My name is Emma Putland and I’m really excited to have recently joined the team here at CASS.
More specifically, I’m the Senior Research Associate on the UKRI-funded Public Discourses of Dementia Project, led by Dr Gavin Brookes. This project recognises the important role that language and imagery play in perpetuating, but also resisting, stigmatising stereotypes and assumptions about dementia. It therefore aims to identify and challenge dementia stigma by analysing the language and images that people and organisations use to communicate about the syndrome in public spaces (namely social media, newspapers, forums, public health bodies and non-profits). From this, we hope to produce specialised and empirically based communication guidelines and training to help improve portrayals of dementia. To do this, we will be using a combination of corpus analysis and multimodal analysis, and exploring how the two can work together. My background is primarily qualitative but I’ve been fascinated by corpus linguistics since my Applied Linguistics MA, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to learn from, and be inspired by everyone here – I can’t think of a better place to develop my corpus-based research!
This current project builds on my PhD research at the University of Nottingham, which explores how people with dementia and their supporters interpret, reproduce and resist different dementia discourses. For this, I ran focus groups and interviews to see how individuals affected by dementia situated themselves in relation to dementia discourses, both in conversation and when responding to examples of visual and linguistic representations. Our conversations lead to three key recommendations for improving dementia communications moving forward that I am keen to consider further: (1) normalise dementia, (2) provide more nuanced and diverse representations, and (3) better enable advocacy for people with dementia. With this in mind, I’m especially looking forward to working with our project’s stakeholder ambassador committee at Lancaster. This includes representatives for people with dementia, charities, healthcare professionals and the media, and will enable us as researchers to collaborate with and be guided by people with a range of experiences and expertise in communicating dementia.
As a researcher, I am passionate about community involvement and creative approaches to research dissemination. I have volunteered at a local Memory Café and as an Alzheimer’s Society Side-by-Side supporter, through which I have met an array of wonderful people and gained more of an insight into people’s everyday realities with dementia. I am currently developing a summary of my PhD for participants and other interested members of the public, collaborating with the ridiculously talented artist, Josh Mallalieu, to bring some of my participants’ words to life as illustrations (see the below examples). Asides being a lot of fun, this has been a great opportunity to not only analyse but create representations related to dementia.
Outside of research, I enjoy a good film, learning more about the world, and the concept of Tiny Houses. I want to make a habit of exploring new places without overlooking local gems, and would love to hear any recommendations that people have for in and around Lancaster!
I’ve recently joined the CASS team as a Senior Research Associate investigating health(care) communication using corpus linguistic methods. My main focus will be on exploring the ways people talk about their experiences of pain, particularly chronic pain (lasting for over 3 months). I’m delighted to be involved in this interesting and important research area, alongside CASS colleagues including Prof Elena Semino and Dr Andrew Hardie, and Prof Joanna Zakrzewska (Eastman Dental Hospital, London).
Health(care) communication is one of my main areas of interest. I previously worked on a Lancaster University project investigating the way figurative language, particularly metaphor, is used to talk about the experience of end of life care (the Metaphor in End of Life Care Project, 2013-2014, https://ucrel.lancs.ac.uk/melc/).
I also have a longstanding interest in the language of historical plays, particularly those by William Shakespeare and his contemporaries. I completed my PhD in this area in 2013, at Lancaster University, and before taking up my current post in CASS I was working on a new Encyclopedia of Shakespeare’s Language with Prof Jonathan Culpeper and Dr Andrew Hardie (http://wp.lancs.ac.uk/shakespearelang/).
I’ve been fortunate to work on a variety of interesting projects over the last ten years or so, as a student then as a post-doctoral researcher. Nearly all my work has involved corpus linguistics (computer-assisted language analysis), and what I really like about it is the way it can show up patterns and trends in language which would be impossible to spot just by reading. It’s always exciting to see what’s revealed when we look at what kinds of language are used very often or very rarely. Having said that, the best thing about being a linguist, for me, isn’t in the computer – it’s in learning something interesting about language from almost every person I meet. I always enjoy hearing about other people’s experiences of language, for example, unusual word uses they’ve encountered, regional differences, and even misunderstandings!
Carmen Dayrell, Basil Germond (Lancaster University) and Celine Germond-Duret (Liverpool John Moores University)
5th November 2021 was COP26’s Ocean Action Day. The UK Presidency of the conference stressed the need “to take ambitious steps towards ocean health and resilience” in order to contribute to “our fight against climate change”. Ocean sustainability is contingent to citizens’ awareness of “the benefits they receive from the marine environment” (DEFRA, 2021, p.4). However, the sea is at the bottom of the list when it comes to public perception of global environmental issues (Potts et al., 2016).
This study examines the representation of the sea in the UK press, focussing on articles published in 2020 and analysing both national (broadsheet and tabloids) and regional newspapers (see section 3 for details). The goal is to unravel the way the sea is represented in the British written press, which is the third source of information about the marine environment (DEFRA, 2021, p.23). More specifically, we seek to explore: (i) the extent to which the sea is represented in purely technical, economic and opportunistic terms as opposed to emotional and identity terms; and (ii) how the media representation of the sea can inform our understanding of citizens’ connection to the sea.
Findings in brief
Finding 1: The narrative frequently represents the sea in terms of economic opportunities: resources, profit and job creation.
Finding 2: The ‘marine environment’ (and not the ‘sea’ itself) is represented as a natural resource that must be preserved, protected, especially in view of sustaining the economic benefits from the sea.
Finding 3: Newspapers frequently stress the negative impacts of climate change on the sea.
Finding 4: An emotional lexicon can only be found in relation to aesthetic considerations.
Finding 5: A sense of place can be found in relation to the seashore/coastal locations.
The analysis is drawn from three separate datasets, or ‘corpora’. The National Corpus, divided into The National Broadsheet and The National Tabloid Subcorpora, and The Regional Corpus. Table 1 provides the number of texts and words included in each corpus.
Number of texts
Number of Words
National Broadsheet subcorpus
National Tabloid subcorpus
Table 1: Number of texts and total number of words comprising each corpus
Figures 1 to 3 show the selection of individual newspaper titles within each dataset, with the overall number of articles per newspaper title.
Articles were published between 1/1/2020 and 31/12/2020. All texts were collected from a news aggregator service (LexisNexis), considering the printed version of the newspapers in their weekday and Sunday versions. The collection of individual texts proceeded on the basis of specific terms: we searched for articles that contained either ‘sea(s)’ or ‘ocean(s)’ and considered any type of articles in which those words appeared. This means that, in addition to news reports, the corpora include other types of texts such as editorials and letters to the editor.
For the national newspapers specifically, we selected the national editions only, thus excluding the Irish, Scottish and Northern Ireland editions. Duplicates were removed from all corpora. However, for The Regional Corpus specifically, we kept articles that published across different newspapers (usually part of the same media group) given that they would reach different audiences.
We used analytical techniques associated with the field of Corpus Linguistics to study the dominant narratives in the national and regional newspapers, and within each considering all newspaper titles in aggregate. The corpora were processed using the software WordSmith Tools version 7 and the software package LancsBox.
To provide an overview of the most distinctive linguistic characteristics of each corpus, we carried out ‘keyword’ analyses. Keywords are words that are more frequent in a corpus of interest (known as the ‘study’ corpus) than they are in another corpus (known as the ‘reference corpus’), where the difference is statistically significant. They can be interpreted as reflecting the most distinctive concepts and themes in a particular corpus.
We carried out three separate comparisons. We first generated the keywords in the National Corpus using the Baby+ edition of the British National Corpus 2014 (BNC2014-baby) as the reference corpus. We then carried out a similar procedure in the Regional Corpus. These procedures identified words that were salient in the National and Regional Corpora respectively in relation to a general corpus of British English. We then generated the keywords in the Regional Corpus using the National Corpus as the reference corpus so that we could identify words that were prominent in the Regional but not in the National Corpus.
For the calculation of keywords, we focused on words that occurred with a minimum frequency of 100 occurrences in one million words, in at least 1% of the total number of texts in the study corpus. This was to ensure that the analysis focused on words that were overall relatively frequent and occurred across various texts. In terms of statistical tests, we combined a statistical test of significance (the log-likelihood test) with an effect size measure (Log-Ratio). The log-likelihood test tells us to what extent differences in frequencies between the two corpora (the study and the reference corpus) is statistically significant. It was applied considering a critical value higher than 6.63 (p < 0.01). Log-Ratio measures how big the difference is. The higher the Log-Ratio score, the larger the difference. The log-ratio calculation therefore gives us the words whose frequencies are proportionally higher in the study corpus. For the analysis, we focused on the 20 keywords with the highest Log-Ratio score in each calculation.
Keywords were interpreted by examining their ‘collocations’ through close reading of their ‘concordance lines’. Collocation analyses explore co-occurrence relationships between words, and therefore makes it possible to study the narratives or discourses that a word is part of. Concordance lines refer to individual occurrences of each word with the preceding and following stretches of text. For The National Corpus, we examined the broadsheets and the tabloids separately so that we could determine similarities and differences in their narratives.
Collocations were generated on the basis of the following criteria:
Span of 5:5 – a window of five words to the left and five words to the right of the search word;
Mutual Information (MI) score ≥ 6. MI is a statistical procedure widely employed in corpus studies to indicate how strong the association between two words is. It is calculated by considering their frequency of co-occurrence in relation to their frequencies when occurring independently in each corpus.
Minimum frequency of collocation: 1% of the frequency in the study corpus.
Tables 2 and 3 list the keywords in the National (broadsheet and tabloids altogether) and Regional Corpora respectively, in relation to the general language corpus, grouped by theme.
Table 2:‘Keywords’ in the National Corpus in relation to the BNC2014_Baby, organised by theme
Plymouth, Aberdeen, Norfolk, Cornwall, Hove
Means of transportation
coastguard, lifeboat, RNLI
covid, coronavirus, pandemic
Table 3:‘Keywords’ in the Regional Corpus in relation to the BNC2014_Baby, organised by theme
Table 4 provides the keywords in the Regional Corpus in relation to the National Corpus, organised by theme. These keywords highlight themes which occurred with a relatively higher frequency in the Regional Corpus as compared with the National Corpus.
Table 4: Top 20 keywords in the Regional Corpus in relation to the National Corpus, organised by theme.
As discussed below, these keywords uncovered various ways in which the sea is represented in the UK press. Note the prominence of words referring to the Covid-19 pandemic and measures to control the spread of the virus (cf. the themes of Pandemic and Measures in Tables 2 and 3). This is not surprising since our study corpora are restricted to news texts published in the year of the pandemic (2020) while texts in the BNC2014-baby (that predates the Covid-19 pandemic) comprises a wide range of text genres and covers a longer period, from 2010 to 2017. This also explains the overuse of prominent politicians’ names (‘Boris’ and ‘Trump’) in the National Corpus (Table 2).
In both broadsheet and tabloid newspapers, prominence is given to negotiations around the fishing industry after Brexit (see Brexit and Industry in Table 2). Here the discourse revolves around the terms and conditions for European fleets to fish in UK waters (Extract 1), thus highlighting the relevance of the sea as an economic resource and the importance of protecting one’s economic rights in the current political climate. In addition to collocating with ‘Brexit’ in both subcorpora, the keyword ‘fishing’ collocates with types of sea transport (‘boat(s)’, ‘fleet(s)’, ‘vessel(s)’, and ‘trawler’), fishing gears (‘gear’ and ‘nets’) as well as words indicating some kind of restrictions (such as ‘quotas’, ‘illegal’, ‘rights’, ‘access’). There are also mentions of how the Brexit deal would affect fishing ‘villages’ and ‘communities’ in the UK and EU countries.
But the EU has been clear that the price of access to its markets must be access for its fishing fleets to British waters (The Times, 30/01/2020).
The row over fishing rights following Britain’s EU departure still threatens to collapse trade and security discussions after another week of wrangling ended in deadlock (The Sun, 22/11/2020).
References to economic resources are also seen through the collocations of ‘sea’ with ‘North’ across the three corpora (see Figures 4-6), which point towards mentions of oil production in the North Sea.
While national newspapers frequently mention the oil industry’s revenues, regional newspapers report on the discussions on the North Sea Transition Deal. The North Sea is also mentioned in relation to measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 on UK platforms and avoid job losses (Extract 4).
By the mid-80s, the North Sea was providing 10% of the Treasury’s revenues, enabling Conservative government tax cuts, covering the costs of unemployment, and paying off a historic balance of payments problem (The Herald, 14/06/2020).
THE safety of North Sea workers is at risk over oil industry plans to rip up a vital sector-wide agreement, a trade union has warned (Daily Record, 05/03/2020).
Interestingly, most mentions of the North Sea in regional newspapers (74%) come from the two newspapers based in Aberdeen (Aberdeen Press and Journal and Aberdeen Evening Express). References to renewable energy are prominent in the Regional Corpus only, as indicated by the keyword ‘offshore’ (see Table 3), which uncovered mentions of the generation of renewable energy through offshore wind farms (Extract 5). This demonstrates how the sea is considered as an important source of revenue (in particular via job creation) in communities that have traditionally depended on the sea for income generation. In contrast, national newspapers frequently mention mining of the deep sea for minerals (see the collocations of ‘sea’ with ‘deep’, Figures 4 and 5), especially in relation to campaigns to halt deep-sea mining given its serious environmental impacts (Extract 6).
A predicted boom in North Sea offshore wind jobs was branded “a pipe dream” by union bosses after the Scottish Government admitted it only uses “estimates” of current employment figures in the sector. (Aberdeen Press and Journal, 20/02/.2020)
Sir David Attenborough has backed calls to halt deep-sea mining for minerals that are in high demand for usein items such as mobile phones. (The Daily Telegraph, 13/03/2020)
The Irish Sea is also frequently mentioned in the three corpora (see Figures 4-6). Here the discussion revolves around the negotiations between the UK and the EU in the context of Brexit as it entailed a regulatory border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the crossing of goods (Extract 7-8). It is interesting to note that 62% of the mentions of ‘Irish Sea’ in the Regional Corpus came from the Belfast Telegraph.
Animal products arriving across the Irish Sea from Great Britain – including meat, milk, fish and eggs – will have to enter through a border control post where paperwork will be checked and a proportion of goods will be inspected. (The Daily Mail, 10/12/2020)
But no matter how gently this was presented, an Irish Sea border has become a living reality, courtesy of Boris Johnson. (Belfast Telegraph, 16/12/2020)
Finding 2: The ‘marine environment’ (and not the ‘sea’ itself) is represented as a natural resource that must be preserved, protected, especially in view of sustaining the economic benefits from the sea.
The sea is represented as a natural resource to be preserved. However, this is seen through the collocations of the keyword ‘marine’ (see Tables 2 and 3) rather than through the word ‘sea’ itself. ‘Marine’ collocates with words such as ‘protected’, ‘conservation’, ‘ecosystems’ and ‘environment’ across the three corpora (Figures 7-9), uncovering mentions of initiatives and campaigns to protect marine life (Extract 9).
Conservation charity Blue Marine Foundation called for one of the first pilot sites to be established in Wembury Bay, in the Plymouth Sound National Marine Park, to protect its varied marine life and habitats and to help connect people to the sea (Western Daily Press, 08/06/2020).
Concern about preservation of the sea ecosystem is also seen through the analysis of the keywords ‘boats’ or ‘vessel(s)’ (cf. Means of Transportation in Tables 2 and 3). The reporting revolves around campaigns against supertrawlers fishing in UK waters, especially in protected areas, as they have a negative impact on fishing ‘villages’ and ‘communities’. In the National Broadsheet Corpus, this narrative is also seen through the collocations of ‘fishing’ with ‘sustainable’ and ‘protected’, which unveiled references to sustainable fishing (Extract 10).
Marine wildlife monitors say the vessels are destroying fish stocks, killing non-target species, harming sustainable fishing communities and destroying marine ecosystems (The Independent, 12/12/2020).
Finding 3: Newspapers frequently stressed the negative impacts of climate change on the sea. Climate change is a prominent theme in the discourse of both national and regional newspapers, as indicated by the association of ‘sea’ with ‘level(s)’ across the three corpora, and with ‘rising’, ‘rise’ and ‘ice’ in
the National Broadsheet Corpus (see Figures 4-6). The newspapers frequently mention the rising of sea levels due to higher global temperatures (Extract 11). The National Broadsheet Corpus specifically mentions declining of sea ice cover in the Artic Ocean due to climate change. This is evident through the collocations of the keyword ‘ocean’ with words such as ‘Arctic’, ‘temperatures’ and ‘warming’ (Extract 12).
Sea level rises have accelerated in recent decades, threatening coastal areas and low-lying land by 2100 (The Express, 16/05/2020).
Ocean temperatures in the area recently climbed to more than 5C above average, following a record breaking heatwave and the unusually early decline of last winter’s sea ice (The Guardian, 22/10/2020).
Finding 4: An ‘emotional’ lexicon can only be found in relation to aesthetic considerations.
The keyword ‘sea’ collocates with ‘view(s)’ across the three corpora (see Figures 4-6), uncovering descriptions of places with ‘panoramic’, ‘stunning’, ‘incredible’ or ‘superb’ sea views. This relates to value of a sea view in the hospitality sector (hotels, accommodations, restaurants, etc.) as well as in private properties (Extract 13).
The property is spread over five floors and has key features such as a built in library, spectacular formal reception room and stunning sea views (The Argus, 12/09/2020).
Finding 5: A sense of place can be found in relation to the seashore/coastal locations.
A clear distinctive feature of regional newspapers relates to the prominence of place names (cf. Geographical References, Table 3). This is interesting because these draw attention to places close to the seashore. Through the analysis of the keyword ‘harbour’, we uncovered mentions of seaside towns with historic walled harbours where boats line up. Another feature specific of the Regional Corpus relates to Rescue services (Table 3) which refers to the services provided by local councils or charities in case of emergencies to ensure people’s safety on the beach or to rescue animals and objects from the sea (Extract 14).
On average, the Redcar lifeboat is called out between 50 and 70 times a year, with the RNLI nationally being involved in nearly 10,000 emergencies in 2019. (The Northern Echo, 21/10/2020).
The set of keywords in Table 4 provides further evidence for the prominence of Geographical References and Rescue Services in the Regional Corpus. The occurrence of the keyword ‘council’ is not surprising given the composition of the corpus (local newspapers). There are several mentions of councils’ planning and services, including those to ensure safety in the seaside. The keyword ‘pier’ corroborates the trend indicated by the ‘harbour’ by highlighting people’s connection to the sea through sports and leisure activities in seaside towns and counties (Extract 15).
Along with the pier’s existing aquarium and new rollercoaster, a £4m investment has added an indoor and outdoor adventure golf course as well as a children’s soft play area, covering more than 30,000 sq ft (East Anglian Daily Times, 01/02/2020).
6. Conclusions and recommendations
The dominant narrative in the British written press represents the sea as an economic resource and, at the same time, as a ‘marine environment’ to be protected and preserved. The sea is also recurrently represented as in needs of more regulations (especially in the context of Brexit and the migration crisis). We found some ‘emotional’ words in reference to ‘sea views’, but the dominant narrative is clearly one of utilitarianism and opportunism: in other words, the sea must be protected as it is useful, and not so much because we have any sense of belonging and connection to the sea. This fits with a weak conception of sustainable development that prioritises economic needs over environmental preservation (while trying to find a balance between these two necessities). The representation of the sea in British media demonstrates that there is an awareness of the benefits of the sea for livelihood and a need for the marine environment to be protected. But what is lacking is the conveyance of a real sense of place and belonging.
This has important consequences regarding ocean awareness. Indeed, having citizens worrying about the sea because they understand that the sea is economically important for them is certainly a good beginning, but this remains within the frame of a weak sustainability approach. Ocean sustainability (i.e. recognising the utter importance of the environmental and social dimensions of oceans) requires a stronger emotional connection with the sea. The narrative around the sea is too much utilitarian/opportunistic and not emotional enough. This contributes to a lack of sense of belonging and the valuing of oceans for their sole economic importance. In sum, our findings show that public policy stakeholders which want to further develop ocean awareness among the wider public need to contribute to the promotion of a narrative about the sea that is not just utilitarian (revenue, job creation) but also emotional.
On 19 November 2021, The ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS) organised an event to celebrate the launch of the Written British National Corpus 2014 (BNC2024). The event was live-streamed from a very special location: the medieval Lancaster Castle. There were about 20 participants on the site and more than 1,200 participants joined the event online. Dr Vaclav Brezina started the event and welcomed the participants from over 30 different countries. After the official welcome by Professor Elena Semino and Professor Paul Connolly, a series of invited talks were delivered by prominent speakers from the UK and abroad. The talks covered topics such as corpus development, corpora in the classroom, corpora and fiction and the historical development of English.
The BNC2014 is now available together with its predecessor the BNC1994 via #LancBox X.
More information about the design and development of the Written BNC2014 is available from this open access research article:
On 21 October 2021, the ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science hosted a webinar entitled, “Talking Health Online: Why it matters and what linguistics can contribute”, as part of a series of events organised by the International Consortium for Communication in Health Care (IC4CH). The IC4CH is an initiative that brings together language and communication researchers and health care practitioners at an international level, to translate the findings of interdisciplinary research to improve healthcare practice. The Consortium includes members from the Australian National University, Nanyang Technological University, Lancaster University, University College London (UCL), the University of Hong Kong and Queensland University of Technology. Like the Consortium, this webinar event brought together colleagues from around the world, with speakers from Lancaster University, UCL and Nanyang Technological University.
The webinar centred on online forms of health communication, particularly online forums, and featured a range of perspectives from scholars at different career stages. Delivered as a conversation between our chair, Professor Tony McEnery, and our respective speakers, attendees had the opportunity to hear about a range of projects involving linguistic analyses of health care communication.
The first of our speakers, Prof Joanna Zakrzewska, is a practicing consultant trained in oral medicine and an honorary professor at UCL. Joanna specialises in a condition called trigeminal neuralgia, a severe pain condition affecting the face, and talked about her work with the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association establishing various support services, including an online forum. Working with Professor Elena Semino, Joanna and her team were able to get a clearer understanding of the types of interactions that were taking place on the forum and identify areas where there was a need for input from medical professionals. Subsequently, the forum has functioned as a source of quality information regarding trigeminal neuralgia, as well as a space for users to find empathy and compassion among peers.
Joanna’s case study indicated what kinds of insights are afforded by linguistic analysis and, in particular, corpus linguistics. Our next speaker, Dr Tara Coltman-Patel, offered further details on what linguistics can contribute and what is involved in corpus linguistic analysis. Tara is a Senior Research Associate in CASS, working principally on the Quo Vadis (Questioning Vaccination Discourse) project, which involves investigating social media, parliamentary discourse and news media, alongside forum interactions. Tara emphasised the evidence-based approach that computational analyses of large datasets affords and, in detailing some of the procedures involved in corpus analysis, demonstrated how researchers can uncover linguistic strategies used for rhetorical effect in discussions around health issues such as vaccination.
Next to speak was Professor Elena Semino, Director of CASS, who offered further details on the analytical approach used to investigate the trigeminal neuralgia support forum. Elena has strong research expertise in studying metaphor and was also able to provide examples of her work developing the Metaphor Menu for people living with cancer. Responding to long-standing debates about the impacts of conceptualising experiences of cancer as, for example a ‘battle’ or a ‘journey’, Elena’s research team found that people respond differently to such metaphors: that while one person can find the idea of preparing for ‘battle’ empowering, this framing can be highly detrimental to those who feel it can be a battle lost. The Metaphor Menu is a resource, in the form of a leaflet and postcards, that presents patients and practitioners with a range of metaphors used by patients to describe their experiences with cancer and is recommended by Cancer Research UK. As with a restaurant menu, patients have the opportunity to adopt the framing of their choosing, or indeed create new ‘recipes’, that help them to view their situation in more empowering ways.
The conversation continued with a focus on the patient experience, with questions directed towards Dr Gavin Brookes, a Research Fellow in CASS who offered some reflections on his work exploring Patient Feedback provided to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS). In this work, Gavin was able to investigate the combination of quantitative metrics (feedback scores) and qualitative comments (free text responses). One of the challenges of the study was establishing what type of respondents were providing feedback, with very little information about personal characteristics such as age, gender, where they were from etc. The solutions developed by Gavin and his collaborators in extracting such information from the data they had available also generated insights into how respondents would disclose personal characteristics as an argumentative strategy. Furthermore, Gavin recounted some of the observations they were able to provide to the NHS, to better understand the feedback form itself and the nature of the responses they received.
Our final speaker was Professor May O. Lwin, Chair and President’s Chair Professor of Communication Studies at Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information, Nanyang University. One of the many areas of research May has been involved in is the study of public communications during epidemics. May recounted some of the observations she and her team have made of conversations on Twitter, in relation to Covid-19. Using a technique called sentiment analysis, May was able to track references to emotional states and assess the trajectories of various communities around the world as the pandemic developed. May told us how fear and then anger were dominant emotions expressed on Twitter, but that there is also evidence for expressions of hope and gratitude as members of those communities look to support each other. May’s work demonstrated the influence that public communications from the government had on the overriding sentiment of conversations on the topic, and so it is important to think about the language used in those announcements and how they shape the public mood.
Our speakers then took questions from the audience, providing a view of what is involved in accessing and securing online forms of health communication data, in collaborating with practitioners and in working with large and diverse datasets. This part of the discussion again reiterated the value of interdisciplinary work and, in fostering that interdisciplinarity, working to make your research accessible and finding common ground. In this respect, the webinar echoed one of the core values of the International Consortium for Communication in Health Care: bridging the divide between academic and practitioner worlds based on a shared commitment to understanding and improving health communication.
The Department of Linguistics and English Language at Lancaster University, UK is delighted to offer a fully funded PhD studentship (UK home-rate fee) as part of the UKRI-funded project, ‘Public Discourses of Dementia: Challenging Stigma and Promoting Personhood’.
The aim of this project is to challenge dementia stigma by changing the ways in which dementia is discussed in the public domain, focusing in particular on the mainstream media, public health bodies and charities in the UK. This project will explore the language and imagery that are used to represent dementia in texts produced by these organisations and compare these against those used by the general public to talk about dementia on social media and by people living with dementia when giving first-hand accounts of their lives with the syndrome. The project team will work closely with media, public health and charity organisations to implement changes to communicative practices around dementia in ways that challenge stigma and promote personhood, through the development of communication guidelines and the delivery of training to public communicators from charities, the media, research and public health. Crucially, the project team will collaborate closely with people with dementia themselves to ensure that their voices are heard and valued not only in future public discourse but also in the research process itself. The Project team will be led by Dr Gavin Brookes and supported by Professor Tony McEnery. The project will also be supported by an externally based academic advisory committee. You can read more about the project here: https://www.lancaster.ac.uk/news/new-research-fellowship-team-to-examine-language-about-dementia.
We are seeking to recruit a strong and enthusiastic PhD candidate with demonstrable knowledge and interest in at least two of the following areas: corpus linguistics; multimodal (visual) discourse analysis; health communication. The successful candidate should hold a Master’s degree in linguistics or a related area. However, clearly outstanding and particularly well-suited candidates who have completed a first degree will be considered. Candidates may be invited to interview (dates and format to be confirmed).
If you are interested in this opportunity, by way of application please email Gavin Brookes (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the following:
A short CV (max 2 pages) outlining your qualifications, achievements and publications (if applicable)
A personal statement describing your suitability to the project (focusing in particular on your knowledge and skills, including relating to methodological approaches) (max. 500 words)
An example of your writing (either an assignment or chapter from a dissertation)
Start date: October 2022 (or as soon as possible thereafter)
Duration: 3 years
Application deadline: 31st May 2022
Funding information: A stipend of £15,609 for 22/23, which will increase each year in line with the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) rate, plus Home-rate fee allowance of £4,500 (with automatic increase to UKRI rate each year). The successful candidate will also have access to a generous training and conference budget.
There’s no question that all of us within society have been impacted in one way or another by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However, it’s also the case that the health and wellbeing of certain groups have been particularly affected. A review of evidence on the disparities in the risks and outcomes of COVID-19 carried out by Public Health England suggests the virus has ‘replicated existing health inequalities and, in some cases, has increased them’. One group at particular risk of experiencing serious complications from COVID-19 is people living with obesity. Another report from Public Health England, reviewing evidence on the impact of excess weight on COVID-19, concluded that ‘the evidence consistently suggests that people with COVID-19 who are living with overweight or obesity, compared with those of a healthy weight, are at an increased risk of serious COVID-19 complications and death’.
In this paper, published in Critical Discourse Studies, Gavin Brookes explores how British print media representations of obesity have responded to the pandemic. The study, which is the latest in the CASS project exploring representations of obesity in the British press, is based on purpose-built corpora representing UK broadsheet and tabloid coverage of obesity during the pandemic. The analysis involved the use of keywords which were obtained by comparing each corpus against two reference corpora: one representing general press coverage of COVID-19 and the other representing general coverage of obesity in the six months leading up to the start of the pandemic. In this way, the study could account for keywords (and attendant discourses) that were characteristic of press representations of obesity during the pandemic relative not only to general coverage of obesity, but also general coverage of the virus.
Compared to this more general reportage, both broadsheet and tabloid reporting of obesity during the pandemic was found to be more fatalistic, with people with obesity being particularly likely to be construed as dying, or at least as being at heightened risk of dying, from the virus. For the broadsheets, this is a marked change in tone, with the pandemic seemingly ushering in a more pronounced focus on the connection between obesity and mortality. While such fatalistic discourses are characteristic of tabloid coverage of obesity in general, it seems that this way of framing obesity has gained even more prominence in these newspapers during the pandemic.
People with obesity were also depicted as a strain on an already-overburdened NHS, for example by taking up hospital beds and requiring oxygen therapy to the extent that this need creates a shortage for the rest of the population. The solution put forward (particularly by the tabloids, and to a lesser extent the right-leaning broadsheets) is for people with obesity to lose weight, for instance through exercise and supplements, in order to ‘save’ the NHS. This results in the responsibilisation of people with obesity, both for ensuring their own health and that of the wider public. This includes being responsible for ‘saving’ the NHS, though notably the damage endured by the NHS at the hand of austerity politics over the last decade is, conveniently, elided.
The link between obesity and coronavirus affords the press means by which it can maintain the newsworthiness of obesity in the context of what is, in COVID-19, a news story of global relevance. Meanwhile, the fatalistic and responsibilising depictions allow news agencies to key into the news value of negativity. Yet, discourses of personal responsibility are often criticised because they typically fail to grasp that obesity (along with other so-called ‘lifestyle’ conditions) is not simply the outcome of individual lifestyle choices, but likely results from a variety of factors (both individual and socio-political), over which individuals often have limited control. When the newspapers offer a public figure as privileged and powerful as Boris Johnson as a ‘role model’ for readers wanting to lose weight, they risk overlooking the influence of factors such as social privilege in the development of obesity.
When individuals and groups are blamed for problems in society, the result is the creation and propagation of stigma. The way much of the press has reported on obesity during the pandemic represents a ‘ramping up’ weight stigma, with people with obesity not only being blamed for their own health challenges but also shouldering responsibility for problems with the NHS against the backdrop of the most severe public health crisis of modern times. The weight stigma that results from this kind of blame-loading may engender further negative attitudes towards people with obesity, resulting in internalised shame. Yet the consequences of weight stigma may also be intensified by the circumstances surrounding the pandemic, which have already adversely affected the population’s mental health. Meanwhile, the aforementioned report by Public Health England stated that ‘stigma experienced by people living with obesity, may delay interaction with health care and may also contribute to increased risk of severe complications arising from COVID-19. It’s not all doom-and-gloom, though, as the pandemic also seems to have given rise to other, less stigmatising, changes to the press’s approach to obesity. For example, the broadsheets, and to a lesser extent the tabloids, also focussed more on race-related health disparities compared to in usual coverage of obesity. Meanwhile, the right-leaning tabloids offered otherwise uncharacteristic criticism of the UK Government, in particular for its ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, which we presented as being hypocritical by encouraging people to eat out on the one hand while imploring them to lose weight on the other. From the perspective of promoting more balanced obesity coverage, which cuts across political allegiances, this could be viewed as an encouraging sign. However, it remains to be seen whether this, along with the other changes to press discourse ushered in by the pandemic, will be lasting or particular to this unique and unprecedented news context.
Lancaster University is very proud to offer MA and Postgraduate Certificate programmes in Corpus linguistics. The programmes aim to equip students with skills that will enable them to analyse large amounts of linguistic data (corpora) using cutting-edge computational technology.
We asked our future students a few questions about their interests and motivation to study at Lancaster.
Alexandra Terashima: “Applying for this program represents a major pivot in my life.”
Hello! My name is Alexandra Terashima and I’ve recently been accepted into the Corpus Linguistics (Distance) MA program. I am originally from Russia, but I grew up and studied in the United States, and currently, I am living in Japan.
I feel incredibly grateful to have been selected to receive a bursary to support my studies towards an MA in Corpus Linguistics.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and research interests?
Applying for this program represents a major pivot in my life—I already have a PhD in genetics and worked for several years as a researcher in a lab. But something was missing for me and a few years ago, I stepped away from the bench and turned towards the communication side of science, spending a few years helping scientists edit and revise papers for publication, which led to my current position, teaching academic writing to English language learners.
My research interests include language acquisition, in particular how learners of English acquire knowledge of formulaic language, such as collocations and multi-word phrases, particularly ones that are used in specific genres of writing, such as scientific literature.
Why have you applied to study MA in Corpus linguistics at Lancaster University?
While, perhaps I am not a traditional MA program student, I applied to this program after careful consideration of my future career goals. During my time as a biology researcher, I was fascinated by the fact that, while scientific articles play a big role in the career of a scientist, the conventions of how to write scientific articles are not taught to science students at either the undergraduate or graduate level. Instead, students are expected to learn how to write from their supervisor and other lab members.
When I worked as an in-house editor at a research institute, I saw first hand how the quality of writing can influence an editor’s response to and reviewers’ comments on a submitted manuscript, regardless of the quality of the scientific findings. Through working closely with scientists to help them improve their papers for publication, I became interested in education, and five years ago started working at the University of Tokyo, teaching academic writing to undergraduate students. Also 5 years ago I was introduced to corpus linguistics at an English for Specific Purposes conference where I heard talks by Laurence Anthony and Paul Thompson. The methodology of systematic analysis of language for patterns appealed to me and I began exploring this area of research in the context of my teaching. My career goal is to have a position in academia that combines teaching, research and supervision of graduate students, but I feel that I need additional qualifications to achieve my goals. I have been contemplating an MA in applied linguistics for several years as a way to acquire research training and qualifications in this field. In parallel, I became aware of Lancaster University as one of the leaders in the field of corpus linguistics by reading literature and taking part in the Corpus Linguistics MOOC on FutureLearn. Last fall, when I saw the announcement for this new distance MA program in corpus linguistics, I knew it was time to apply!
Can you tell us a little bit about the topic you have selected for your MA dissertation?
Because of my strong interest in formulaic language, the topic of my MA dissertation focuses on the use of corpus analysis tools to measure and visualize phraseological development in spoken L2 English. In particular I will explore whether different levels of L2 proficiency can be distinguished by differences in the knowledge of collocations and if so, what statistical measures for identifying collocations are most effective. This project will utilize the Trinity Lancaster Corpus, which in addition to being the largest spoken learner corpus of its kind, is rich in metadata, which allows users to quickly access the data of interest, such as the samples from different levels of L2 proficiency. I will also need to learn my way around #LancsBox for this project, which no doubt will be an invaluable tool in my future research.
Why have you selected this topic?
As a lifelong language learner, I am fascinated by how people acquire language, are taught language and ultimately, how they use language. I believe formulaic language, namely collocations and collocation networks, is one of the cornerstones of language study that can help improve learner motivation and accelerate the understanding of an L2 language.
I selected this topic because I am intrigued by the challenge of distinguishing collocational knowledge at different levels of L2 proficiency. I recognize the importance of such distinctions for developing assessment tools and graded teaching materials. It is also reasonable to assume that learners acquire L2 proficiency in different ways and so defining the borders between different levels of L2 English proficiency in terms of collocation knowledge is a challenging and useful endeavor, one that goes a step beyond vocabulary and grammar knowledge assessment.
What are your plans for the future?
For my future research, I would like to focus on formulaic language, specifically language used in scientific papers. I would like to help establish conventions to teach science paper writing systematically to undergraduate and graduate students to bridge the gap for scientists struggling to publish due to the poor writing skills of their supervisor or due to being a non-native English speaker. The majority of current literature analyzing scientific papers have been understandably done by linguists. While these studies provide many useful insights, I feel that their lack of understanding of scientific research culture as well as the culture of scientific publishing doesn’t allow them to fully capture the dynamic and evolving nature of the language of scientific publications. I believe that my background as a scientist can help bridge this gap and help expand this genre of linguistic research.
Lee Daniels: Corpus linguistics at Lancaster is “a fantastic opportunity for me!”
Hi there! My name is Lee Daniels, and I am a bursary holder for the Corpus Linguistics MA at Lancaster University.
I am a 28-year-old North Yorkshireman turned Mancunian, who has lived in Salford for the past seven years. I have just completed my B.A. (Hons) Linguistics undergraduate degree with Manchester Metropolitan University, and I am incredibly excited for this fantastic opportunity with Lancaster University!
So! Let me tell you a little bit about myself in the form of a mini-interview format.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and research interests?
I began my higher education relatively late, that is, it was not until the age of 25 that I entered Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) as a mature student studying Linguistics and Italian. Prior to this I was working as a Third-Party Liability and Credit-Hire Motor Claims Handler. However, for a multitude of reasons, I decided that this career path was not for me and I wanted to dedicate my efforts to something where my passions lay. That passion was (and still is) any and all things Linguistics! Subsequently, I studied, paid for, and completed the qualifications needed (iGCSE and A-Level Italian) to gain entry into university and develop these passions further.
Through three fantastic years of study at MMU, I honed these passions into particular research interests, that is, via the sub-disciplines of cognitive linguistics, pragmatics (with a dash of semantics) and corpus linguistics (go figure!). Particularly, my interests lay in the combination of these three interests. For as I argue in my undergraduate dissertation research, isolating language conceptualisation from the real-world context through which it is found, is counter intuitive. Thus, in-line with an emerging socio-cognitive sub-discipline, my interests lay in intertwining conceptual and pragmatic processes which may influence unique language conceptualisations, and thus, language output.
I have found that the application of the corpus linguistic methodology, with its ever-developing capabilities thanks to ever-emerging new technology, provides fantastic opportunity to offer some substantiation or refutation to such claims (although I hope the former!). Nevertheless, the integration of these interests is something that I have initiated in my dissertation project and is something that I would love to continue to pursue throughout my academic career.
Why have you applied to study MA in Corpus linguistics at Lancaster University?
Lancaster has not only one of the best Linguistics departments in the world, but also, the corpus work coming out of the institution is at the cutting edge of the discipline. During my time at MMU, I often utilised the corpus work of Lancaster scholars to demonstrate the benefits and applicability of its methodology be it through Baker, Brezina, McEnery, Hardie, Semino, Culpeper (and many more). I had thus quickly learned of Lancaster’s position at the forefront of the field.
I have also had the pleasure of working with some of Lancaster alumni, such as Professor Dawn Archer and Dr Sean Murphy in a corpus-led research project looking at Shakespeare’s representation of gender in his works. This was via the utilisation of the Enhanced Shakespearean Corpus (ESC) and CQPWeb (developed at Lancaster). Additionally, I enjoy a fantastic and productive working relationship with Dr Lexi Webster, which I hope will continue for many years and produce exciting work. Nonetheless, I applied to Lancaster because I want to contribute to, and be associated with, the incredible work and people that are associated with the institution.
Can you tell us a little bit about the topic you have selected for your MA dissertation?
I have selected to study disagreement strategies in spoken L2 English (English not as a native language). This study will utilise the Trinity Lancaster Corpus (TLC) developed at The ESRC Centre for Corpus Approaches to Social Science (CASS), Lancaster University in collaboration with Trinity College London. TLC contains the largest body of spoken L2 English across all corpora and is thus best placed for the application of this MA dissertation piece. The topic selected allows the analysis of a complex pragmatic process (disagreement) through empirical means, whilst at the same time, complementing it with in-depth qualitative analysis. The subsequent findings obtained from this analysis may then enhance our understanding of second language pragmatic abilities, communicative strategies in language testing, and may thus contribute to greater understanding and improved practice within TESOL/TEFL contexts.
Why have you selected this topic?
What drew me in to this topic was the opportunity to provide great insight into a pragmatic communicative strategy; it also allows me to explore my research interests. That is, the project allows me to further explore the conceptual/contextual practices that are behind pragmatic strategy constructions.
Using corpus to provide substantiation to such a complex pragmatic phenomenon, also falls in line with my interests. In that, I think we are in an exciting time for Linguistics because the technology associated with corpus is only getting better and more capable. Thus, with that expansion, all sorts of new research may be attempted into complex phenomena (like L2 English disagreement strategies!) that was previously not feasible. Therefore to be at an institution that fully resonates this thinking is a fantastic opportunity for me!
What are your plans for the future?
More Linguistics! In other words, my aim is to become a Lecturer within the field. In addition to having a passion for the Linguistic discipline, I also love rambling on about it too! (if you have not guessed already). I developed this at MMU by applying it in a teaching capacity in both paid and voluntary roles. Nevertheless, I find teaching a topic that I am genuinely passionate about, and trying to stir that same passions in others, to be incredibly rewarding. Subsequently, to reach this goal I need to acquire my PhD and would love this to be at Lancaster via a similar corpus-led opportunity. Nevertheless, it will require a lot of hard work, but I am as committed now as I was on day one when I started this incredibly rewarding journey!
My name is William Dance and I’m one of two new Senior Research Associates in CASS.
I’m currently finishing my PhD in the linguistics department here and my main research interests are corpus approaches to deception and manipulation, using methods like (critical) discourse analysis to study online disinformation (better known as ‘fake news’).
I’m working alongside Tara Coltman-Patel on the new ESRC-funded ‘Questioning Vaccination Discourse’ Project (or Quo VaDis – Latin for ‘Where are you going?’). Alongside collaborators from Public Health England, UCL, and University of Leeds, the project looks at how the public, press, and policymakers speak and write about vaccinations both online and offline. The goal of the project (which believe it or not was submitted before the COVID-19 pandemic!) is to get a better understanding of how pro- and anti-vaccination views spread online, as well as how the vaccine uncertain people in the middle express their views.
I’ve found myself over the last few years researching topics just as they seem to gain global attention. I started researching disinformation during my Masters just as Donald Trump was elected president and “fake news” become a hot topic. Similarly, I joined the Quo VaDis just as a global pandemic began and vaccination became more important than ever before.
My research into disinformation has given me some amazing opportunities over the past few years. I’ve had the fortune to do things like present my research to parliamentarians, second to Whitehall for three months, and work with over 50 news organisations and state broadcasters to disseminate my research and help inform the public about online deception. This kind of external engagement is a theme throughout all of my work and I always try to reach out to communities outside of academia whenever I can. I also run a blog which you can find here.
Disinformation is a wide-reaching topic and my research on this has mainly focused on areas such as social media users’ motivations for sharing disinformation, analysing hostile-state information operations (HSIOs), with future publications focusing on exploring algorithmic disinformation and the spread of online disinformation.
Outside of work, one of my favourite hobbies is baking. This is something I do most evenings and weekends as I enjoy planning and writing recipes, and then baking things for friends and family (although I enjoy the washing up a lot less…). I’ve been baking and cooking pretty much since I could walk as I was taught to cook from a young age. You can see some of my creations here but my favourite thing to bake is bread.
I think the best way to end this introduction is just to say how much I’m looking forward to what the Quo VaDis project, and working in CASS in general, has to offer. I’m grateful to be working in the one of the best corpus research centres in the world and I can’t wait to see what the next three years brings.
My name is Tara Coltman-Patel and I am so excited to be a new member of CASS.
I am working as one of the Senior Research Associates on the ESRC-funded Quo VaDis project: Questioning Vaccination Discourse: A Corpus-Based Study project, which explores discussions about vaccinations in UK parliamentary debates, UK national newspapers and on the social media sites, Twitter, Reddit and Mumsnet. Using a variety of corpus tools and techniques, we will aim to gain a better understanding of the wide spectrum of pro-, anti- and undecided views surrounding vaccinations. Analysing how vaccinations are discussed across a variety of contexts, how the different views are communicated, and how people with different views interact, particularly on social media, will be an invaluable tool for addressing vaccine hesitancy. With our results we aim to inform, facilitate and help design future public health campaigns about vaccinations. As vaccinations are a salient topic, especially given the time we are currently living through, I am extremely grateful to have the opportunity to work on this research.
Before joining CASS I was working at Nottingham Trent University, where I recently finished my PhD which focussed on weight stigma and the representation of obesity in the British Press. In doing so I explored how metaphors can sensationalise and dehumanise people with obesity, I explored how science is recontextualised and misrepresented, and I explored the linguistic strategies of representation used in personal stories about weight loss. I am currently in the process of turning that research into a book titled ‘(Mis)Representing Obesity in the Press: Fear, Divisiveness, Shame and Stigma’, which will hopefully be published towards the end of 2022. Weight discrimination is a topic I am incredibly passionate about and in addition to research I have also worked as an anti-weight discrimination advocate and have consulted on global campaigns with the World Obesity Federation.
Outside of research I am a massive book worm and I love to read, I’m obsessed with RuPaul’s Drag Race and I’m also a sucker for a nice beer garden. Before Covid I loved to travel and have backpacked around Australia, Thailand, The Philippines, Mauritius and South Africa. I have some amazing and memorable moments from those trips, from bad ones like falling off a (small) cliff in Mauritius and being bitten on my hand by a spider in Australia, to incredible ones like canyoneering in The Philippines and swimming with sharks in Australia and South Africa. Sharks are my favourite animal and I have a plethora of fun facts about them ready to share at any given moment, so you definitely won’t regret inviting me to parties …
To conclude, I’m really thrilled to be a part of CASS and the Quo VaDis project, and as I have run out of interesting things to say about myself, I’ll end this blog post here.