Archive for November, 2008

6 November 2008

Medvedev, Missiles and Obama

Some day I’m going to sit down and count the number of times the verbs ‘site’, ‘deploy’, ‘place’, ‘locate’, etc. are used in connection with US plans to ‘station’ missile defence shields in Central Europe; and at the same time study how often the words ‘threaten’, ‘warn’, ‘caution’, etc. are used in connection with Russian plans to ‘station’ missiles in the Baltic, as Medvedev today announced in this state of the nation address. The same address which congratulated the new future president of the USA.

An example from Voice of America:

There was no immediate warm welcome from Moscow./ Delivering his state of the nation speech in the Kremlin, President Dmitri Medvedev instead blamed U.S. policy for Russia’s brief conflict with neighboring Georgia in August. And, he threatened to station new missiles near the border with Poland – in response to Washington’s plans to deploy an anti-missile defense system in parts of Eastern Europe.

(But see also Bloomberg, BBC, ZDF, AP. And it seems that Medvedev and Obama may meet face to face at next week’s emergency financial summit in Washington, planned for 15 Nov.)

The missile affair reminds me of an old cartoon in Berlin’s Tagesspiegel.


Pictures from left to right: ‘Kosovo’, ‘Nato’s eastern expansion’, ‘US military in the Caucasus’, ‘Missile defence shields in Eastern Europe’, ‘[Bear shouts “Enough!!”] …and the completely inappropriate reaction’.

Thanks to Marco for reminding me…

5 November 2008

Books: Language and news/media

News media receive a good deal of attention from linguistically-sensitive discourse analysts (scroll down for some recent books). Two new reviews of books in this field are available on linguistlist.

1. Martin Conboy (2007) The Language of the News. Routledge.

Conboy situates his book within Critical Linguistics, i.e., the paradigm (as outlined in Chapter 1), which describes news as a socially-situated linguistic activity. Newspapers are considered in this book to both inform broader linguistic trends and be influenced by these trends. The book touches on issues of news language features, the economic imperative driving news media, objectivity, the development of ‘news communities’, argumentation, rhetoric, social semiotics, ideology, gender, narrative, the nation, exclusion and political correctness. The reviewer, Mekki Elbadri, evaluates the book thus:

Evaluation: 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 new 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. [… The] book constitutes an important resource for learners and teachers of linguistics, discourse analysis and media studies.

2. Sally Johnson & Astrid Ensslin (Eds.) (2007) Language in the Media: Representations, Identities, Ideologies. Continuum.

This collection of chapters on language and the media. The reviewer, Francisco Yus, begins his review by voicing surprise at the very specific focus on the collection, which focus on particular language-related topics within media discourse, not on more general issues concerning the language of media. It deals primarily with media practices/texts which explicitly deal with language. Appraoches include conversational/text analysis, critical and multimodal discourse analysis, corpus linguistics, pragmatics, stylistics, speech act theory, historiography and ethnography. In his evaluation, he reflects on his own change of heart after reading the book:

The book ”Language in the Media” explores language in different media but, unlike my initial impression, it exhibits several underlying linking qualities that give the book a desirable level of coherence, which is also enhanced formally by the fact that there is only one bibliographical section at the end of the book. The book is not the typical book on language and the media, since it focuses on very specific and ideology-connoted aspects of the relationship of language and media, but at the same time it will no doubt draw the attention of readers from a wide range of research perspectives, including pragmatics, (critical) discourse analysis, ethnological approaches, etc. As such, the book is invaluable and no doubt offers interesting insights in a field on which so much has been published already.

A random selection of recent books in this field:

And the classics of linguistically-sensitive critical news/media discourse analysis:

(…apologies for the amazon links… still looking for an alternative comprehensive online bookstore… check betterworldbooks first if you buy second hand…)

5 November 2008

Election word train

The New York Times’ interactive word train shows voters/readers/users’ emotions during election day.

What One Word Describes Your Current State of Mind?

Throughout Election Day, readers submitted the words that best described their moods. This page updated hourly with the most popular choices.

4 November 2008

Media, teenage pregnancy and violence

Nov, 3. Reuters headline: “Study links teen pregnancy to sexy TV shows”. Oh, the debate continues, a reader may think. Is television a bad influence on young people? The question has been asked by researchers across the globe for decades, and no conclusive evidence has yet been found. In 2004, a study of the studies (by James A. Anderson) analysed the research papers in a large archive of major studies on correlations between media violence and aggression. Findings:

The analysis found the archive marked by initiatives in governmental funding and private philanthropy, shifting disciplinary interests, cycles of editorial attention, and the economies of disciplinary authentication and professional legitimation.

Analysis of the mainline arguments indicated a shift from an audience-activated effect to one in which the individual is an unwitting accomplice.

Finally, the study showed that the continuing interest in media serves to deflect attention from much more serious (but much more costly to remedy) sources of aggression and to elevate the role of media to that same level of importance.

Yet the Reuters story on the findings of the study announced on Monday begins:

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Exposure to some forms of entertainment is a corrupting influence on children, leading teens who watch sexy programs into early pregnancies and children who play violent video games to adopt aggressive behavior, researchers said on Monday.

It doesn’t seem too far fetched to argue that ‘corrupting influence’ seems to imply some kind of causality. As does ‘leading … into/to’. The article continues:

Researchers at the RAND research organization said their three-year study was the first to link viewing of racy television programing with risky sexual behavior by teens.

The article shifts key here. ‘Corrupting influence’/’leading to’ has shifted to ‘link’. ((And, is this the RAND which describes itself as ‘a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis’, and has also been described as ‘the ur-think tank, the Cold War granddaddy of them all’?)). The article continues:

“Our findings suggest that television may play a significant role in the high rates of teenage pregnancy in the United States,” said Anita Chandra, a behavioral scientist who led the research at RAND, a nonprofit research organization.

“We’re not saying we’re establishing causation, but we are saying this is one factor that we were able to prospectively link to the teen pregnancy outcome,” Chandra said in a phone interview.

Two more shifts. The ‘link’ has been hedged with a ‘may’. And the leading researcher explicitly distances herself from establishing a causal relation between TV and teen pregnancies.

Nevertheless, the RAND Corporation research brief offers guidelines for TV industry leaders (think about sex in the programming), media literacy instruction (teach critical literacy), doctors (teach about media effects) and parents (monitor teens’ TV viewing and talk to their kids about the consequences of sex).

Novel recommendations there.

3 November 2008

Auditory Warnings

If you have a moment to explore one of today’s (many) contradictions, turn off the mute on your computer, and go to Auditory Warnings, an audio-video web project by John Wynne. A beautifully calm piece –which picks up urgency as it goes — Auditory Warnings plays with the increasing amount of buzzing and beeping in our everyday environments, and how this has destabilized hegemonic notions of peace, quiet, danger, warning and silence.

John Wynne is one of the featured artists at Viva Viva, an exhibition opening 8 December at P3, one of the gallery spaces associated with the University of Westminster in London. Viva Viva is:

the first celebration of a decade of completed audio-visual practice based doctorates [AVPhDs] from all over the UK. An innovative exhibition that includes multi and interdisciplinary single-screen works and installations that draw from cultural studies, fine art, anthropology, film and new media (scroll down for showcased researchers). These diverse critical works will be presented together with their written theses.

Opening night: Monday 8th December, 6.30pm-9.30pm. With live VJing, DJing and a performance by AVPhD researcher Anita Ponton.

More on John Wynne at

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3 November 2008


An exciting new international discourse project is picking up speed, aiming to establish and expand possibilities for international and/or interdisciplinary research and exchange.

A wiki in three languages, (English), (German) and (French: coming soon) promises to be a dynamic research portal. It offers not only conference announcements, calls for papers, and details of new discourse related publications, but also — in true wiki fashion — the opportunity to actively co-create the websites. Users can set up a page with details on their own research interests, link to other members, and scan for active researchers in, say, political science, sociology, education, literature, anthropology, social work, history, psychology, media studies or linguistics. Also, groups working on one specific area or on a particular project can set up an “internal area” (only accessible to members with passwords) to work together in wiki-style.

The websites have been set up on the initiative of the currently very active group MeMeDA – a network funded by the DFG (German Research Foundation) to explore current work on the “Methods and Methodologies of Discourse Analysis”. And –disclaimer — I am currently recovering from a very intensive, productive and convivial working weekend where further details of the MeMeDA project have been taking shape. Updates to follow…

Silvio Gesell Seminar House, at which future MeMeDA plans were hatched.

2 November 2008


An unplugged improvisation of ‘Discourse’ featuring Chieli Minucci & Chuck Loeb.

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