AUTHOR: Conboy, Martin
TITLE: The Language of the News
PUBLISHER: Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group)
Mekki Elbadri, Vienna, Austria
This book consists of 215 pages and is divided into nine chapters: Language and
Conventional Communities; Analytical Tools (1); Analytical Tools (2); Overt and
Covert Persuasion: Argument and Rhetoric; Social Semiotic and Ideology; Gender;
News, Narrative and the Nation; Narratives of Exclusion; Debates on Language in
the News. Each chapter is prefaced by a short introduction and concluded with a
summary and suggestions for further reading.
In the introductory chapter (pp. 1-22), Language and Conventional Communities,
the author maps the orientation of his work and indicates, although implicitly,
his theoretical perspective. He confirms the axiomatic position that news is a
profound socially-situated linguistic activity. He briefly outlines the
development of the language of the news through history, politics and social
mutual influence. The chapter defines newspapers as 'language-forming
institutions' (Bell, 1991: 7) pointing out that their language informs and is
influenced by broader linguistic trends. Contemporary newspaper language
features, in terms of style and content, are discussed, along with the fact that
newspaper language is currently mainly driven by the economic imperative in
order to retain its audience within a densely competitive news media
environment. The chapter also presents the way specific ''news communities'' and
ideal newspaper audiences are developed, discusses the content and structure of
news story, and is concluded with a section on objectivity, showing how the
concept is linked to newspapers' genesis and how it is interpreted.
In Chapter 2 (pp. 23-49), Analytical tools (1), the author identifies his
theoretical tools of analysis. He clearly opts for critical linguistics as a
school of analysis. He explains how linguistic analysis of media text, termed
''the linguistic turn'', has marked the field of media studies in general. The
works of ''academics who have worked closely with the language of the news media,
such as Fairclough, Fowler, Hall, Hodge and Kress, Trew, Wodak and van Dijk,
among others'' (p. 24) are mentioned as examples of scholarly endeavors that
represent this orientation in research. Critical Linguistics (CL) is defined as
a discipline that assists critical readers to identify patterns within language
which legitimate or naturalize the dominant social order. It seeks to draw
attention to the ways in which language is used across news media to create the
conditions in which the conventional hierarchies of society are reproduced
tacitly and without drawing too much attention to this process of reproduction.
Topics discussed in this chapter include: Critical linguistics; the role of the
critical reader; the linguistic turn; language and classification; news values;
categorization; the coding of point of view and social values; lexical mapping;
metaphor; register; narrative; and campaigns.
Chapter 3, Analytical Tools (2) (pp. 51-71) goes further to present specific
analytical tools that reveal processes described in Chapter 2. The chapter
includes discussions of verbal processes, actional and relational verbs,
transactive and non-transactive, transitivity, transitivity shifts, active and
passive, modality, nominalization, compressed noun phrases, declaratives,
presuppositions. The main question discussed is agency and how agents are
revealed or concealed using different functional devices. In addition, it is
demonstrated that some syntactic tools, such as modal verbs, could be used to
encode certain preferences or opinions.
Rhetoric and argumentation are discussed in Chapter 4 (pp. 72-94), entitled
'Overt and Covert Persuasion: Argument and Rhetoric'. It addresses rhetoric,
argumentation, editorials, columnists, 'viewspapers', opinion in hard news; and
broadcast news. In this chapter the author considers the strategies used in the
language of the news to emphasize opinion. He points out that in an era where
technologically readers have direct access to news from different sources, the
traditional role of newspapers to simply provide the latest information about
the world is undergoing a transformation. These news media are increasingly
being relied upon by their audiences to provide information with commentary and
rather embedded opinion. The chapter shows how opinion can either be an explicit
part of the function of news in leading articles and columnists or more subtly
concealed into the conventions of hard news. Examples are provided of the ways
in which the selection of vocabulary, the use of metaphor and verbal structures
can be employed to convey the preferred meaning of news stories, in a way that
does not compromise the apparent objectivity and credibility expected by the
Chapter 5 (pp. 95-119), Social Semiotic and Ideology, consists of sections on
semiology: social semiotic; ideology; ideology, semiotic and audience; the
semiotics of style; jointly produced consensus; discourse and discourse
analysis. The chapter focuses mainly on the definitions of ideology, semiotics
and discourse. It clarifies how these terms can be applied to help understanding
of the social complexities of texts and the implicit audiences of news media. It
considers the ways in which language of the news does not only provide
information, but also embodies the power relations and social identities which
form part of the contemporary world. It does that through the creation of
consensus around what a particular news medium and a targeted ideal audience
expect from that world and the news attempts to find a language and a set of
editorial strategies to match. Style as well as content can illustrate how the
language of news media communicates a great deal about the political realities
of everyday world.
Chapter 6 (120-139) is on Gender and discusses language and gender, news as
endocentric discourse, the patterns of discrimination, and women journalists. It
contains an overview of how language can be used to convey certain attitudes
towards women. The language of the news is considered a powerful medium for the
reinforcement of views of the world which are dominated by a male perspective.
It shows how the patterns of language perpetuate views of women as predominantly
sexualized and juvenalized in much of the popular press and points out their
absence from the world of action and important political and economic affairs in
the elite press. It contains as well a discussion of the issue of how women
journalists themselves are employed and presented.
Chapter 7 (pp. 141-173), News, Narrative and the Nation, contains sections on
narrative; nation, narrative and news; narrative conventions of the news;
consonance and elite nations; non-elite nations; sporting examples; nation under
threat; and direct narratives of nation. The chapter is opened with a prolonged
discussion of narrative structure and theory. It discusses how narrative plays a
central role in the shape and content of news. This is further linked to the
maintenance of conventional ways of interpreting and categorizing events in the
world making it a part of the ideological operation of news. The chapter shows
how news presents insiders and outsiders to a national community building on
historical memories. It discusses the commercial and cultural implications of
such a discourse, giving additionally examples of patriotism from the world of
Chapter 8 (pp. 174-190), Narratives Of Exclusion, as a continuation of the
previous chapter, discusses classification of outsiders; Africa and the Middle
East; lexical maps; metaphor; strategies of argumentation; and insiders as
outsiders. Referring to the previously discussed ways through which the language
of the news creates patterns of representation for an insider community, this
chapter considers the ways in which outsiders to the community are represented.
Analyzing various linguistic devices, such as lexical mapping, argumentation,
macropropositions and metaphor, it shows how they combine to create negative
impressions of those labeled as outsiders to the mainstream community. The
examples given illustrate that this discourse engulfs all types of excluded
groups, on ethnic, religious, as well as social bases. It concludes that the
coverage tends to emphasize stereotypes which do nothing to help audiences deal
with the complexity of ethnic and social realities but rather encourage them to
interpret the world in terms of negative and simplistic categories.
Chapter 9 (pp. 191-213), Debates on Language in the Newspapers, discusses
political correctness: the language debate; political correctness: definitions
and genealogy; debates on the significance of political correctness; political
correctness in the news media; verbal hygiene and liberal notions of free
speech; reflections on language and journalism in the press; positive engagement
with the language of news; irony; genre, parody and intertextuality. The chapter
considers explicit and implicit discussions of language in the news. It shows
how journalists and academics make use of discourses of the news media to
analyze language and its functions in society and the political world. It
exposes the issue of political correctness and how it is used within news media
discussions as a test of attitudes, language change and sensitivities to
cultural change displayed through language.
This book is an important addition to research in the area of critical
linguistic analysis of media discourse in general, and news language in
particular. It supplements works such as Bell (1991), Fowler (1991) and van Dijk
(1988a, 1988b) by providing news insights and considering more recent
literature. The book's methodological orientation places it clearly in the
framework of Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (see, for instance, Wodak 1989,
Wodak and Meyer 2001, Fairclough 1995). However the author avoids using the term
CDA and opts for the older, and less commonly used, term 'Critical Linguistics',
as used by Fowler (1991). The author doesn't specify the audience addressed by
his book; nevertheless, the book's treatment of terminology and theories
indicates that it targets beginners, undergraduate students and a generally
non-specialized public. Mainly it speaks to those who the author calls 'critical
readers'. The book contains some short analysis activities, although some of
them are rather simplistic. Furthermore, the author avoids entering into
detailed theoretical discussions and focuses instead on providing extensive
practical examples. For instance the word 'discourse' is only defined in Chapter
5, page 117. In spite of the book's title, 'Language of the News', it presents
mainly the language of British newspapers, with hardly any place for other
international news media, other languages, or even media other than newspapers.
The British focus makes some of the examples, puns and contextual information
incomprehensible for readers who are not well acquainted with British English
and British politics. Also note that the author refers, in the text (e.g., pp.
8, 17 and 19) and the bibliography (p. 214), to Bell's ''Language in the News''
(1994), whereas this reference should be to Bell's ''The Language of News Media''
(1991) (please see the full citation under References below). In spite of these
remarks, the book constitutes an important resource for learners and teachers of
linguistics, discourse analysis and media studies.
Bell, A. (1991). _The language of news media_. London: Blackwell.
Fairclough, N. (1995). hMedia Discourse_. London: Arnold.
Fowler, R. (1991). _Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press_.
Van Dijk, T.A. (1988a). _News Analysis_. New York: Erlbaum.
Van Dijk, T.A. (1988b). _News as Discourse_. New York: Erlbaum.
Wodak, R. (Ed.) (1989). _Language, Power and Ideology_. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Wodak, R. and Meyer, M. (Eds.) (2001). _Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis_.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Mekki Elbadri is a translator and researcher based in Vienna, Austria. He
conducts research on news discourse in English and Arabic. His research
interests include translation, terminology and critical discourse analysis.