CASS MA students to present at the Sheffield University Postgraduate Conference in Linguistics

A large part of an academic job is that researchers give formal talks about their work. This is something that all research students are aware of — we have been to countless lectures, heard visiting academics and experienced the talks organised by different research groups. So what happens when the tables are turned and students reach a point where they need to start formally presenting their own work?

In a word: panic. How do you write an abstract? How do you know if your work is good enough? How do you build up the confidence to give a formal talk in front of others? How do you know that, at the end of it all, your work won’t be ripped to pieces?

Abi Hawtin, Gillian Smith and I (all research students currently completing an MA in CASS) have recently been negotiating this minefield of questions. We decided to apply to present our papers at the two-day Sheffield University Postgraduate Conference in Linguistics 2015. This conference is a great ‘first-step’; it’s organised by postgraduate students for other postgraduate and doctoral students and, proud of the friendly and inclusive atmosphere at past events, they explicitly encourage first-time speakers. Opportunities like this also enable students from a range of universities to come together and discuss their experiences and interests. This results in a great variety of topics; for example, 2014 saw presentations on pragmatic language change, the Chinese V-V construction and challenges in making research transformative.

We’ve recently heard that all three of us have been accepted to present at the conference, so wish us luck. Below you can find out the topics of our research.

Construction of male and female identities by a misogynistic murderer: a corpus-based discourse analysis of Elliot Rodger’s manifesto by Abi Hawtin

On 23rd May 2014, Elliot Rodger killed 6 people and injured 13 others in California. He left behind an extreme and violently misogynistic ‘manifesto’ which outlined his views on women, and his plan to take revenge. I use corpus methods (collocation analysis) to analyse the ways in which Rodger constructs the identities of males and females in his manifesto in order to see if the way he views men and women represents a new, and more dangerous, type of misogyny than has previously been studied in detail.

Corpus methods have been used to analyse the representations of gender in language, with many studies finding that men are often represented in positions of power over women (Caldas-Coulthard and Moon, 2010; Pearce, 2008). However, there has been little corpus-based research into explicitly misogynistic texts. This corpus based study of Rodger’s manifesto addresses that gap in the research to date.

By conducting a collocation analysis for both words and semantic tags I found that the dominant way in which Rodger represented females was as extremely powerful and men as oppressed. This can be seen in the collocation of ‘experience’ with both males and females, where Rodger talks about women as controlling which men get to have sexual experiences, and can also be seen in the semantic collocates ‘undeserving’ and ‘able/intelligent’ which show Rodger representing women as deeming him ‘undeserving’ and other men as ‘able’ to have experiences which he cannot. This is in contrast to the sexism found in previous research and represents what is often referred to as a ‘new misogyny’. I suggest that this is the key difference between Rodger’s (ultimately murderous) views and sexist views rooted in traditional patriarchy. 

Tweet all about it: Public views on the UN’s HeForShe campaign for gender equality by Róisín Knight

On 20th September 2014, Emma Watson gave a speech through which she formally launched the UN Women’s HeForShe campaign. She claimed that “no country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality” and asked men to be “advocates for gender equality”- to be the “he” for “she” (UN Women, 2014). In light of this speech, the purpose of this study is to investigate the public reaction to the campaign.

The majority of discourse analysis previously applied to the study of gender and language has been qualitative and based on relatively small amounts of data; there are clear advantages offered by combining discourse analysis with corpus linguistics methods (Baker, 2014: 6). Additionally , researchers have begun to look towards conversations shared online to explore public views. For example, Potts et al. (2014) and Tumasjan et al. (2010) use data from Twitter in order to explore a wider range of public ideologies. This study combines these two new approaches, through carrying out a corpus-assisted discourse analysis of views expressed on Twitter about HeForShe.

I created a corpus of tweets containing the hashtag #HeForShe. Through comparison to a reference corpus of a random collection of tweets, keywords were identified. Following the work of Baker and McEnery (forthcoming), these keywords were grouped based on functional similarities and used to aid the identification of different discourses. Three main discourses were found: the discourse of the HeForShe fight; the discourse of gender and the discourse of Emma Watson. A recurring theme throughout these discourses is that men were frequently presented as more powerful than women.

Exploration of these discourses provides an understanding of how the HeForShe campaign is perceived and presented on Twitter, potentially enabling the organization to make better use of Twitter (see Messner et al., 2013).

Negativity, medicalization and awareness: a corpus-based discourse analysis of representations of mental illness in the British press by Gillian Smith

A topic of recent interest has been the stigmatisation of mental illness. The British press have been accused of perpetuating this, providing the public with negative representations of mental illness based on misguided stereotypes (Bilić and Georgaca, 2007; Nawková et al., 2001; Stuart, 2003; Thornton and Wahl, 1996; Coverdale et al., 2002). Studies in this area, however, are often small-scale and psychiatrically-based, failing to address the linguistic manifestations of discourses. This paper presents a corpus-based analysis of representations of mental illness in the British press between 2011 and 2014, aiming to broaden the scope of earlier works, using a larger, more representative sample and a discourse approach focussing on mental illness’ portrayals in UK newspapers.

Keywords within the corpus created revealed the central themes of mental illness newspaper articles, indicating a focus upon medicalization, violence and severity and suggesting that the tone of press discussions of mental health are largely negative. In order to look at specific press constructions of ‘mental illness’, collocates of the term were grouped according to semantic preferences, which were subsequently used to identify key discourses surrounding the term. Again, the major discourses revealed centred upon medicalization and negative stereotypes, including violence and addiction.

These findings highlight that press representations of mental illness are considerably negative, which in turn perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental illness, as the press’ misrepresentations are the predominant source of public information. However, a minor discourse revealed by the corpus, awareness, concerns press discussion of the need for wider understanding mental illness and prejudiced attitudes and suggests that, whilst the press portray mental illness in discriminatory ways, they attempt to change public opinion. It may be suggested, however, that for the press to raise full awareness, they first must address their own stigmatizing representations.


Baker, P. (2014). Using corpora to analyze gender. London: Bloomsbury Academic.

Baker, P. and McEnery, T. (forthcoming). Who benefits when discourse gets democratised? Analysing a Twitter corpus around the British Benefits Street debate.

Bilić, B & Georgaca, E.  (2007). Representations of “Mental Illness” in Serbian Newspapers: A Critical Discourse Analysis. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 4(1-2), pp. 167-186.

Caldas-Coulthard, C. & Moon, R. (2010). “Curvy, Hunky, Kinky”: Using corpora as tools for critical analysis. Discourse and Society, 21(2), pp. 99-133.

Coverdale, J., Nairn, R., and Claasen, D. (2002). Depictions of mental illness in print media: a prospective national sample. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 36, pp. 697–700.

Messner, M., Jin, Y., Medina-Messer, V., Meganck, S., Quarforth, S. & Norton, S. (2013). 140 characters for better heath: An exploration of the Twitter engagement of leading nonprofit organizations. In H. Noor Al-Deen & J. Hendricks (Eds.) Social media and strategic communications. Retrieved from: Google Books, Accessed 28th December 2014.

Nawková, L., Nawka, A., Adámková, T., Rukavina, T.V., Holcnerová, P., Kuzman, M.R., and Raboch, J. (2001). The picture of mental health/illness in the printed media in three Central European countries. Journal of Health Communication, 17(1), pp. 22-40.

Pearce, M. (2008). Investigating the collocational behaviour of MAN and WOMAN in the BNCusing Sketch Engine. Corpora, 3(1), pp. 1-29.

Potts, A., Simm, W., Whittle, J. & Unger, J. (2014). Exploring ‘success’ in digitally augmented activism: a triangulated approach to analyzing UK activist Twitter use. Discourse, Context and Media, 6, pp. 65-76.

Stuart, H. (2003). Stigma and daily news: evaluation of a newspaper intervention. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 48, pp. 651–656.

Thornton, J.A. & Wahl, O.F. (1996). Impact of a newspaper article on attitudes toward mental illness. Journal of Community Psychology, 24, pp. 17–25.

Tumasjan, A., Sprenger, T., Sandner, P. & Welpe, I. (2010). Predicting elections with Twitter: What 140 characters reveal about political sentiment. In: Proceedings of the Fourth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media. Retrieved from, Accessed 16th December 2014.

UN Women (2014). Emma Watson: Gender equality is your issue too. Retrieved from, Accessed 16th December 2014.