to present some early findings from a follow up study Paul Baker and I are currently doing, supported by CASS and the Muslim NGO MEND, looking at how things have developed since our work was published. This is based on approximately 80 million words more data composed of all UK national newspapers articles mentioning Muslims and Islam in the period 2010-2015.

The audience included a mixture of journalists, newspaper editors and TV news reporters and editors. In addition there were representatives from many faith groups and NGOs present too. The research was very well received by the audience. After the talk a panel was convened to discuss the work and take questions from the audience. The panel included John Wellington, the managing editor of the Mail on Sunday, Doug Wills, managing editor of the London Evening Standard and the Independent group of newspapers and Sue Ryan, former managing editor of the Daily Telegraph and manager of the trainee programme for the Mail group. It was a real privilege to be able to discuss our work with them and I found them to be open to criticism and ready to consider change. One point that emerged from the discussion that was of interest, I thought, was that the press are often criticized for their use of language when that usage is current in general English. While this puts the press in the spotlight, it also means that at times they can be in the vanguard of discussion and change in language use, as the recent discussion of the use of the word ‘migrant’ in the UK media has shown. This makes an engagement with media language all the more important for academic researchers.

Following this panel was a second panel, chaired by Fatima Manji, composed of the editors of ITN news and BBC news (Robin Elias and James Stephenson) as well as Channel 4’s Home Affairs correspondent Simon Israel. Julian Petley, author of Pointing the finger: Islam and Muslims in the British media, gave academic weight to this panel’s discussion. A very thought provoking discussion ensued about how to achieve a more inclusive and representative newsroom which demonstrated, once again, that the media was willing to engage in discussion and was prepared to embrace change.

 muslimnews1
After lunch the final session, chaired by Ehsan Masood of Research Fortnight, followed a
contribution from Jonathan Heywood of Impress on a Leveson compliant media watchdog that Impress are developing. A lively debate followed led by the head of IPSO, Sir Alan Moses. Sir Alan was joined by prominent editors from The Sunday Times (Eleanor Mills) and The Observer (Stephen Pritchard) as well as the Managing Editor of the London Evening Standard and Independent Group, Will Gore. A key tension that was highlighted by Sir Alan Moses in the debate was between what in principle may be desirable and what is achievable in reality. He also made the important point that we have to decide as a society where we want regulation to end and a softer form of social regulation to begin. I finished the afternoon with a brief and rewarding discussion of my work with Sir Alan.

The event was a rare and precious opportunity to showcase academic research to a range of key stakeholders and for that opportunity I am very grateful both to MEND and to Muslim News.

CASS presentation at Cambridge University Centre of Islamic Studies symposium on Anti-Muslim Hate Crime

The CASS ‘Hate Speech’ project team were invited on the 16th of June to present some of our findings at a Symposium on Anti-Muslim Hate Crime held at the University of Cambridge Centre of Islamic Studies. The Symposium was organised by Julian Hargreaves, a Lancaster University Law School PhD student and Research Associate at the Cambridge Centre.

The symposium brought together academics, community experts and civil society leaders in a unique event that allowed the sharing of knowledge, experience and expertise on the subject from a wide range of perspectives.

The first session of the day focussed on the research approaches and findings from three UK academic centres. Stevie-Jade Hardy from the University of Leicester’s Hate Crime Project isolated and shared some of the project’s key findings on experiences and impacts of hate crime for Muslims in Leicester. Sussex University PhD student Harriet Fearn discussed the early observations she had made in her research on the impacts of hate crime against Muslims on the internet.

Representing CASS and Lancaster University Law School, Paul Iganski and I then delivered a presentation of our work conducted with Jonathan Culpeper examining Crown Prosecution Service files from cases of religiously aggravated offences. In our paper titled ‘A question of faith?’, Paul and I explored the boundaries of free speech, the roles of religious identity and religious beliefs in the alleged offences committed, and the commonalities in the circumstances and contexts which surround offences prosecuted as religiously aggravated.

After lunch, the experiences of representatives from three community organisations confronting hate crime in Britain were shared with those present. Alice Purves gave a compelling account of the challenges faced by the Edinburgh and Lothians Regional Equality Council (ELREC). Jed Din, director of the Bradford Hate Crime Alliance then offered a personal account of the particular challenges of anti-Muslim hate crime and his own visions to develop community cohesion as a response. The session concluded with a presentation on anti-Muslim hate crime in Leicester from Jawaahir Daahir, CEO of the Somali Development Services.

The final session of the day, chaired by Paul Iganski, offered different approaches to documenting and responding to anti-Muslim hate crime. Shenaz Bunglawala, the head of research at MEND, shared insights and observations on the prevalence of anti-Muslim hate crime and attitudes to Muslims in Britain. The presentation included several of the key findings and observations from the research led by CASS director Tony McEnery on Representations of Islam in the British press. Those gathered then had the opportunity to hear from Hayyan Bhabha, the independent parliamentary researcher for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Islamophobia, who shared the latest developments in the work of the APPG and illustrated some of the evidence received or collated by the APPG. The final paper of the day came from Vishal Vora, from SOAS, with a perspective on indirect discrimination towards British Muslim women as a consequence of declarations of ‘non marriage’ by the English family court.

participants

From left to right: Abe Sweiry, Julian Hargreaves and Paul Iganski

The symposium was a very successful event and Paul and I very much enjoyed contributing to the day. Thanks are due to Julian and to Louise Beazor for putting together a very interesting programme, bringing together a wide range of perspectives on an important social issue, and arranging a highly productive day for all in attendance.

New CASS Briefing now available — Hate Speech: Crime against Muslims

CASSbriefings-hatespeechHate Speech: Crime against Muslims. The notion of ‘hate crime’ might conjure up an image of premeditated violence perpetrated by a bigoted thug. But in reality, a majority of so-called ‘hate crimes’ are committed with little aforethought by very ordinary people in ordinary circumstances and involve a verbal assault rather than physical attack. This briefing provides the key research findings from the project as it provided important groundwork for a CASS research project launched in 2014 on The management of hateful invective by the courts.


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

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. 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.

Towards Corpus-driven History of Contemporary Islamic Political Discourse in Turkey and Bosnia

Next month, CASS will welcome visiting researcher Dino Mujadzevic. Read more about his project in his own words, below.


As a visiting researcher during February and March 2015 at the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS), I am looking forward to widening my knowledge on corpus-driven methods in order to integrate more empirically-grounded methodology into my research of contemporary media and political discourses in Turkey and Bosnia. As the leading research centre focussing on the interdisciplinary corpus-driven research of the language in the social context, CASS was a natural choice for seeking theoretical and practical consultation, as well as assistance in the more technological aspects of carrying out a corpus-driven study. I was also attracted to the openness of CASS towards applications of corpus-driven methods to the study of history (which I consider to be my core discipline), as well expertise on topics related to Islam.

Since February 2014, I have worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the History Institute, Ruhr University Bochum (Germany). There, I am working on a research project entitled “Turkish Foreign Policy and pro-Turkish activism in Bosnia and Herzegovina (2002-2014): Discourse and actors“, which is funded by the Alexander von Humboldt foundation. In this project, I examine the media promotion of Turkey in this country by applying the Discourse Historical Approach to CDA on textual material in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian (BHS) and Turkish produced by state and non-state pro-Turkish actors, both Turkish and Bosnian Muslim. The academic research on recent Turkish foreign policy and conservative cultural trends has risen in the past years as a reaction to the very active, influential and visible Turkish involvement on the world stage, mostly in the Balkans and the Middle East. Bosnia and Herzegovina, with its large Muslim population and its legacy of recent war, has a special symbolical importance for the ruling political party. The systematic study of the discourse which drives the Turkish official and non-official foreign policy coordinated by the government is still in its early stages.

During my fieldwork research stay in Sarajevo in summer of 2014, I started collecting textual material on Turkey in Bosnian media since 1990s. Additionally, in order to clarify the background of this material I carried out numerous interviews with persons active in pro-Turkish and/or Islamic groups promoting Turkey and participated in public events and religious ceremonies.

Due to very large amount of available media related to the research subject and possibility of more comprehensive quantitative backing of conclusions, I decided to upgrade my CDA research by applying the corpus-driven approach. Currently, I am building a corpus of pro-Turkish digitalized texts from Bosnian media (in BHS and Turkish languages), collected from private digital media collections, the Internet and by scanning the newspapers.

I plan to segment the corpus into chronologically delimited corpora and to extract keyword nouns and their semantic fields (KWIC, collocations, word-clusters) from each one of these corpora.  The extracted data would be used to analyse changes (or continuities) in discursive practices in the pro-Turkish discourse in Bosnia since 1990s. Assistance for this task should be provided by network visualizations (e.g. networks of keyword’s collocations). Because I am still in the initial phase of acquiring technical and methodological knowledge related to corpus linguistics, I started a smaller pilot project to try out the corpus-driven approach. I collected all Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan´s speeches (2003-2014), interviews and other statements in both in English and Turkish which were available online. Currently, I’m writing a paper on the incorporation of Islamic references in his political discourse which I plan to analyse by using AntConc tool on the chronologically divided corpora of Erdogan political statements. The major problems I am facing in scope of my pilot project include building a representative reference corpus and lemma lists for Turkish.

My stay at the LU is funded by European Research Stay Programme of Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.


Are you interested in being a visiting researcher at CASS? Email us at cass(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)lancs.ac.uk with details about your project and your proposed time and duration of stay for more information.

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.

The Twitter reaction to the sentencing of the Lee Rigby murderers – 26th February 2014

by Love, R., McEnery, T. & Wattam, S.

Introduction

The ESRC-funded Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) at Lancaster University has undertaken some preliminary research into the immediate reaction on Twitter to the sentencing of the Lee Rigby murderers on Wednesday 26th February 2014. This document summarises our findings.

Background

On the afternoon of Wednesday 22nd May 2013, British soldier Lee Rigby was murdered by two men, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich, London. The attack, which was carried out in broad daylight, quickly became a major national news story. In December 2013 the perpetrators were found guilty of murder and were sentenced on Wednesday 26th February 2014. Adebolajo received a whole-life sentence (meaning he will never be released) and Adebowale received a life sentence with a minimum term of 45 years imprisonment.

How the research was carried out

We carried out our research by using the Twitter API to collect a large amount of tweets[1] that referred to the Rigby case, in some way, between 00.00 and 23.59 on Wednesday 26th February 2014. All tweets containing one or more of the following terms were included in our search:

rigby, adebolajo, adebowale, woolwich trial, woolwich sentence, woolwich      sentencing, justice Sweeney, #leerigby, #rigbytrial, #rigbysentence, #woolwich, #woolwichmurder, #woolwichattack, #woolwichtrial

Using these search terms we collected a total of 57,097 tweets over the 24 hour period, which included retweets (RTs), quotes etc. This amounted to a total of 1,109,136 words of Twitter discussion about the case. We then used a set of tools and methods developed in corpus linguistics to find out the ways in which Twitter users discussed the sentencing on the day of the decision.

Findings

The following is a selection of preliminary findings based on the analysis of the tweets.

  • Nearly two thirds of the tweets were retweets[2]

Nearly 35,000 tweets (60.1% of tweets) included the retweet abbreviation RT. This confirms that Twitter discussion of the Lee Rigby case was highly retweeted and shared by Twitter users. The top ten most frequently retweeted Twitter handles appear to have been:

Rank Handle Description
1 @bbcbreaking Breaking news account for BBC News
2 @skymarkwhite Home Affairs Correspondent for Sky News
3 @skynewsbreak Breaking news account for Sky News
4 @poppypride1 An “independent account supporting all troop charities”
5 @jakeleonardx Young footballer at Crewe Alexandra Academy
6 @itvnews Main account for ITV News
7 @courtnewsuk News reports account for the Old Bailey
8 @thesunnewspaper Main account for The Sun newspaper
9 @bbcnews Main account for BBC News
10 @unnamedinsider Satirical commentator

Based on these it seems that the most popular form of Twitter interaction relating to the Rigby sentencing was to retweet news updates from well-known news providers including the BBC News, Sky News, ITV News and The Sun. @jakeleonardx is not a celebrity (he has less than 1,000 followers), but when he tweeted a photo of Lee Rigby’s son with the caption “Poor little lad, RIP Lee Rigby”, it was retweeted nearly 1,000 times. @unnamedinsider appears to be better known (with over 34,000 followers), and posted two tweets ridiculing the BNP and EDL protesters who had gathered outside of the Old Bailey for the sentencing.

  • The most salient word (apart from names and Twitter terms) was life

Twitter users were very concerned with the nature of the sentence being delivered in the sentencing, using the word ‘life’ 19,498 times (34.1% of tweets). The most common three-word phrase this was used in was life in prison (4,369 times, 7.7% of tweets), confirming that Twitter users were not concerned about the loss of life but rather the restriction of those of the perpetrators.

  • Some Twitter users wanted more than whole-life terms for the perpetrators

As well as whole-life terms, Twitter users strongly expressed their opinion about other punishments they deemed suitable for the perpetrators. In particular, highly salient words like rot, deserve, should and hang indicate this. The most popular three-word expression relating to such desired punishments is rot in hell. Furthermore the word deserve occurred 1,295 times (2.3% of tweets), an indication of a clear evaluation of the sanction proposed: popular four-word phrases containing deserve included deserve a life sentence, deserve to be hung, and deserve the death penalty. Likewise the word should is almost exclusively used to wish death upon the perpetrators of the murder, while hang relates to the most popular way in which Twitter users wanted capital punishment to be undertaken upon the killers.

  • Michael Adebolajo was discussed more than Michael Adebowale

The surname ‘Adebolajo’ was tweeted 15,092 times (26.4% of tweets) compared to ‘Adebowale’ being tweeted only 11,729 times (20.5% of tweets). This indicates that the perpetrator, who received the whole-life sentence was of more concern for tweeters than the perpetrator who received the less severe punishment.

  • The most salient word used to describe Adebolajo and Adebowale was scum, and the most salient swear word was cunts

Twitter’s word of choice for the perpetrators was scum, which occurred 1,466 times (2.6% of tweets). Popular phrases included ‘the scum’, ‘this scum’, ‘two scum’, ‘them scum’ and ‘those scum’, and popular words that combined with scum include absolute, fucking, murdering and jihadi. Furthermore, the swear word cunts was used 800 times in tweets about the Rigby sentencing (1.4% of tweets). This further indicates that, as expected, there was considerable disapproval and anger expressed towards the perpetrators. Words that combined with cunts to describe the perpetrators included dirty, sick, horrible, fucking, evil, scummy, vile, muslim, murdering and filthy.

  • In terms of religion, Twitter users were most concerned about Islam

The three most salient religious words were islamistas, Islam and Muslim. Islamistas (Spanish for Islamists) occurred in Spanish language tweets reporting the result of the sentencing (though most tweets were produced in English, and by users from the UK, there appears to have been activity from all over the world).  The other terms mostly occur in retweets and discussions about the judge’s statement that the perpetrators had betrayed Islam by murdering Rigby. The general opinion appears to be that the murder was nothing to do with the religion of Islam.

Conclusion

This preliminary analysis, using tools and methods from corpus linguistics, has captured a general impression of the Twitter reaction to the sentencing of the Lee Rigby murderers. It seems that the main reaction centred around the nature of the sentencing and the Twitter users’ wishes for both Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale to receive at least a whole-life sentence but preferably death. Furthermore some Twitter users appeared unrestrained in their willingness to use offensive language to describe the killers.


[1] As many as possible were collected, but given the immediacy of the event and the nature of the search method, we acknowledge that Twitter users may have tweeted about the Rigby trial without using any of these terms.

[2] This may have been even higher than this if we take into account retweets that do not contain the letters ‘RT’.

New CASS Briefing: Representations of Islam in the British press, 1998 – 2009


CASSbriefings-islamRepresentations of Islam in the British press, 1998 – 2009
.
 Is the British press Islamophobic? How are Islam and Muslims typically written about? Have representations of Islam and Muslims changed over time, particularly since 9/11? Are some newspapers less ‘friendly’ towards Muslims than others? Read this CASS: Briefing of a large-scale corpus-based discourse analytical study to discover more.


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

Further explorations in ‘the Muslim world’

Doing a ten minute presentation is pretty tough – you have to be equally ruthless about what you leave out and what you include. But the benefits are potentially great – if you can present an idea well in ten minutes you are pretty sure that you will have your viewer’s attention. As anybody who has lectured knows, with longer talks, no matter how strong your delivery, attention starts to wander for some in the audience as the talk progresses! So when I had the opportunity to do a talk of 10-18 minutes for Lancaster TEDx, I immediately went for the option of 10 minutes. It was a nice challenge for me and I thought that the brevity of the talk would help me to get my message across. So I beavered away for a few weeks putting things in and taking things out, thinking about key messages and marshalling my data: if my TEDx talk looks spontaneous …. it was not. In fact I imagine few of them really are, in spite of them being presented in such a way as to make it appear that they are. A lot of work goes into them – and that is just from the speakers. The crew who organized and filmed the event at Lancaster worked amazingly hard as well.

So was it worth it? Well, I have had many kind notes since I did the talk thanking me for it. I have also had a fair number of views of my talk on-line and many, many more likes than dislikes. So for me the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’, it was worth it. Many thanks to all who have viewed and publicised my talk.

Reading the comments has been an interesting experience – many are appreciative. Yet some simply show that some of the argument was ignored or not picked up by the watcher – so a watcher asks if religious identity is important to athletic performance in response to a point I make about the failure of the UK press to report on Mo Farrah’s Muslim identity. Though I thought I made it clear that that identity is one Farrah himself says is central to his athletic achievements and hence, yes, it is relevant, it seems that perhaps my optimism that a ten minute talk would deal with attention span issues was misplaced! For some of these mistaken queries other commenters set the record straight, which is kind of them.

Of slightly more interest are some of the questions that get thrown up – I will consider three here. Firstly: what about the term the West? I was glad this was picked up by a viewer as we discuss that in the book that my talk is based upon (Baker, Gabrielatos and McEnery, 2012:131-132). As a self-referential term it does have a role to play in setting up the ‘us’ that is opposed to the ‘them’ of the Muslim world. Another viewer asks whether Muslim world is just a neutral term used to define a culturally homogeneous region. This is a dangerous argument. It takes us to the precipice of the very ‘us and them’ distinction I was discussing. It is dangerous precisely because it is simplistic in nature, as it implies an homogeneous and distinct other (there are non-Muslims who live in the so-called Muslim world, for example – the area referred to is not homogeneous in oh so many ways). It also misses the point – if this was a simply neutral referring expression perhaps the ‘us and them’ distinction would not be so powerful. The problem is it is a very powerful term for generating an ‘us and them’ distinction because it sets Muslims in opposition to non-Muslims in the language and, as noted, it homogenizes Muslims  – they are all the same and the reporting of the views of the Muslim world entrench this monolithic view also (see Baker, Gabrielatos and McEnery, 2012:130). Finally, the same viewer wonders why I did not talk about the change of meaning of words over time. The answer to that one is easy – sadly, as shown in the later part of the talk, the attitudes I was talking about have not changed over time, even though I would have been happy to say that they had if this was true. The viewer also uses the word ‘gay’ as an interesting example of change in meaning over time – well, that would have been another talk to give. A lot of nonsense is spoken about this world – it is usually presented as a word that had a simple, innocent, meaning until another, less innocent meaning came along and spoilt it, a view hilariously lampooned by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in this sketch:

However, this is not true – gay had far from innocent meanings in the past – a quick perusal of Jonathan Green’s excellent Chambers Slang Dictionary shows that. So yes, a discussion of word meaning change over time would have been interesting and debunking a few myths about the word gay would have been fun too – but that was not what my talk was about, so I shall leave the matter there. Maybe for a future TEDx? Who knows.

So – ten minute talks have their pluses and minuses. They are great for getting your message out and, by and large, I am happy with how my talk went. I found the experience of giving a TEDx talk a very positive one and many other people clearly enjoyed it also.  Best of all, it has made people think about and discuss their use of language, and that is something which always pleases me!

Watch my full TEDxLancasterU talk here: