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LINGUIST List 25.2340

Wed May 28 2014

Review: Discourse Analysis; Text/Corpus Linguistics; English: Busa (2013)

Editor for this issue: Rajiv Rao <rajivlinguistlist.org>

Date: 17-Mar-2014
From: Sibo Chen <sibocsfu.ca>
Subject: Introducing the Language of the News
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-4426.html

AUTHOR: M. Grazia Busa
TITLE: Introducing the Language of the News
SUBTITLE: A Student's Guide
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor and Francis)
YEAR: 2013

REVIEWER: Sibo Chen, Simon Fraser University

SUMMARY

Living in the age of information, we are surrounded by news reports. These stories not only keep us updated on current affairs around the globe, but also fundamentally shape our values, beliefs, and behaviors through their agenda-setting and framing effects. Thus, it is crucial for undergraduates who are interested in news to learn the production of news texts and the functions of language within this process.

Assuming no prior knowledge of linguistics, “Introducing the Language of the News” aims to offer an accessible reference for the study of news from linguistic perspectives. Using English news as its primary examples, this textbook covers key issues within news discourse analysis and introduces how different linguistic choices can highlight different interpretations of news texts. In addition, the exercises after each chapter make the book an ideal reference reading for students learning English news writing in an English as a Foreign/Second Language (i.e., EFL/ESL) context.

Introduction: Language and Texts

The introduction overviews “linguistic competence” and “register”. The author highlights several factors contributing to variation in language use in our daily lives: communicative purposes, discourse participants, communication media (e.g., spoken versus written), and social contexts (e.g., formal versus informal). In short, this introductory chapter discusses key components of genre/register research and sets the theoretical background for the discussion of news discourse in the following chapters.

Chapter One: Making News

The focus of Chapter One is the media industry and driving factors of news production. To be specific, the chapter reviews six factors of news production: media ownership, market pressure, labor division with the newsroom, time deadline and space-on-the-page constraints, information technology, and convergence of media forms.

Chapter Two: Defining News

This chapter provides a definition of news and explains factors influencing the writing of news stories. According to the author, news can be defined as “the relaying of events that are both recent (new) and relevant (interesting)” (p. 25). Following such a definition, the author reviews the primary factors that make a story potentially newsworthy: timeliness, location, topic and familiarity, pictures and multimedia, dramatic potential, and public interests. In addition to newsworthiness, objectivity is another crucial standard for news texts and it determines the neutral language style of news texts. The author concludes this chapter by explaining different types of newspapers (e.g., broadsheets versus tabloids) and stories (e.g., hard news versus soft news).

Chapter Three: Sourcing News

Chapter Four: Conveying Meaning through Design

These two short chapters (each is 10 pages long) briefly review the information gathering stage of news production and the visual layout of a newspaper page. Chapter Three starts by making a distinction between on-diary sources (i.e., regular contacts of journalists) and off-diary sources (i.e., contacts reached by journalists when unanticipated events happen). The chapter then reviews general issues regarding interviews and how information gathered by journalists is used in news stories: attributions, anonymous sources, and quotations. Following the above discussion, Chapter Four focuses on print news and analyzes how page design (e.g., the position of headlines, pictures, body copies, etc.) represents a powerful form of non-verbal communication.

Chapter Five: Structuring the Story

Chapter Six: Head, Lead and Proper Story

These two Chapters examine news story structures and the linguistic features of news headlines, leads and the body copies. To be specific, Chapter Five deals with three basic features of news stories: story structure, impersonal language, and coherent texts. The chapter starts with an overview of three common structures of news stories: the inverted pyramid, narrative storytelling, and the hourglass (i.e., a combination of the previous two). Then, the chapter goes into an exploration of impersonal writing and how certain linguistic rules (e.g., the avoidance of first- or second-person pronouns and emotive words or expressions) maintain the objectivity of news. The chapter concludes with a brief explanation of coordination and subordination and their function in language coherence.

By comparison, the focus of Chapter Six is on the components of news stories (e.g., headlines, leads and body copies) and their grammatical features and embedded rhetorical strategies. The author first discusses the synthetic language of news headlines and how such linguistic characteristics lead to a nominalization tendency in news headlines. Then, the discussion of news headlines shifts to their rhetorical features (e.g., intertextuality, word association, and metaphor), followed by an overview of informative headlines. Finally, the chapter explains two types of news leads (i.e., direct leads and delayed leads) and offers an example of how information is structured in the body section.

Chapter Seven: The Tools of the Trade

Chapter Eight: Reporting Information and Evaluation of Likelihood

Chapter Nine: The Power of Words

The final three chapters are the most linguistic-centric ones, as they offer an overview of linguistic strategies used in news discourse. Chapter Seven examines the linguistic strategies used by journalists to compact lots of information in short texts, such as nominalization, brevity (e.g., using “although” instead of “despite the fact that”), and the passive voice. The chapter then reviews some general syntactic issues in news writing: verbal structure, voice, and thematization.

Chapter Eight discusses how journalists use various linguistic choices to convert news sources into news stories. The Chapter explores two aspects of information reporting: the use of reported speech (e.g., direct quote, indirect quote, paraphrase, etc.), and the use of modality (e.g., epistemic modality versus deontic modality).

Finally, Chapter Nine explains the “power of words” and how newswriters can exploit the expressive potential of language to convey particular stances on news topics. The primary focus of the chapter is the English language, and the author demonstrates how careful word choices influence readers’ interpretations of the same news event, reinforce society’s perception of certain groups, and promote particular ideologies.

EVALUATION

Overall, this book presents a concise but well-organized introduction of news production and discourse. Covering a wide range of topics in only 164 pages, the book can serve as a good complementary reading for ESL/EFL learners interested in English news. As mentioned earlier, the student exercises at the end of each chapter make the book ready-to-use for ESL/EFL instructors. In addition, the book’s language style is straightforward and succinct, which is another advantage for its usage in ESL/EFL settings.

Meanwhile, there are two minor limitations within the book, which might be addressed in its further editions. First, the book may consider re-organizing certain chapters to make its presentational logic more coherent. Chapter Three (Sourcing News) can be combined with Chapter Eight (Reporting Information and Evaluation of Likelihood), as many linguistic details of the former are not properly explained until the latter. Similarly, Chapter Five (Structuring the Story) and Chapter Six (Head, Lead and Proper Story) can be combined, since both chapters deal with the structuring of news texts. Second, although the book’s simplicity is a desired design for its primary readers (ESL/EFL learners), it would still be beneficial if more theories regarding news discourse were introduced in the book. In the current version, the critical analysis of news discourse is only introduced in the very last chapter and several key texts within the field (e.g., Fairclough, 1989; van Dijk, 1988) are not discussed. In the discussion of the media industry (Chapters One & Two), some additional reviews of the political economy of communication would also be beneficial (e.g. Mosco, 2009; Wasko, Murdock & Sousa, 2011).

Overall, the book is a good reference for intro-level courses on language and communication, especially for ESL/EFL learners who want a concise overview of English news discourse.

REFERENCES

Busa, M. G. (2013). “Introducing the language of the news”. New York, NY: Routledge.

Fairclough, N. (1989). “Language and power”. London: Longman.

Mosco, V. (2009). “The political economy of communication” (2nd ed.). London: Sage.

Wasko, J., Murdock, G., & Sousa, H. (2011). “The handbook of political economy of communications”. London: Sage.

Van Dijk, T. (1988). “News as discourse”. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum Associates.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Sibo Chen is a PHD student in the School of Communication, Simon Fraser University. He received his MA in Applied Linguistics from the Department of Linguistics, University of Victoria, Canada. His major research interests are language and communication, discourse analysis, and genre theories.


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