Posts tagged ‘corpus linguistics’

22 March 2009

“Dissident” – a resignification?

Something interesting happened in the news media last week.* After the fatal attacks on security forces in Northern Ireland on 9 and 10 Marc, the suspects were repeatedly referred to as “Irish Republican Army dissidents” (AP), “dissident republicans” (Guardian), “IRA dissidents” (The Star), “dissident republicans” (BBC), “dissident republican groups” (Telegraph), etc.

This fits with the standard dictionary definition of dissident (“disagreeing, esp, with an established government, system, etc.” according to the Oxford Concise Dictionary). But it does not fit with recent corpora, i.e., databases of the ways in which language is actually used. For example:


Note the distinct tendency for the majority of these “dissidents” to be positively valued (for a particular political position)? The dissidents are disagreeing with very particular types of governments and systems, and in a way which is pro-liberal, pro-democracy, pro-West and/or anti-Communist.

This is a random selection from the Collins WordbanksOnline English corpus (56 million words; contemporary written and spoken English). The British National Corpus (100 million words; British written and spoken English) returns similar results. (Oxford also now has a corpus, but they only have a video demo online.)

*It undoubtedly happened earlier, but I only became aware of it last week, reading the British coverage of the recent killings in Northern Ireland.


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