PhD conference prize for Mark Wilkinson

At the 2020 Corpora and Discourse International Conference, I was very honoured to receive an award for the conference paper “showing the greatest methodological innovation or reflexivity by a student researcher”. The award was sponsored by the Applied Corpus Linguistics journal and included a prize of £250. This year’s online conference, hosted by the University of Sussex, featured a wide variety of brilliant research from students around the world. That I was nominated for the award makes me truly humble and I am especially grateful to my supervisor, Professor Paul Baker, for all his support and guidance during my doctoral research. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you a summary of my talk which is titled: “Black or gay or Jewish or whatever”: A diachronic corpus-based discourse analysis of how the UK’s LGBTQI population came to be represented as secular, cisgender, gay, white and male (available to watch here: https://corporadiscourse.com/language-gender-sexuality-videos/).

This talk emerged from my PhD research in which I aim to map how The Times has used language to discursively construct LGBTQI identities in the UK over the past 60 years. I’m particularly interested in the histories of identity and this is why I’ve chosen to take a diachronic approach, collecting many decades of language data from one of the UK’s most influential broadsheets. This focus on history is based on the assumption adapted from post-structuralist discourse theory (Laclau & Mouffe 1985) that all identities are partially the result of consistent choices in representation made over a sustained period of time.

In order to garner a sense of which discourses have been consistent, I decided to look at both consistent keywords and consistent collocates. This revealed several currents running through the corpus. First, in spite of the fact that the search terms used to build the corpus reflected the inherent diversity within the LGBTQI population, the majority of key terms pertained to gay men. This indicates that the history of queer representation in The Times is primarily their history while the histories of lesbian, bisexual, trans and gender non-conforming people have been largely erased or obfuscated. Second, an analysis of consistent collocates for the word gay showed that additional identifications such as Black and Jewish were statistically significant from the 1980s onward. A closer analysis of the newspaper articles that featured this usage showed that such terms were used in one of two ways. First, Black and Jewish were often used as marked terms which implied that such intersecting identities were exceptional. I would therefore argue that this markedness implies the presumed whiteness and non-Jewishness of the archetypal gay man as presumed by The Times. Secondly, the terms Black and gay as well as Jewish and gay were often presented as mutually exclusive categories. In other words, individuals were represented as being either black or gay, but never both. Cumulatively, it was argued that the history of LGBTQI representation in The Times suggests that through consistent choices in representation over a sustained period of time, the queer population of the UK came to be represented as secular, cisgender, gay, white and male. But, as there was never any use of the term white, how could I make this claim?

Drawing on the intellectual tradition of critical race theory (Baldwin 1963; Crenshaw 1990; Morrison 1992; Hall 1997), I argued that ‘race’ – while certainly a lived experience with material consequences – is not simply a neutral taxonomy of phenotypical differences between people, but is rather an ideological construct that functions as a structuring force in society such that certain bodies are given more value than others. Within this racialised matrix, whiteness is not only privileged, but is passed off as neutral and universal – an unmarked category that functions largely by ‘erasing its own tracks’ (Trechter and Bucholtz 2001:10). From a linguistic perspective then, whiteness functions ‘much like a linguistic sign, taking its meaning from those surrounding categories to which it is structurally opposed’ (Trechter and Bucholtz 2001:5). Therefore, in the data from The Times, the racialisation of gay men as Black, necessarily implies that the whiteness of all other gay men is indeed the implied universal.

In conclusion, it was argued that these cumulative processes are not benign, but rather indicate how the power of language can erase entire groups of people from popular discourse. Furthermore, the combination of corpus data with theories from both within and beyond linguistics is essential in mapping the discursive construction and representation of identities.

References:

Baldwin, J. (1963). The Fire Next Time. New York: Dial Press.

Crenshaw, K., (1990). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review43, p.1241.

Hall, S. (1997). ‘The spectacle of ‘the other’’. In Hall, S. (ed) (1997) Representation: cultural representations and signifying practices. London: Sage.

Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (1985). Hegemony and socialist strategy: Towards a radical democratic politics. London: Verso.

Morrison, T. (1992). Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the literary imagination. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Trechter, S. and Bucholtz, M. (2001). ‘Introduction: White noise: Bringing language into whiteness studies’. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 11(1), pp.3-21.

 

 

 

From careful to careless reporting: The effect of COVID-19 on the representation of Islam and Muslims – Isobelle Clarke

In my current position, funded by the Aziz Foundation, in the Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Sciences at Lancaster University, I am investigating the representation of Muslims and Islam in the UK press. Previous research has revealed the major press representations of Islam and Muslims between 1998 to 2009 and between 2010 to 2014 in order to assess how much has changed. One of my aims in this project is to develop and extend that research in order to assess if the major press representations of Muslims and Islam from January 2015 to December 2019 have changed or stayed the same since those time periods investigated. That research is very much under way and I am looking forward to writing up the results and sharing them with you. But (and I am sure it is the same for anyone else looking at the representations of different social phenomena or groups in the media), it already feels like so much has happened since December 2019 and I felt it was important to address this.

When I started the project I was quickly introduced to the Muslim Council of Britain’s (MCB) Centre for Media Monitoring (CfMM) team. At our first meeting we sat around a table at their offices in White Chapel and spoke about our aims for the project. We immediately found similarities of approach and a shared purpose – to identify negative trends and promote positive practice in the media’s representation of Islam and Muslims. They asked me how I had become interested in this research and I remember mentioning how infuriated I was with Boris Johnson’s opinion piece in the Telegraph on Denmark’s banning of the burqa. In that piece he positioned Muslim women who choose to wear the burqa as being in a ‘catch 22’, whereby they can never be ‘free’ for as long as they wear a burqa because even if they choose to wear it, according to Boris, it is still a ‘dehumanising garment’. I drew parallels with rape victims who are interrogated and accused of ‘asking for it’ by the cross-examiner for wearing a dress that falls above the knee and/or high heels. We each shared our own frustrations and I suddenly realised that whilst I was aware of many problems in the reporting of Islam and Muslims, I was about to fall down the biggest rabbit hole, where I would never be able to look at a report on Muslims or Islam without seeing some form of bias or misrepresentation.

During this COVID-19 global pandemic, I have found myself reading and/or listening to the media far more than I have before. With an increased sensitivity to the media and being 6 months deep into this rabbit hole, I have noticed that reporting on Islam and Muslims has shifted.

In previous research investigating the representation of Islam and Muslims, it was found that much had stayed the same since 1998-2009 when reporting on Islam and Muslims between 2010-2014; however there were cases where things had changed and reporting had become more careful in trying to represent what had happened accurately and fairly. For instance, there was a growing acknowledgement that Islam has several different denominations. Between 1998 to 2009, these different denominations were rarely referred to or distinguished in the press. However, press reports concerning Islam and Muslims during 2010 to 2014 were referring to the different denominations more often than before. This was a positive improvement as it promoted religious literacy and better represented which groups of Muslims were involved in an event, rather than ascribing the event to all Muslims.

Despite these attempts at trying to include as much detail as possible to avoid misrepresentation, during the pandemic careful reporting appears to have been de-emphasised. A report’s accuracy now comes second to the spectacle of sensationalist reporting that fits a familiar narrative. In other words, the press have gone backwards.

Whilst I have noticed many instances of problematic reporting during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is one consistent narrative that ties many of them together. This narrative is affiliated to the “Us versus Them” dichotomy, especially the positive presentation of ‘Us’ and the negative presentation of ‘Them’. However, the reports extend this to present ‘Us’ as rule-followers and ‘Them’ as rule-breakers, where ‘Them’ are Muslims who have been scapegoated as a threat to ‘Us’ – the rest of society (i.e. Non-Muslims). In the rest of this blog, I will contextualise and describe a very specific example of this discourse and attempt to articulate the effects of such careless and reckless reporting.

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan happened during the COVID-19 pandemic from 23 April 2020 to 23 May 2020. During Ramadan, many Muslims fast between dawn and sunset as a way to show their devotion to their faith and come closer to God. There is also a special festival at the end of Ramadan called Eid al-Fitr, which means the festival of the breaking of the fast. Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, prayer, doing good deeds and spending time with family and friends. It is a time where Muslims make a special effort to connect with their communities and help those in need. Of course, during the pandemic with worldwide lockdown restrictions, Ramadan, and many other events, happened a little differently.

The PM of the UK Boris Johnson announced on 23rd March 2020 that people in the UK must stay at home and that they can only leave to:

  • shop for basic necessities,
  • exercise once per day
  • provide care to a vulnerable person
  • attend to a medical need or
  • travel to work but only where necessary and if it can’t be done from home.

In addition, Boris Johnson ordered places of worship, restaurants, cafes, pubs, clubs, and a number of retail stores to close. Large gatherings were banned and many other rules and restrictions were put in place to try and curb the spread of the virus. Such restrictions and lockdown measures meant that normal and traditional Ramadan festivities could not take place. Muslims couldn’t go to the mosque to pray, they couldn’t break their fast or celebrate Eid with their communities, family members or friends living in different households.

Before these restrictions even came into place and before Ramadan began, the Muslim Council of Britain had urged all mosques to close and they set out specific guidance for Ramadan during this unique time. This guidance provided details of how to adhere to the government’s lockdown restrictions and take part in this holy month of Ramadan. It also reassured Muslims that it was not necessary to go to the mosque to pray. Despite this very clear, explicit guidance that adhered to the government’s restrictions, the media were nevertheless focused on presenting Muslims as a threat to the rest of society because they either were going to break the rules during Ramadan, or may do so. For example, on the 12th April 2020 the Sunday Times had the headline:

“Experts fear spike in cases when families gather for Ramadan”

This headline is problematic for several reasons. First, it is factually incorrect. There was one ‘expert’, not more than one, as denoted by the plural Experts. In the context of this story, one might imagine that an expert would be someone who is an epidemiologist (one who studies the spread of infection) or mathematician (one who models and predicts the spread of infectious diseases). Yet the expert referred to in the Sunday Times is a consultant transplant nephrologist (someone who deals with kidney transplants). Given that the spread of COVID-19 cannot be cured or prevented by a kidney transplant, it can be argued that the expert selected was not appropriate as they were not an expert in this context.

Second, the headline makes assumptions, which misrepresent the truth. The clause “when families gather for Ramadan” presupposes that families will gather for Ramadan in ways that do not abide by the lockdown regulations (i.e. gathering with your family members from different households). This headline consequently problematised Muslims before Ramadan had even begun. It suggested that Muslims may be intending to break the rules wilfully for Ramadan. Muslims were therefore positioned as a threat to the rest of society as they were scapegoated for a potential spike in cases of COVID-19.

Following critique from the Centre for Media Monitoring, The Sunday Times corrected their headline:

“Expert fears a spike in UK coronavirus cases if communities gather for Ramadan”.

Although the expertise of the expert was not addressed, the change from the WH-clause to the conditional clause “if communities gather for Ramadan” makes this headline far less accusatory and presuppositional. Instead, it positions a spike in UK coronavirus cases as a potential consequence if people are to gather for Ramadan. Whilst the assumption that communities could gather for Ramadan is still present, in the new version it is not assumed that all Muslims will ignore the rules and gather for Ramadan.

Even though the Sunday Times made these corrections, it is important to note that the major problem with this report is that the scapegoating of Muslims in the UK press is unfair and disproportionate. Good Friday and Easter Sunday also fell during the tight lockdown restrictions. However, an article that implied that all Christian families and communities would break the rules in order to gather and celebrate the death and resurrection of Christ, or to take their families on Easter Egg hunts, did not appear in the Times or the Sunday Times. Christians make up more of the UK’s population than Muslims and so on numerical grounds alone they pose a greater risk of spreading the infection and causing a spike if they were to break the rules. Therefore, the focus on and scapegoating of Muslims is unfair.

Overall, the underlying narrative ‘Muslims as rule breakers’ is an articulation of the “Us versus Them” dichotomy, where Muslims are “Them” positioned in opposition to “Non-Muslims”. In the context of COVID-19, ‘Them’ are rule breakers, who are threats to the health of society, and so once again we find the UK press demonising Muslims and marking them as threats to society.

So many people and organisations are helped by Muslims in their charity work throughout the year and especially during Ramadan, when Muslims make a special effort to help those in need. This charity work has not stopped during the pandemic, but it has just taken different forms. For example, mosques in Liverpool have launched a helpline for the whole community to provide support during the pandemic. Additionally, volunteers from Newcastle Central mosque have launched a COVID-19 support group by delivering essential supplies, such as food and medicine to those in need and who are self-isolating. These emergency parcels are delivered for free and funded by the One Ummah charity. There are so many more examples of positive work being led by Muslims than there are negative, but these positive stories tend to be reported in the local as opposed to national press.

During these unprecedented times, it can be very easy to look for people or groups to blame, and when the press consistently demonise particular groups, those groups are even easier to accuse. This small blog is a call to go back to striving towards careful and accurate reporting. Let us change the narrative. #PositivelyMuslim

 

Slavery in the News – Slaves and Slavery in the Liverpool Mercury in the Nineteenth Century – Helen Baker

Last month, Tony McEnery and I completed a study which looked at changes in the representation of slavery in a prominent provincial newspaper, the Liverpool Mercury, throughout the nineteenth century. This will appear in the book Time in Languages, Languages in Time (Čermáková et al, forthcoming) which brings together a collection of articles reflecting on language and time: how language changes over time and how time is perceived across various languages. In this blog post we give a sense of the main findings of our work.

Using Usage Fluctuation Analysis (UFA, McEnery, Baker and Brezina, 2019) we searched almost two billion words of newspaper articles from the Liverpool Mercury to see how words linked to slavery changed their usage in the nineteenth century. While the chapter we wrote covers much in the way of method, in this brief blog post we want to focus on one aspect of our work by showing, through the lens of the Mercury, how nineteenth-century Liverpudlians felt about the traffic of enslaved Africans, their city’s association with the slave trade and how these feelings changed over time, if at all.

Our study has proven to be topical. A few days ago, it was reported in the press that the University of Liverpool had made the decision to rename a halls of residence known as Gladstone Hall. The former British Prime Minister, William Ewart Gladstone, had strong family links to the transatlantic slave trade and early in his career made a speech against its abolition. His father, John, owned a number of sugar and coffee plantations in Demerara (now part of Guyana) and Jamaica. Like other men who profited from the slave trade, John Gladstone matched his economic success with political clout – he served as a Tory member of parliament for three different constituencies and he partly owned the newspaper Liverpool Courier.

The city of Liverpool, where the Gladstone family lived, was one of Britain’s principal trading ports, sitting at the corner of the so-called ‘golden triangle’ which drove the transatlantic slave trade. Vessels from Liverpool are estimated to have carried 40 per cent of the entire Atlantic slave trade and controlled up to 60 per cent of the British trade (Sherwood and Sherwood, 2007: 26) and the historian Brian Howman (2007: 277) has explained that, by the end of the eighteenth century, the livings of most Liverpudlians were bound up with the slave trade. Importantly, through the trade in cotton and manufactured goods with the United States, Liverpool retained strong economic links to a slave-owning economy for most of the nineteenth century. So, while emancipation of slaves occurred in the early part of the century throughout the British Empire, Liverpool retained a strong economic interest in slavery.

UFA helped us to make sense of a large volume of data by showing the changing usage of words like slave, slaves and slavery over the course of the century. Based on that, we were then able to downsample and explore the corpus, using techniques such as collocation analysis and close reading, to see how the discussion of slavery varied over time. What the UFA, and our follow up analysis, shows in the Mercury are three broad phases of discussion – the early part of the century is dominated by debates relating to abolition in the British Empire, which we will not discuss here. Instead, in this short blog post we will focus on the second phase of the debate, when it widened as a desire to end the slave trade beyond Britain increased. We will also note the third and final phase of the discussion, in which slavery slipped into historic memory. Let us begin with an exploration of phase two, which we call ‘a widening debate’.

A widening debate – doing more to oppose slavery

In the second phase of discussion the Liverpool Mercury did not shy away from discussing the slave trade. Within its pages, Liverpool’s past involvement in the traffic of enslaved black Africans was acknowledged and journalists conveyed a determination that any further participation must not be tolerated. The newspaper gave the impression that the vast majority of the inhabitants of the city were united against slavery. Indeed, when William Gladstone received the freedom of the city in December 1892, the Mercury reported an older, more liberal, Gladstone as saying that “we all look back with shame and sorrow” on the traffic of Africans.

However, there were also suggestions that Liverpool should be active, or more active, in opposing the slave trade. On 3 November, 1868, the newspaper carried a speech by the Bishop of Oxford who declared that Liverpool’s strong connection with the slave trade meant that the city must “be connected with the act of undoing it”. Occasional reports berated Liverpool for not speaking out to a greater extent. For instance, a letter published on 12 October, 1875 condemned the city for not protesting against the Slave Circulars – contentious instructions to ships captains that fugitive slaves should be returned to their former masters:

While other towns are protesting against the atrocities and illegal actions of the Tory       Government, how is it that Liverpool is silent?

The newspaper also acknowledged that Liverpool was struggling to throw off its associations with the slave trade entirely. An article of 4 June 1862, for instance, condemned American slave traders who had established themselves in Liverpool. The slave ship, Nightingale, was reported to have been fitted out in the city. The reporter asserted that the people of Liverpool “are interested in discovering and bringing to justice ruffians who attempt to turn a British port into a slave-trading station”.

A widening debate – the geographic dimension

As the debate shifted from abolition in the British Empire, reports in the Liverpool Mercury revealed how Britain struggled to persuade other countries, particularly other empires, to agree to abolition. Articles detailed an array of diplomatic overtures – draft treaties, international assemblies, and outright bribes – designed to achieve this which were often unsuccessful. In the earlier part of the second phase of discussion, reluctance by France, Portugal and Spain to agree to abolition tended to be highlighted. Later the focus shifted to Cuba and Brazil, colonies of Spain and Portugal respectively. For instance, on 23 September, 1853 an article stated:

The commercial advices from Cuba state that the question of the slave trade continues to give constant trouble to the official representatives of the British government in that island. Open violations of treaty are almost of weekly occurrence, and, under the active connivance of the Spanish authorities, the traffic is obviously increasing.

In later part of the widening debate phase, countries such as Egypt and Turkey were cast into the spotlight with drafts of treaties with both countries being reported, while a number of articles referred to an alliance with the Sultan of Zanzibar, Barghash bin Said, aimed at curtailing the slave trade .

A widening debate – anti-slavery opinion

Many articles about the slave trade in the Liverpool Mercury throughout the second phase we identified were pessimistic in tone. The newspaper frequently reported that slavery was actually growing in strength in the nineteenth century.

Just as we care about the origins of our food, people in the nineteenth century expressed alarm over the origins of one of the most important products produced by slaves – sugar. Some abolitionists pushed Britons to abstain from the consumption of slave-grown sugar and the Liverpool Mercury carried a number of articles about the consequences of removing high protective tariffs on imported sugar and molasses. In stark contrast to the present day, sugar was presented as both “wholesome and nutritious” (article of 7 April, 1843) and an item which poorer people should be able to afford.

Britain had prohibited the slave trade in the British Empire in 1807 but the Slavery Abolition Act, which abolished slavery itself in the British Empire, was not put in place until 1833. Articles in the Mercury suggest that the British public felt impatient with the process of emancipation. In May 1823, the newspaper wrote about public petitions by the inhabitants of Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle for the abolition of slavery. Indeed, the abolition campaign has been called the first popular movement and was characterised by mass meetings and petition campaigns (Thomas, 1998: 12 and Drescher, 1994). A letter of 28 March, 1823 to the editor of the Liverpool Mercury lamented the material condition of enslaved Africans in stark, emotive language:

We do not hear the groans of the slaves: we do not behold the uplifted arm of the insulting and brutalized driver: the smack of his whip does not resound in our ears… Our best feelings are not shocked by the sight of his lacerated body; nor are we horrified by exhibition of instances which have been attested to exist in the West Indies, of persons, in whose neglected wounds even maggots have bred. We do not witness the rupture of all ties of domestic relationship: we do not see the violation of all the tender charities of life; the child torn from its parents; and the wife carried away from her husband, to be subjected to the brutal lust of a tyrant.

Journalists also employed emotionally charged language in writing about the slave trade – words such as miseries, atrocities, inhumanity, injustice, abomination and victims were all very common. In the first decades of the century, newspaper articles described shocking incidents where slaves had been deliberately thrown from slave ships by crew members who wanted to avoid being detained with slaves on board. However, as the century progressed, expressions such as horror/s of the slave trade and evil/s of the slave trade had become stock phrases, employed by reporters in order to demonstrate, very quickly and conveniently, their repulsion at the notion of the enslavement of humans. These reporters did not go on to elucidate why the trade was horrible; there was simply no need – by that time, the British public overwhelmingly despised the slave trade and was well aware of the horrors it entailed.

The final phase – the slave trade passes into history

Towards the end of the century, the discourse in the Mercury enters a third phase made distinct by an increase in mentions of works of art and literature which referenced the slave trade. Articles mentioned busts of early abolitionists, Graville Sharp and Thomas Clarkson, books about the slave trade and implements of the slave trade, such as timber yokes and iron shackles, being put on display. The slave trade was passing into memory during this period – its early opponents were being honoured, it was being represented in art and literature, and objects used to enslave black Africans had been removed from ships and plantations and placed in museums.

Conclusion

News articles in the pages of the nineteenth-century Liverpool Mercury reveal a sense of shame and regret at the city’s involvement in the slave trade. Perhaps journalists working for the newspaper hoped their frequent condemnation of slavery might partially atone for their city’s former enthusiastic participation in it. Although there were some suggestions that a very small number of Liverpudlians had continued their associations with the slave trade, the newspaper gives us the impression that the vast majority of the city’s residents had turned away from it entirely and, moreover, regarded the traffic and ownership of human beings with utter revulsion. By the end of the century, the discussion of slavery is rooted firmly in the past.

References

Čermáková, A. , Egan, T., Hasselgård, H. & Rørvik, S. (Eds, forthcoming) Time in Languages, Language in Time. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Drescher, S. (1994), ‘Whose abolition? Popular pressure and the ending of the British slave trade’, Past and Present, 143, pp.136-166.

Howman, B. (2007), ‘Abolitionism in Liverpool’, in Richardson, D., Schwarz, S. and Tibbles, A. (eds.), Liverpool and Transatlantic Slavery. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, pp.277-296.

McEnery, T., Brezina, V. and Baker, H. (2019) ‘Usage fluctuation analysis: a new way of analysing shifts in historical discourse’, International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 24 (4), pp 413-444.

Sherwood, M. and Sherwood, K. (2007), Britain, the Slave Trade and Slavery, from 1562 to the 1880s. Kent: Savannah Press.

Thomas, H. (1998), The Slave Trade: The History of the Atlantic Slave Trade 1440-1870. London: Papermac.

Isobelle Clarke Receives Leverhulme Trust’s Early Career Fellowship

I am so unbelievably pleased to announce that the Research Awards Advisory Committee at the Leverhulme Trust have granted me, Dr. Isobelle Clarke, the Leverhulme Trust’s Early Career Fellowship to conduct my research entitled “Understanding the linguistic repertoires across anti-science narratives” at Lancaster University in the Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Sciences.

Science improves our everyday lives, especially science that is aimed at safeguarding and protecting public health and safety, such as by improving the air we breathe and the water we drink (Carter et al., 2019). Because of science, food is safe and plentiful, and diseases can be treated, cured, isolated and prevented from spreading (Siegel, 2017). Science also anticipates threats to the environment and natural disasters, like hurricanes and storms (Carter et al., 2019). Although scientific advancements can be misused accidentally or for ill, science nevertheless has led to the development of new technologies, which have enhanced many individuals’ quality of life to a level that could never have been expected previously (Siegel, 2017).

Despite these advances, in this modern world we live in, value judgements and personal experience can (and often do) take precedence over scientifically-accepted facts. Throughout Brexit and Donald Trump’s presidency, we have witnessed an acceleration in the demonization of experts and knowledge. Throughout this COVID-19 pandemic we have heard the phrase “following the science”, but really it should be “following the science when it suits us” as our leaders ignore findings or utilise parts and not the whole to suit them (which, as many will already anticipate, will eventually lead to them pointing the finger at scientists demanding an explanation for where it all went wrong in order to demonise scientists and experts further). Making matters worse is a context of competing, manipulative and persuasive anti-science narratives, each claiming to be truth. These undermine the public’s chances of distinguishing fact from fiction. For example, after a conspiracy theory suggested the outbreak of COVID-19 was a result of 5G, many of us witnessed or read reports of the 5G masts in the West Midlands being vandalised and even burned down by members of the public. Stories such as these demonstrate that the advances in humanity’s safety and prosperity created by science are being significantly undermined and threatened by anti-science discourse and actions (Carter et al., 2019).

Anti-science views are not new. For example, the Leicester anti-vaccination movement began in the 19th century. But with limited public access to scientific sources and increasing access to non-scientific sources, especially via the internet, anti-science positions are becoming more pervasive, and include claims that i) the earth is flat; ii) a female biological mechanism exists to prevent pregnancy post-rape; iii) alternative medicines like homeopathy are effective; iv) climate change science is false v) genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are dangerous to human health; vi) stem-cell research has various pseudo-benefits; vii) autism can be cured with diet and viii) evolution theory is untrue (for further examples see Achenbach, 2015). Scientists have been asked to communicate their findings clearly and counter anti-scientism (Oreskes and Conway, 2010). But before we can begin to counter it, we first need to identify and understand its discourse. Anti-science discourse has been investigated through the optic of particular governments (Carter et al., 2019) or specific topics, such as anti-vaccination (Davis, 2019), anti-GMO (Cook et al., 2004), stem-cell research (Marcon, Murdoch and Caulfield, 2017), and climate denial discourse (Park, 2015). This research often details the development and the content of the anti-science position and discourses. However, little is known about the linguistic repertoires of contemporary anti-science discourses more generally and how they compare across topics. What are the linguistic mechanisms underpinning the persuasiveness of anti- science? Are there anti-science discourses that are shared across the topics, or does the discourse vary with the topic? How much linguistic variation do the anti-science topics display? To what degree are the anti-science communicative strategies more or less typical of particular topics? This fellowship will directly address these questions.

In this fellowship I will be developing and introducing a new methodological technique which combines corpus-assisted discourse studies (CADS) (Baker, 2006) – a methodological technique developed and used by researchers at Lancaster University to investigate the representations and discourses of social phenomena and groups – with the approach to corpus data I specialise in, Multi-Dimensional Analysis (MDA) (Biber, 1988).

I am honoured to receive this prestigious fellowship and I am truly grateful to Lancaster University in their support of me, especially my fellow colleagues in CASS.

As we all try to seek out help, advice and guidance in these unprecedented times, it has never been more important to understand how anti-science works across topics. So, wish me luck on this journey and I’ll see you at the end with my tin foil hat on.

I hope everyone is keeping safe and healthy.

My best wishes to you and your family.

References

Achenbach, A. (2015) Why do many reasonable people doubt science? National Geographic. Retrieved on 21/01/2020 from: https://ldld.samizdat.cc/2017/static/natgeo-Reasonable-People-Doubt-Science.pdf

Baker, P. (2006) Using Corpora in Discourse Analysis. London: Continuum. Biber, D. (1988) Variation across speech and writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Carter, J., Berman, E., Desikan, A., Johnson, C. and Goldman, G. (2019) The State of Science in the Trump Era: Damage Done, Lessons Learned, and a Path to Progress. Center for Science and Democracy at the UCS.

Cook, G., Pieri, E. and Robbins, P. T. (2004) ‘The scientists think and the public feels’: Expert perceptions of the discourse of GM food. Discourse and Society 15(4): 433—449.

Davis, M. (2019) ‘Globalist war against humanity shifts into high gear’: Online anti-vaccination websites and ‘anti-public’ discourse. Public Understanding of Science 28(3): 357—371.

Marcon, A. R., Murdoch, B. and Caulfield, T. (2017) Fake news portrayals of stem cells and stem cell research. Regenerative Medicine 12(7): 765—775.

Oreskes, N. and Conway, E. M. (2010) Defeating the merchants of doubt. Nature 465(10): 686—687. Park, J. T. (2015) Climate change and capitalism. Consilience 14: 189—206.

Siegal, E. (2017) Humanity needs science to survive and thrive. Retrieved on 21/01/2020 from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/startswithabang/2017/07/25/humanity-needs-science-to-survive-and-%20thrive/#74f409a628ce

Introductory Blog – Saira Fitzgerald

My name is Saira Fitzgerald and I am a new visiting researcher at CASS. Thanks to Tony McEnery’s incredible help and support, I succeeded in obtaining a 2-year postdoctoral fellowship from Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC). Luckily for me, SSHRC allowed the fellowship to be held outside Canada and CASS agreed to host my research under Tony’s supervision, which was a dream come true! Until COVID-19 hit and forced everything to close and go virtual. So like everyone else, I’ve had to work from home, participating in group meetings through various online platforms, which have been great but no substitute for in-person chats in sunny beautiful Lancaster and Bailrigg House.

My current research project builds on my doctoral research, which focussed on the International Baccalaureate (IB), a key player in the global education industry, and its impact on Canada’s public education policy. By using corpus linguistics, I was able to uncover discourses of discrimination and disadvantage that had become much more widespread and systemic than previously thought. This was an important finding in the context of Canada where education is a provincial responsibility and everyone appears to be doing their own thing. The absence of a unified national education system becomes more pronounced by the small-scale nature of IB research in Canada which is dominated by studies on individual provinces or schools. To get at the BIG picture, I needed a big data solution and corpus linguistics provided the way!

The impact of the IB on education policy can be seen on multiple levels (elementary, secondary, post-secondary, teacher training) but this tends to go unnoticed amidst other discussions about education. My aim now is to expand the scope of my enquiry to look at IB discourses on a global scale, conducting comparative and time-series studies to see what further insights we might discover about the IB’s influence over its 50-year history.

It’s easy to see why CASS is the perfect place to do this research!

 

New partnership between the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science and the Sydney Corpus Lab

We’re excited to announce that the University of Sydney, Australia and the University of Lancaster, UK have signed an MOU agreement to work on collaborative research in corpus linguistics. This new partnership builds on existing connections between the newly established Sydney Corpus Lab and the Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS), which was founded in 2013. Last year, a CASS contingent attended the launch of the Sydney Corpus Lab in March 2019, and, in June 2019, A/Prof Monika Bednarek from Sydney was a Visiting Researcher at CASS. During her visit, we made plans for a new collaboration on representations of obesity in the Australian Press. This MOU now allows us to formalise this collaboration and to strengthen our existing research links.

Caption: CASS director Elena Semino (left) and Sydney Corpus Lab director Monika Bednarek (right) at the launch event in Sydney in March 2019

In the immediate future, CASS will build a corpus of Australian news items about obesity, and will advise on the analysis, based on a current project on representations of obesity in the UK Press. The Sydney Corpus Lab will analyse the Australian corpus, with the help of a new postgraduate research scholarship funded by the Charles Perkins Centre and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Sydney.

The project will explore:

  • Existing media guidelines around the reporting of obesity
  • The use of the words obesity and obese in the Australian news media
  • The impact of the Obesity Collective’s campaign to shift the narrative away from stigma and blame
  • How obesity is represented more generally in the Australian news media, over time and across newspapers

Researchers from the Sydney Corpus Lab and CASS will collaborate on the dissemination of findings, including engagement with research users. We will work with the Obesity Collective and health journalism expert and educator Dr Catriona Bonfiglioli (University of Technology, Sydney) to help steer our analytical focus and for successful impact outside academia.

The MOU also includes mutual visits, and CASS Senior Research Associate Gavin Brookes is already planning to visit Sydney in July 2020, for research meetings and to present a talk at the Corpus Linguistics Down Under symposium.

Watch this space for updates on these activities and announcement of future collaborative initiatives between Lancaster and Sydney!

 

New Senior Research Associate in CASS: Isobelle Clarke

My name is Isobelle Clarke. I am the newest member of CASS. This is my first academic position outside of education. I am so excited about being a part of CASS, not just because I can tell all my family that I FINALLY have a job, but also because the research environment here is buzzing and thriving (but I don’t need to tell you that)! My major research areas include corpus linguistics, forensic linguistics, discourse analysis and uncovering patterns of language variation and change. Lancaster University, especially CASS is certainly the place that covers all of these areas… I can honestly say I feel at home.

I have been appointed here as a Senior Research Fellow on the project investigating the Discourses of Islam in the press with Tony McEnery and Gavin Brookes that is partially funded by the Aziz foundation. Our task is to extend on the work of Baker, Gabrielatos and McEnery (2013) and Baker and McEnery (2019) that investigated the Discourses of Islam in the UK National Press from 1998-2014. We will be bringing that research up to the present day, examining the extent to which the Discourses have changed and how. Then, we will be comparing the representation of Islam in the national press with the local press and tracking the representations over time. We will also be looking at the representation of Islam on Twitter using various corpus and computational techniques. I am very excited to be working on this important project and in partnership with the Aziz foundation. The aim is not just to scrutinise the media’s representation of Islam, but to also be proactive, making suggestions about the ways in which the media can report on Islam in a more neutral way. It is hoped that the findings from the project will also help to provide British Muslims with the tools to critically engage with public narratives, as we identify and describe why and how particular depictions of Islam can be biased and damaging.

I am passionate about understanding language that harms and so most of my research has focused on online abuse. I have just submitted my PhD dissertation under the supervision of Jack Grieve. I investigated and compared the major communicative styles of trolling tweets and general tweets. Spoiler alert: they are considerably more similar than they are different.  “Why?” You may ask. I have a few theories but I’ll save them until I hear the opinions of my examiners!

I have conducted research with Jack Grieve looking at the major communicative styles of abusive language and hate speech on Twitter, and we have also investigated the major communicative styles of Donald Trump’s tweets and tracking their use over time, especially during the campaign.

On a more personal note, here are some facts about me: I love hummus… like big time! I make my own and I have a recipe, which can be found here. My other love is birds. My favourite bird is the marsh warbler because it is the bird that can mimic the most bird songs. Essentially, it is the bird version of Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire (“I do voices”) or Ariana Grande (for the younger generation who haven’t seen Mrs. Doubtfire – #shameonyou).

I also love Harry Potter – for any language lover let me take you to the scene in the final deathly hallows film where Albus Dumbledore and Harry Potter are in the spiritual world (Kings Cross Station) after Harry has come to his fate with Voldemort. Dumbledore says the most amazing thing. He says: “Words are in my not so humble opinion our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it.”

 

So long story short… Spread hummus not hate!

References

Baker, P., Gabrielatos, C. and McEnery, T. (2013) Discourse Analysis and Media Attitudes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Baker, P. and McEnery, T. (2019) The value of revisiting and extending previous studies: The case of Islam in the UK press. In R. Scholz (ed.) Quantifying Approaches to Discourse for Social Scientists, pp. 215—250. Palgrave Macmillan

‘Collaborations between Linguistics and the Professions’ event – Three participants’ views

On 4th-6th March 2019, we organised an event on ‘Collaborations between Linguistics and the Professions’. If you missed it, here are three reports from early-career researchers – one for each day.

Day One – by Mathew Gillings

The aim and focus of the Collaborations between Linguistics and the Professions event was to look at connections and opportunities that arise between the academic discipline of linguistics and wider industry. Broadly speaking, the event considered how university-based linguists may be able to advise in both the public and private sectors, providing consultancy to help inform real-world issues. As a PhD student applying corpus methods to the study of deceptive language, the first day of the three-day event was of particular interest to me, due to its focus on forensic linguistics and public engagement.

After a quick welcome and opening of the event from Elena Semino, we started with a talk by Louise Mullany. Louise works at the University of Nottingham, but also carries out linguistic consultancy through the Linguistic Profiling for Professionals unit she directs. Louise discussed how her team has worked within a whole range of sectors and applied linguistic theory to help inform their practice. For example, politeness theory might well provide the answers to why one firm is struggling with their customer service; or perhaps an investigation into gendered talk might reveal some underlying problems or tensions. Perhaps even other methods could provide further insight, such as eye-tracking, or putting clients through an online learning course. Louise’s talk gave a good insight into how such a unit operates.

The second talk built on the first one, with Isobelle Clarke showing us not only what you need to think about and be aware of, but also what you shouldn’t do when trying to build a reputation as a linguistic consultant. Although Isobelle has already had some good opportunities through the connections made throughout her PhD, she argued that her reputation will always be questioned for the stereotypes that come with the territory. For example: she is female, unlike most forensic linguistic consultants; she is from Essex, and therefore has an accent that is often prejudiced against; and she is also still early-career. These are things she cannot change, but still unfortunately affect whether or not she is considered credible as an expert in the field. It was good to hear such an open and frank discussion about inequalities within the field.

Continuing with the forensic linguistics theme, Georgina Brown offered an insight into how new methodologies within forensic speech science are now being used to inform proceedings within the courtroom. Georgina introduced us to Soundscape Voice Evidence, a new start-up based right here in the Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster, which is all the proof you need that there is a real appetite for further collaboration between academia and industry.

Another interesting talk later that day was by Lancaster’s very own Claire Hardaker, who talked about learning when to say ‘no’ to opportunities that come your way. Claire discussed several cases where, due to her own excitement, she may have jumped into a new opportunity too quickly. As a PhD student, it was good to hear advice on how to handle different cases, and especially on how to be careful in picking which cases to pursue. Likewise, this seemed to be a common theme over the three days, with a whole range of attendees discussing issues they had encountered whilst carrying out this kind of collaborative work.

The day came to a close with Tony McEnery’s talk discussing linguistics and the impact agenda. Tony reflected on some of his own experiences working with various agencies outside of academia, but the bulk of his talk concerned impact work against the backdrop of the REF. Tony gave some top tips for how to get your research out there and informing public life through the Civil Service, but also spoke very realistically about the priority it will be given by others. Everyone is busy – those in academia and those outside of it – and we must not lose sight of that. Tony finished with a call to arms: language pervades each and every aspect of our life, and it is clear that the discipline has a lot more to offer than it has traditionally done in the past.

Day one of the Collaborations between Linguistics and the Professions event was enlightening. I, for one, never knew quite how much consultancy work linguists are involved with, and it was refreshing to see such a healthy appetite for it within the room – especially from early-career researchers, like myself, who may well do it in the future.

Day 2 – by Sundeep Dhillon

I attended the education focused sessions on Tuesday, given that my background is in English language teaching and, as a current ESRC doctoral student in Applied Linguistics, I was keen to find out more on collaborations between linguistics and the professions. The day started with a warm welcome from Elena Semino prior to the first presentation. Alison Mackey spoke about her work as a linguistics consultant in the private sector which ranged from educational technology companies to private schools in the USA. Alison gave lots of varied (and humorous) examples of the consultancy work and how she achieved these contracts, which she traced back to three key factors. These were networking and word of mouth referrals, the publication of a book on bilingualism by Harper Collins, and a Guardian article which has over 65,000 shares on Facebook. I was impressed by the range of Alison’s work activities, proving that linguistics can be widely applied to real-life practical contexts.

One of the schools Alison has worked with in the USA, ‘Avenues: The World School’, was then represented by Abby Brody. The private school has an innovative approach to teaching as students are immersed in Spanish or Mandarin (alongside English) with the aim of becoming ‘truly fluent’. The links between linguistics and the school’s curriculum development over time were outlined. It was clear that the school was responsive to research and adapted their teaching and learning practices accordingly.

The next presentation by Judit Kormos was very inspiring in that the linguistics research has led to a direct impact on the way inclusive practices are promoted in educational publishing and second language assessment. Judit’s research on specific learning difficulties and L2 learning difficulties has aimed to give a voice and agency to those who are traditionally underrepresented. There were a number of examples given of working with publishers and government departments to develop strategies and ways of working which are inclusive. The success of Lancaster’s Future Learn MOOC  on Dyslexia and Foreign Language Teaching was also discussed and there is now an opportunity to join the next launch of this MOOC on the 15th April 2019.

Following a lovely long and well catered lunch break, we then heard from Claire Dembry of Cambridge University Press (CUP). Claire outlined the many opportunities for links between the publisher and academic research, including the recent Spoken British National Corpus 2014 (BNC) project in collaboration with Lancaster University. This project involved collecting 11.5 million words of spoken conversation and the BNC 2014 is now available online with free access. There are also opportunities to contribute to articles, books, research guides and white papers which are produced by CUP. Claire also answered questions on practical considerations such as contacting CUP, pitching ideas and negotiating fees, all of which was useful information to consider prior to any collaboration.

We then heard from Vaclav Brezina about corpora and language teaching and learning. There were three main sections in the presentation – accessibility, research partnerships and interdisciplinarity. Accessibility covered the link between theoretical ideas of linguistics and the practical tools and techniques used in projects such as the BNCLab and #LancsBox. Research partnership highlighted the importance of collaboration with others such as CUP and Trinity College London. Finally, interdisciplinarity covered good practice guidelines on working with others including flexibility and collective ownership of goals.

Cathy Taylor of Trinity College London presented about ‘The Spoken Learner Corpus’ (SLC) project collaboratively undertaken by Trinity College London and CASS, Lancaster University. This has involved collecting data from Trinity’s spoken Graded Examinations in Spoken English (GESE) at B1 level and above, leading to the creation of the SLC which can be explored for language teaching and research purposes. Cathy described the stages of the project including the rationale, the practical data collection of audio recorded exams from GESE and also the creation of teaching and learning materials based on the SLC. These materials are available on the Trinity website and cover topics such as managing hesitation and asking questions. This project is a great example of how corpus data can be used to inform and improve the classroom experience of English language learners.

The final presentation was by John Pill, who spoke about his experience of updating the Occupational English Test (OET), an English language test for medical professionals. Collaboration between the test developers, language researchers and medical experts was outlined, including tensions between them in relation to the expected content, assessment criteria and outcomes of the OET. Overall, the process to create a relevant language test which covered English language and also practical medical aspects was successful with an updated test being launched following the collaboration.

Each of the presentations linked the research within linguistics to applications in the wider education profession. There was a lot of useful information and plenty of food for thought for the audience in considering future collaboration activities.

Day 3 – by Joelle Loew

It is the third day of the conference – by now a familiar crowd is coming together around coffee in the morning, and the atmosphere is at ease. People have come from all over the UK and beyond to the beautiful campus of Lancaster University – I had flown in from Switzerland a while ago, where I am doing my PhD in Linguistics at the University of Basel. Everyone is looking forward to the last day, which brings together researchers and practitioners applying linguistics in various professions including media and marketing. We start off with a talk from Colleen Cotter from Queen Mary University of London on bridging ‘the professional divide’ between journalists’ and academics’ talk about language – she outlines journalistic language ideologies but also highlights journalistic audience design and corresponding readership-orientation as an example of how journalistic practice can feed into academic practice. After a quick refill, we gather again to hear Lancaster’s own Veronika Koller discuss her experience of opportunities and obstacles in linguistics consulting in healthcare. Throughout the presentation she refers to and outlines the main stakeholders in healthcare particularly relevant to linguistics:

https://twitter.com/ZsofiaDemjen/status/1103251411268182016

On we then go to hear Jeannette Littlemore from the University of Birmingham discuss her work with marketing and communications agencies on their use of figurative messaging. She focuses on the role of metaphor and metonymy for brand recognition, brand recall and consumer preference, drawing on examples from her research and work with the creative industry. Discussions following her talk continue into the lunch break, refreshed and well fed we move into an afternoon packed with insight from industry. Gill Ereaut brings in the perspective of a linguist working within the professions, introducing her consultancy Linguistic Landscapes. Their work includes evidence-based consulting for organisations on multiple levels, including organisational culture change. Another perspective from industry follows by Sandra Pickering from opento, who talks about the role of language in marketing. She provides a wide array of fascinating examples from her diverse experience with different organisations, and spends some time outlining how brands become metaphorical persons on their quest to build compelling brand narratives. The audience discusses some well-known brand narratives and archetypes of smaller and bigger players in the industry following her talk.

https://twitter.com/VeronikaKoller/status/1103306088953331713

Dan McIntyre and Hazel Price from the University of Huddersfield then present two very different case studies applying corpus linguistics in a private and a public setting with their consultancy Language Unlocked. The day ends with a Skype talk by Deborah Tannen from Georgetown University who captures the audience with her account on why and how she writes for non-academic audiences. Her multiple and diverse experiences of writing for the broader public make for interesting insights on the differences in writing for academics and writing for a lay audience. She emphasizes the value of having to find simple terminology for expressing and simplifying complicated ideas. Her talk was followed by a lively discussion, as were the others in the day. Exploring opportunities and challenges in linguistic consultancy work through discussing hands-on examples from different perspectives allowed highlighting recurrent themes too, such as the importance of considering ethical aspects in this process. It also showed the tremendous potential and relevance of linguistics for a variety of different aspects of the professional world.

In sum, it was a fascinating day and a very inspiring conference overall – throughout the day it was evident that attendees genuinely felt the exchange between academics and practitioners applying linguistics in the professional world was very fruitful, and I am almost certain it is not the last we’ve heard of events such as this! It certainly broadened my own horizon as a PhD researcher looking at professional communication – showing many opportunities and highlighting the challenges to prepare for and navigate when seeking collaboration between linguistics and the professions.