This article provides an example of how Critical Discourse Analysis can be used to analyse texts. By looking at the coverage of a recent news event in two British newspapers, it demonstrates how a number of the linguistic ideas discussed in the How people present the world through language section of the Linguistic Toolbox can be used to produce an in-depth analysis of meaning in texts.
Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) is a branch of linguistics that seeks to understand how and why certain texts affect readers and hearers. Through the analysis of grammar, it aims to uncover the 'hidden ideologies' that can influence a reader or hearer's view of the world. Analysts have looked at a wide variety of spoken and written texts – political manifestos, advertising, rules and regulations – in an attempt to demonstrate how text producers use language (wittingly or not) in a way that could be ideologically significant.
Many of the tools used in CDA are drawn from Stylistics, which looks at the way literary texts create meaning and poetic effects. CDA uses a similar type of analysis to look at (mainly) non-literary texts. There is no set group of tools that must be used, and researchers are discovering new ways of analysing language all the time. However, traditional tools used include modality, transitivity and nominalisation, while more recent additions include naming, opposition and negation.
Media texts are a common subject of analysis in Critical Discourse Analysis. Here, articles from two British newspapers – one published in the tabloid The Daily Mail, the other in the broadsheet The Independent – are analysed. The articles represent each publication's take on a much-publicised British news story that broke on 19th February 2013, when the media picked up on a speech that the novelist Hilary Mantel gave for a London Review of Books lecture at the British Museum on February 4th. In her lecture, Royal Bodies, Mantel discussed the nature of the British monarchy, Kate Middleton's role within it having become the wife of the heir to the throne, and the media's treatment of Middleton.
When, later in the month, comments about Middleton and her portrayal in the press were reported in the newspapers, many articles focused on apparently unfavourable things that Mantel had said about Middleton. This prompted outrage from some at the insults allegedly made by Mantel and, from others, suggestions that the reportage had misinterpreted Mantel's comments. Many suggested that the press's coverage of the 'controversy' was not only biased against Mantel, but actively sought to misrepresent what she had said. This controversy makes the articles an interesting subject for a CDA analysis, which can investigate the language used to test the veracity of these different reactions to the texts.
Many CDA analyses are divided into sections corresponding to the tools that are used: for ease of reading, this sample analysis will be split likewise, with a concluding section at the end.
Naming looks at the contents of noun phrases – the units of language that name things in the world, e.g. a wolf, those cumulonimbus clouds, his appalling lack of respect. The ideological interest here comes from the fact that when we apply a noun phrase to something, we label it and use language to presuppose its existence: if someone refers to the immoral, adulterous celebrity, then they are presupposing that this individual exists, and that immorality and adultery are part of the package that is that person.
Naming is of interest in the Mail and Independent articles as they focus on two individuals – Hilary Mantel and Kate Middleton: how these individuals are named could give an indication as to whom the articles would like the reader to sympathise with. Unsurprisingly, each article refers to both by their full names; however, there are also occasions where the two are named in different ways. Notably, the Mail consistently refers to Mantel by her surname, and Middleton by her forename: "Mantel... dismissed Kate as a 'machine-made princess." The less formal way in which Middleton is referred to here could make the reader feel closer to Middleton. The Independent makes the same distinction, whilst also referring to Mantel as "Ms Mantel": the title 'Ms' comes with certain connotations, not least amongst them that the woman bearing it might be 'unweddable', creating a stark contrast with the woman the article refers to as "Prince William's wife-to-be".
Also of interest is the way the news story – essentially Mantel's speech – is named. Observations made by Mantel, which to those present might have been heard as part of a lengthy, considered, formal lecture, are referred to by the Mail as "an astonishing and venomous critique of Middleton" and "a bitter attack on the Duchess of Cambridge", and by the Independent – more soberly – as "a withering assessment of Kate Middleton". Here, the negative adjectives 'venomous', 'bitter' and 'withering' suggest that Mantel was far from reserved in her remarks, and give the reader little room to determine their own view of her comments. Note also that while Mantel herself insisted that her comments were about perceptions of Kate Middleton, each instance of naming places Middleton in a grammatical position post-modifying the nouns 'critique', 'attack' and 'assessment', making her appear very much the subject of Mantel's remarks.
Opposition looks at the way that certain linguistic frames – 'It was X, not Y', 'She liked X, he liked Y', 'X turned into Y' – allow us to create oppositions through language. When two things – for example, dinosaurs and books - are placed into one of these structures – 'It was more dinosaurs than books' – we understand that they must be somehow opposite, due to our experience of conventional opposites occurring in similar structures. Indeed, we understand new oppositions on analogy with more familiar ones: we might, perhaps, interpret the dinosaurs/books example as meaning that something was more exciting than academic.
Creative opposition can be powerful, as it plays on our tendency to view the world around us in terms of binaries. We have seen how naming allows the articles to paint the two parties as different to each other, and this impression is strengthened by instances of creative opposition. Most notably, parallel structures are used in the Mail article to observe the differences between Mantel and Middleton's backgrounds and occupations:
"The Duchess, 31, will visit the addiction charity's Hope House treatment centre, in Clapham, south
London on Tuesday to meet women recovering from alcohol and drug dependency.
Mantel, 60, studied law at LSE and Sheffield University, before becoming a novelist."
By placing each party as the subject of adjacent sentences, and then going on to describe an action each will/has performed, the article underlines the differences between the two. This opposition gives the impression that while Mantel is educated and cultured, Middleton is doing something 'good' and 'worthy'. More to the point, it could be argued that the information being given is of dubious relevance to the news story that is being reported.
Another intriguing use of opposition appears in both articles. Each refers to a previous news story involving Middleton, when pictures of her holidaying were printed in the Italian press. Both the Mail and the Independent contrast the Royal family's displeasure at the Italian publications with opinions expressed by Mantel in her speech:
"[T]hey were furious last year when pictures of her topless on holiday were printed in Italy...
But Mantel suggested Kate could have few complaints...
observing: 'The royal body exists to be looked at.'"
"Whilst St James's Palace fumes at pictures of the Duchess in a bikini...
Mantel observes: 'The royal body exists to be looked at.'"
In the Mail, an opposition is triggered by 'but' at the start of the second sentence; in the Independent, 'whilst' serves a similar role, making the reader aware that the propositions expressed in the two sentences should be seen as contrasting. The suggestion in each instance is that Mantel does not share the royal family's disgust at the pictures, and believes that this is simply an unavoidable aspect of their role. However, Mantel made no mention of the Italian press incident in her speech, and the quote used in these extracts was making an observation about the apparent purpose of the royal family and the way they are treated by the press, rather than indicating her approval of the Italian press's actions.
There are a variety of ways in which we can present others' speech: we can choose to directly quote someone, or we can simply give a flavour of what was said. One of the notable things about the Mail article is that while it quotes Mantel frequently and at length using direct speech ("Mantel said Kate 'appeared to have been designed by a committee'", "She added: 'Presumably Kate was designed to breed in some manners'"), Middleton is not quoted once. This might seem unsurprising, as the article is about a speech that Mantel made. However, the article also reports on Middleton's work with the charity Action on Addiction:
"The Duchess chose yesterday to give an insight into the causes that she will support,
hailing the start of a project which will see one of her charities receive a huge financial boost"
"She described her delight at Action On Addiction – which she backs as patron –
becoming the beneficiary of the fundraising efforts"
Note how direct speech is not used in either of these instances of speech presentation. Instead, the writer simply represents the kind of speech acts that Middleton used – that she 'gave an insight', 'hailed the start of a project' and 'described her delight' – rather than giving any clear indication of the actual words that Middleton might have used. In this way, Middleton's expressed attitudes are presented as more acceptable than Mantel's, which are in need of scrutiny. The lack of direct quotes from Middleton might also serve as evcidence for some of Mantel's convictions about the press's treatment of her!
As well as the simple fact of what parts of Mantel's lengthy and detailed speech the articles choose to quote, and the way these quotes are used – especially in the aforementioned appropriation of Mantel's observations about the royal body – the use of particular verbs in speech presentation is of interest. Some verbs carry war-like connotations, for example the Mail's description of how "A best-selling author... has launched a bitter attack" and the Independent's "Hilary Mantel attacks 'bland, plastic, machine-made' Duchess of Cambridge". The inclusion of a target – Middleton – in representations of Mantel's speech also makes her comments sound like direct personal attacks: "The double Booker Prize-winner compared princess Kate unfavourably to Anne Boleyn" (Independent), "Hilary Mantel calls Duchess of Cambridge 'bland' and 'machine made'" (Mail). In these and other instances, it feels as though the reader is being pushed towards sympathising with Middleton, the defenceless victim, rather than Mantel, the aggressor who coolly "deliver[s] a withering assessment of Kate Middleton" (Independent) and "use[s] her position among the novel-writing elite to make an astonishing and venomous critique of Kate" (Mail).
This brief analysis of two newspaper articles demonstrates how CDA tools can be used to take an in-depth look at language. By analysing naming, opposition and speech presentation, it was possible to make suggestions as to the ideologies underlying the articles. For instance, the differing ways in which Mantel and Middleton are named seems to position the reader closer to Middleton, while aspects of speech presentation give the impression of Mantel having made a concerted attack on an individual, rather than a thoughtful analysis of an institution and its treatment by the press.
It is important to note, however, that this has not been an objective analysis: the analyst will inevitably come to the analysis with some degree of bias, and it is quite possible that some readers will disagree, for example, that certain choices of verbs in speech presentation provide a strong indication of the articles' ideological viewpoint. Readers could also point to instances of language use not analysed here, and suggest that analysis of these might have lead to a different interpretation. What CDA does provide, though, is a level of replicability: the observations made in this analysis have drawn on evidence in the actual language of the articles, meaning that another researcher could carry out their own analysis of the exact same evidence, and provide arguments for their own interpretation.