Journalism should help the reader to understand the world better and to get a broader view of how and why things happen. But unfortunately it tends to reproduce the opinions of powerful people in the society. (Richardson, 2007) Critical linguistics helps the reader to become critical and aware of all the persuasive techniques used to convince him of certain viewpoints. Critical linguistics delivers a variety of analytical tools to get a broader understanding how language is used. “Critical is used in the special sense of aiming to show up connections which may be hidden from people – such as the connections between language, power and ideology...” (Fairclough. 1989 : 4) With regard to Richardson the language in the news has the function to report “...the actions and activities of the powerful and doing so in a form that is entertaining and readily consumable...”, where the main function of journalism is “...to help citizens to understand the world and their positions within it...” (Richardson, 2007 : 8)
But to make our world understandable it simplifies complex situations and gives short explanations on issues that are too complex to explain in a few words. As we will later see, “Language first represents social realities and second contributes to the production and re production of social reality or social life.” (Richardson, 2007 : 10; emphasisis in original) That means that through the language of the news media, social realities are presented, which are measured by the particular cultural background of the media organisation, and let the described social realities for the reader appear as normal.
Before we start to analyse the form and interpret the function of a particular text, we should be aware of its content.
To apply it to a concrete example, we have a look at a contemporary news story. On Thursday, November 8th 2007 the British telegraph announced in its online edition that “Georgia declares state of emergency”. (Blomfield, 08.11.07; emphasisis in original) The report is a classical news story, written by a Moscow correspondent named Adrian Blomfield. The lead of the article was placed at the main webpage of the telegraph with all the other latest UK- and world news. The interested reader could then follow the link to the full coverage. The article consists of 597 words and is written on two pages, altogether 32 cm text.
On top of the first page in the right corner, below the headline, you can see a photograph which shows a crowd of masked people, probably the Georgian police. The following report deals with a political crisis in Georgia and describes the situation there. The sources who are referenced with a quotation in the text are the Georgian president, the Georgian prime minister, the Georgian human rights ombudsman and the Russian foreign ministry.
Furthermore the text refers to unnamed “critics”, “a visibly nervous presenter”, “independent witnesses”, “supporters of the Georgian government” and “most observers”.
The style of the article is not exaggerated in the way one would expect of the tabloid press. The language directs a rather well educated readership than sensation seekers. Through familiarity in the language style a certain readership feels comfortable and is attracted. This helps to create a relationship between consumer and producer. This is at least in the producers´interest, because he wants to maintain and multiplify its readership in order to make money.
The author always uses the words “riot police” to describe the police force in Georgia. His language shapes social reality by the fact that the police are in the wrong in his described reality. In this form of lexical mapping the adjective ´riot´ is always used with the main protagonist, the police. Despite the fact that “language use cannot be regarded as neutral, value-free or exempt from at least some ‘angle of telling’”, a clear preference in the text is shown. It becomes clear who acts in a ´wrong´, a violent way. (Simpson, 1993: 176)
Through the use of verbs which express an alteration of a certain situation, the reader gets subliminally influenced in such a way that he thinks that the described situation is different as before. In critical linguistics this is called presupposition. (Conboy, 2007) In the article you can read that “’There was an attempt at a coup and creating disorder.’” (Blomfield, 08.11.07) Someone attempts to create disorder; and the reader tends to believe that in Georgia there was law and order before. For someone who is well informed about the situation in Georgia, this is quite doubtful. But in spite of the description of all the misdeeds of public servants it seems that only the police are blamed for its atrocities and not the president himself, who should be mainly held reponsible for the actions carried out in his country. But in contrast it is announced that “.. Mr Saakashvili has won praise in Washington for moving his country closer to the West...”. (Blomfield, 08.11.07; empahisis added)
But why should the author try to convince the reader of a well ordered Georgia instead of condemning its president? Maybe because of “The country´s image as a bastion of democratic western values in the former Soviet sphere...” shares the same values with the opinions of the powerful groups in our society, who also come from the West? (Blomfield, 08.11.07)
These powerful people can be e.g. the government or its handymen, the owners of a news organisation or advertisers as well. Allan calls them the ruling class and goes further. He shares the opinion with other theorists and says that mass media institutions, wheather publicly or privately owned, are controlled by the members of the ruling class.
 The impression of a well ordered Georgia becomes later relativized, probably for the sake of a more balanced view, when the author reveales that Georgias´ former defence minister “...accused the president of corruption and involvement in a murder plot in September.” (Blomfield, 08.11.07) It should also be regognized that persons from each side come to word, like the Georgian president, prime minister, human rights ombudsman and the Russian foreign ministry as well.
- File size
- 450 KB
- Catalog Number
- Institution / College
- University of Sheffield – Department of Journalism Studies