A Comparison of the Syntax of Football Match Reports in British Newspapers

Diploma Thesis 2012 55 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics


Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures

1 Introduction

2 Field of Research
2.1 Current State of Scientific Research
2.2 Outline of Newspapers Used in the Study
2.2.1 Tabloids
2.2.2 Mid-Market Tabloids
2.2.3 Broadsheets
2.2.4 Circulation
2.3 Readership Profiles

3 The Language of Sports in the Media
3.1 The Language of Newspapers
3.2 The Term “Language of Sports”
3.3 The Football Match Report

4 Analysis and Database
4.1 Methodology
4.1.1 Corpus Linguistics
4.1.2 Corpus Compilation
4.2 Sentences
4.2.1 Sentence Length
4.2.2 Sentence Fragments
4.2.3 Complexity of Sentences
4.3 Use of Active / Passive Voice
4.4 Type / Token Ratio
4.5 The Use of That…
4.5.1 That- Complement Clauses
4.5.2 Post Modifiers – That as a Relative Pronoun
4.5.3 Demonstrative Determiners
4.5.4 Demonstrative Pronouns
4.5.5 Distribution of That – Result Distribution of That in Relation to Absolute Number
of That in Each Newspaper Distribution of That in Relation to the Sub-Corpus The Distribution of That – A Comparison of Broadsheets and Tabloids

5 Conclusion

Works Cited

List of tables and figures

Table 1: Sentence Length in British Newspapers

(Simon-Vandenbergen 1986: 12)

Table 2: Sentence Types in British Newspapers

(Simon-Vandenbergen 1986: 13)

Table 3: Circulation of British Newspapers

Table 4: Social Grading of the British Population

Table 5: National Readership Survey Readership Estimates

Table 6 Corpus Design

Table 7: Corpus Design 2

Table 8: Average Sentence Length

Table 9: Sentence Length Categories

Table 10: Sentence Fragments in the Four Newspapers

Table 11: Complexity of Sentences

Table 12: Number of Passive Forms

Table 13: Number of Passive Forms and By-Agents

Table 14: Type/Token Ratio

Table 15: Frequency Lists

Table 16: That -Complement Clauses

Table 17: That as a Relative Pronoun

Table 18: Use of That as Demonstrative Determiner

Table 19: Use of That as Demonstrative Pronoun

Table 20: Distribution of That in Broadsheets and Tabloids


Figure 1: Distribution of the Different Uses of That in Relation to the Number of That.

Figure 2: Distribution of That in Relation to the Four Sub-Corpora.

1 Introduction

“Obviously, everything that happens to be printed in a newspaper or a magazine or written by a journalist is not going to be linguistically homogeneous – nor is there any reason for expecting it to be so” (Crystal/Davy 1969: 173).

This statement by the famous British linguist David Crystal opens a very interesting discussion on the language of print media. If we assume that language as a whole is a vivid and fluid construct that always changes and will never be fixed, it is obvious that nothing which has been printed is linguistically homogenous. However, there are rules and guidelines for the use of language, such as grammar and syntax for example. As language and its use can be investigated, the present study’s aim is to investigate the syntax of newspaper articles that deal with football match reports and to establish similarities and differences between different kinds of newspapers, namely broadsheets and tabloids [1].

Nowadays, print media can no longer be imagined without sport reporting and particularly the reportage of football matches. Football has become a mainstream pastime and enjoys great popularity. It takes up a considerable part of British newspapers – depending on the targeted readership of the newspaper in question. Even though the sport sections vary in size, they can be found in every single issue and in some newspapers, take up more space than topics with supposedly more impact on peoples’ lives such as politics or economics. Although the newspapers report on the same events, there are notable differences in the manner in which they report on them. If we consider sport reporting, it becomes obvious that the language is always tailored to the audience the newspaper wants to reach. Considering the great variety of newspapers and their differences with regard to focuses and targeted readerships, it can be assumed that there are differences between up-market (broadsheet) and down-market (tabloid) newspapers concerning the style of writing, the research quality or the credibility.

Above all, in the sport section the differences between broadsheet and tabloid reporting become particularly apparent. Even at first glance it is obvious that differences are to be found: not only do the front page designs of the sport sections vary greatly, but it may also be assumed that there are differences concerning the degree of complexity of expression within the articles themselves.

The present study focuses on current reporting by daily newspapers, rather than coverage of weekly newspapers that exclusively concentrate on sports. It compares the syntax of football match reports in British newspapers. Therefore, a corpus consisting of football match reports was composed. The corpus used for this study is compiled of four different newspapers. The Guardian and The Telegraph form the broadsheet corpus, and the The Sun and The Daily Star form the tabloid corpus. The corpora consist of 40,000 words each and contain exclusively football match reports. With the help of the Lexical Analysis Software WordSmith 5.0 the texts will be examined on certain criteria of the syntactic analysis. The main question to answer will be in how far and to what extent the syntax used in the reports of broadsheets on the one hand and tabloids on the other hand differs from each other. I am proposing the hypothesis that broadsheet newspapers use a more complex syntax than tabloids in their football match reports.

The study of the thesis does not take all types of sports into consideration; rather it focuses on football in order to provide a clear basis for comparison. Furthermore, exclusively football match reports that describe the course of a game are taken into account in order to avoid a distortion of the results, by attempting to compare different text types such as background articles with articles that report on the course of a match. The reason why football was chosen as the object of investigation is that it enjoys by far the greatest media attention, especially in Britain. Football is much more popular than tennis, for example, and therefore newspapers give football match reports a lot of space within the sports section, meaning the reports are longer and more detailed which makes them well suited for a linguistic analysis. In addition, because of the emotionality the sport evokes, it is assumed that the reportage will show some particularities concerning the use of language that other sporting disciplines might have lacked. This assumption is an additional motivating factor for the present study.

The first part of this work focuses on the British print media and media-landscape as well as the British readership. It will provide an insight into the language of newspapers, the language of sports, and the particularities of the football match report. The second part will compare broadsheet and tabloid newspapers on the basis of appropriate criteria. The thesis will end with a summary of the results and also will make an attempt to interpret them.

2 Field of Research

The language of sport reporting in newspapers has been the topic of several studies in the past and it is still a highly interesting field; especially in view of the fact that the following investigation focuses on a certain kind of sports reportage. By narrowing the field of research, which was not always the case in previous studies, we can expect to get more clear-cut results.

2.1 Current State of Scientific Research

Even though several of the listed studies were published a few or many years ago, they are still of great importance for the present work, as the fundamental principles for the analysis of texts are applied and therefore serve as a basis for the investigation of this thesis. This gives the present study – besides the study’s own results- the opportunity to compare the results to prior studies’ findings. For reasons of limited space, this will not be a focus of this work but will be briefly mentioned as the case arises. Some of the works focus on the German rather than the British media landscape. They are nevertheless taken into account since many of the findings can be transferred to British reportage.

In their publication “Investigating English Style” (1969), David Crystal and Derek Davy found clear results in their study where they compared two articles on the same event, one from a broadsheet with one from a tabloid. The first article was published in The Times and the second was published in The Daily Express. According to them, the most striking difference is a higher use of hypotaxis in broadsheets in comparison with tabloids. Another feature they found prominent in The Times article is the unusual word order within statements, for example the striking position of verbs of speaking, which are often positioned in front of the subject in the broadsheet article. They further noted that tabloids tended to use more active voice than passive voice. The number of newspaper articles they examined may not be seen as completely representative, however. The present study will examine whether the same conclusions can be drawn about current articles in broadsheets and tabloids and whether Crystal and Davy’s hypothesis can therefore be verified (Crystal/Davy 1969: 173-194).

Kroppach (1970) dealt with the length of sentences and parataxis and hypotaxis respectively in his dissertation on sports reportage in the German press. Even though he focuses on language in German newspapers, his results are relevant to the second part of the present study, which examines many of the aspects Kroppach researched in the German press. In his analysis, he counted 1000 sentences per newspaper and divided them into categories of 4, 8, 16, 24, and 32 words. He concluded that the 8-word sentence was most frequent with 6.2%. Sentences with a length ranging from 5-13 words accounted for almost half of the evaluated material (42.5%), whereas sentences with 6-11 words made up 33.9%. Since the most frequently used sentence of German sports reporting is only half as long as the most frequently used sentence in sophisticated prose (16 words), he concluded that the newspaper language of sport is far less demanding than the language of scientific texts (1970: 103).

He states that the reports are intentionally kept as clear and uncomplicated as possible in order to simplify the reading flow. In addition, he points out that this tendency predominantly occurs in the tabloid category. A further reason for the short sentence style is the possibility to represent the fast-paced and diverse course of the event. In this way, the report is emotionalized and puts the audience closer to the action (1970: 143). As Kroppach’s findings are quite clear-cut, similar results are likely to occur in the English language as well.

Anne-Marie Simon-Vandenbergen (1986) investigated the readability of quality versus popular newspapers and aspects of style of all newspaper sections. Although she did not concentrate only on sports, some aspects might also be relevant to the present study. Like Crystal and Davy, she also found in her results that sentences in tabloids are not as long as in up-market papers. The highest percentage of words per sentence was found for The Times, whereas The Daily Mirror and The Sun showed the lowest percentage (see table 1). Concerning the complexity of sentences, Simon-Vandenbergen’s most remarkable finding was that most sentences are complex in every newspaper, no matter if it is a quality paper or a tabloid. Nevertheless, The Times and The Telegraph showed the highest percentage of complex sentences and The Mirror the lowest rate. Since the present study follows a similar approach and will also refer to them later on, some of Simon-Vandenbergens results are listed below:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 1: Sentence length in British newspapers (Simon-Vandenbergen 1986: 12)

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Table 2: Sentence types in British newspapers (Simon-Vandenbergen 1986: 13)

In his study Ghadessy (1988) focused on the vocabulary used in written sports commentary. He analyzed a corpus of 37 reports taken from The Times. With the help of the Oxford Concordance Programme (OCP) he created a frequency list of words appearing in the corpus. He emphasizes the different use of certain expressions within the written language of sport (i.e. penalty box, free kick, etc.) (1988: 22). Moreover, Ghadessy looks at involved and uninvolved language. He states that there is the objective interpretation and the personal interpretation which means that, with regard to the language of sports reporting, “[t]wo writers may agree that a goal was scored in the 76th minute of a particular game, but disagree as to whether it was a brilliant, breath-taking, clever, simple, etc. goal” (1988: 22). Rather than comparing two genres or newspapers, his intention was to “establish some common ground” (1988: 18), which is why he focused on one newspaper only.

Andreas H. Jucker published his book “Social Stylistics. Syntactic Variation in British Newspapers” in 1992. He states that he wants to show “some of the stylistic differences and similarities across the national daily newspaper” (Jucker 1992: 11). He divided the corpus of his study into up-market papers, mid-market and down-market papers and further analysed five different sections: art, business and finance, foreign news, home news and sports (1992: 126). When analyzing linguistic aspects, he concentrated on investigating noun phrases and pre- and postmodifications in British newspapers. He concluded that the three categories of newspaper (up-markets, mid-markets and down-markets) can clearly be linked to the readership the different kinds of newspapers aim at. With regard to the use of noun phrases, up-market papers use far more complex noun phrases than the down-market papers (1992: 115). It is notable that Jucker found that the sports section in each kind of newspaper “uses a style that is clearly distinct from the other sections in that the percentage of complex noun phrases is always lower than that for that particular newspaper category as a whole, and the percentage of names and pronouns is higher than for the category as a whole“ (Jucker 1992: 131).

A comprehensive work that also examined the topic, was that by Knobbe (1997). Among other things, Knobbe’s work, like the analysis of this thesis, investigated the syntax used in written texts in the sports section of British newspapers. The analysis is based on certain criteria that are particularly appropriate for a syntactic analysis of press texts (1997: 73). These include, for example, the length of sentences and the number of post modifications and premodifications of nominal phrases. As the present study will also be based on some of these criteria, his work is of great significance to this study.

Concerning the numbers of nominal phrases, Knobbe’s results revealed a relatively balanced ratio between modified and unmodified nominal phrases, however it should be said that his corpus rather focused on tabloids. Concerning the use of active and passive forms he observed a far higher number of active sentences (1997: 75).

Westin (2002) carried out a diachronic study of newspaper language in which she analysed English newspaper editorials. For this purpose she compiled a corpus that featured editorials from 1900 to 1993. The texts were taken from the newspapers The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Times. Westin observed a decrease in the usage in the pronoun it (2002: 48). Moreover, she noticed a decrease of the average sentence length over the years: Whereas in 1900 the mean sentence length was 31.4 words, in 1993 the average number of words per sentence was 25.6 (2002: 80). Westin justifies the development towards shorter sentences with the trend towards a more “reader-friendly” editorial (2002: 84). Concerning the use of passive voice she observed a decrease in the use of agentless passive forms and no significant shift in by -passive forms (2002: 121).

Partly based on the findings of the above mentioned studies, the present study will apply the following criteria in its analysis:

- sentence length
- sentence fragments
- simple/compound/complex sentences
- active/passive voice
- the use of that
- Type/Token Ratio

2.2 Outline of Newspapers Used in the Study

This chapter will give an overview of the British print media landscape and give an insight into some of the major British newspapers. Furthermore, it will assign the newspapers to different categories and describe them. The most striking differences concerning the style of writing and the question of how this could affect the syntax used in the articles will be discussed. In addition, the readership of the various newspapers will be briefly described.

First of all, the sources for printed texts that deal with sport reportage are basically the various issues of the daily press, and the numerous weekly sport magazines that predominantly concentrate on the mainstream sports. This work will exclusively focus on the daily press in order to provide a genuine result, as the style of writing in pure sport magazines may differ from the way articles are written in papers that do not only include sports coverage.

With regard to the terminology, Lennon (2004) suggests that, “[s]ince the qualities are all in broadsheet form and the populars are all in tabloid form, the terms “broadsheet” and “tabloid” may be used as synonyms for “qualities” and “populars”, respectively” (2004: 7).

Jucker states in his introduction that British newspapers can generally be divided into three types – quality papers and popular papers, and those are further subdivided into down-market papers and mid-market papers (1992: 8). According to him, quality papers “are read by a readership of a high socio-economic status” (1992: 8) whereas popular papers subdivide into newspapers that are read by people from a “fairly low socio-economic level (down-market papers) and those which target an audience between those two extremes (mid-market papers)” (Jucker 1992: 8). The standard of news reporting in quality papers is higher, whereas popular papers aim at having many readers (Jucker 1992: 47).

Tunstall categorises the major British newspapers as follows: The Times, The Telegraph, The Independent, and The Guardian form the broadsheets, The Daily Express and The Daily Mail are referred to as mid-market tabloids, and the tabloids are The Sun, The Daily Mirror, and The Daily Star (Tunstall, 1996 in Reah: 1998). Wing Chan & Goldthorpe (2003) confirm Tunstall’s classification in their study on newspaper readership:

1. Broadsheets: Financial Times, Guardian, Independent, Telegraph, Times.
2. Middlebrow tabloids: Daily Express, Daily Mail, Morning Star, Today.
3. Redtop tabloids: Mirror, Daily Star, Sun.
4. Regional, local, and others. (Wing Chan & Goldthorpe 2003: 7)

Even though Wing Chan & Goldthorpe also list regional papers in their classification, it is not of importance for the present paper.

2.2.1 Tabloids

The term ‘tabloid’ originally refers to the size and not to the content of a newspaper, as it is an American paper size measure. A tabloid has the dimensions of 11x17 inches which is half the size of a broadsheet newspaper. Today, however, the term tabloid is rather associated with the design and the style. The most important features in tabloids are according to Conboy “sensationalism, emotive language, the bizare, the lewd, sex [] royal news, celebrities [] and any form of prurience which can be included under the general heading of human interest” (2006: 12). With regard to the language used in tabloids, “[t]heir stories are usually short and sharp [] written with the simple vocabulary and uncomplicated grammar that the least literate of their readers will understand” (Andrews 2005: 16). Bird (2009) describes the tabloid style as “formulaic, colourful, narrative” and “distinct from standard, ‘objective’ style of journalism” (2009: 40). Apart from sensationalism, sport plays a dominant role in tabloids. It is “a very important ingredient in the tabloids recipe” because of its “high celebrity count, dramatic content and mass appeal” (Andrews 2005:16).

Tabloids target their audience. They are “targeted first at the working man, now more broadly at readers of both sexes from the lower socio-economic groups” (Harcup and Cole 2010: 22). Section 2.3 will deal with readership profiles in more detail.


[1] The classification of different kinds of newspapers will be shown in section 2.2 of this research paper.


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Justus-Liebig-University Giessen
Englisch football linguistics Sprachwissenschaft Fußball medien media newspaper tabloids press presse syntax words wörter match report language sports broadsheets corpus linguistics sentence length circulation readership type/token ratio sentence fragments satzlänge sport satzbau leserschaft auflage linguistik Zeitung zeitungen corpora sprache satz sätze sentence types sportsprache



Title: A Comparison of the Syntax of Football Match Reports in British Newspapers