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Keywords in the Press: The New Labour Years
 1441162224, 9781441162229

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Keywords in the Press

Corpus and Discourse Series editors: Wolfgang Teubert, University of Birmingham, and Michaela Mahlberg, University of Nottingham Editorial Board: Paul Baker (Lancaster), Frantisek Čermák (Prague), Susan Conrad (Portland), Dominique Maingueneau (Paris XII), Christian Mair (Freiburg), Alan Partington (Bologna), Elena Tognini-Bonelli (Siena and TWC), Ruth Wodak (Lancaster), Feng Zhiwei (Beijing). Corpus linguistics provides the methodology to extract meaning from texts. Taking as its starting point the fact that language is not a mirror of reality but lets us share what we know, believe and think about reality, it focuses on language as a social phenomenon, and makes visible the attitudes and beliefs expressed by the members of a discourse community. Consisting of both spoken and written language, discourse always has historical, social, functional and regional dimensions. Discourse can be monolingual or multilingual, interconnected by translations. Discourse is where language and social studies meet. The Corpus and Discourse series consists of two strands. The first, Research in Corpus and Discourse, features innovative contributions to various aspects of corpus linguistics and a wide range of applications, from language technology via the teaching of a second language to a history of mentalities. The second strand, Studies in Corpus and Discourse, is comprised of key texts bridging the gap between social studies and linguistics. Although equally academically rigorous, this strand will be aimed at a wider audience of academics and postgraduate students working in both disciplines. Research in Corpus and Discourse Conversation in Context A Corpus-driven Approach

With a preface by Michael McCarthy Christoph Rühlemann Corpus-Based Approaches to English Language Teaching Edited by Mari Carmen Campoy, Begona Bellés-Fortuno and Ma Lluïsa Gea-Valor Corpus Linguistics and World Englishes An Analysis of Xhosa English Vivian de Klerk Evaluation and Stance in War News A Linguistic Analysis of American, British and Italian television news reporting of the 2003 Iraqi war Edited by Louann Haarman and Linda Lombardo Evaluation in Media Discourse Analysis of a Newspaper Corpus Monika Bednarek Historical Corpus Stylistics Media, Technology and Change Patrick Studer Idioms and Collocations Corpus-based Linguistic and Lexicographic Studies Edited by Christiane Fellbaum Investigating Adolescent Health Communication A Corpus Linguistics Approach Kevin Harvey Meaningful Texts The Extraction of Semantic Information from Monolingual and Multilingual Corpora

Edited by Geoff Barnbrook, Pernilla Danielsson and Michaela Mahlberg Multimodality and Active Listenership A Corpus Approach Dawn Knight New Trends in Corpora and Language Learning Edited by Ana Frankenberg-Garcia, Lynne Flowerdew and Guy Aston Representation of the British Suffrage Movement Kat Gupta Rethinking Idiomaticity A Usage-based Approach Stefanie Wulff Sadness Expressions in English and Chinese Corpus Linguistic Contrastive Semantic Analysis Ruihua Zhang Working with Spanish Corpora Edited by Giovanni Parodi Studies in Corpus and Discourse Corpus Linguistics in Literary Analysis Jane Austen and Her Contemporaries Bettina Fischer-Starcke English Collocation Studies The OSTI Report John Sinclair, Susan Jones and Robert Daley Edited by Ramesh Krishnamurthy With an introduction by Wolfgang Teubert

Text, Discourse and Corpora: Theory and Analysis Michael Hoey, Michaela Mahlberg, Michael Stubbs and Wolfgang Teubert With an introduction by John Sinclair Web As Corpus Theory and Practice Maristella Gatto

Keywords in the Press: The New Labour Years Lesley Jeffries and Brian Walker

Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc


Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 50 Bedford Square 1385 Broadway London New York WC1B 3DP NY 10018 UK USA BLOOMSBURY and the Diana logo are trademarks of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc First published 2018 © Lesley Jeffries and Brian Walker, 2018 Lesley Jeffries and Brian Walker have asserted their right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the Authors of this work. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury or the author. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: HB: 978-1-4411-6222-9 ePDF: 978-1-3500-4626-9 ePub: 978-1-3500-4625-2 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Jeffries, Lesley, 1956- author. | Walker, Brian (Linguist) author. Title: Keywords in the press : the New Labour years / Lesley Jeffries and Brian Walker. Description: London ; New York : Bloomsbury Academic, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2017. | Series: Corpus and discourse | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017010081 (print) | LCCN 2017037561 (ebook) | ISBN 9781350046252 (epub) | ISBN 9781350046269 (epdf) | ISBN 9781441162229 (hardcover : acid-free paper) Subjects: LCSH: Vocabulary–Research. | Journalism–Great Britain–History–19th century. | Labour Party (Great Britain) | Sociolinguistics–Great Britain. | Corpora (Linguistics) Classification: LCC PE1449 (ebook) | LCC PE1449 .J34 2017 (print) | DDC 428/.1072–dc23 LC record available at Cover image © Getty Images/WPA Pool/Pool Series: Corpus and Discourse Typeset by Deanta Global Publishing Services, Chennai, India

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Table of Contents List of Figures List of Tables

x xi

1 Background to Keywords in the Press 1 2 Methods and Data 23 3 Sultans of Spin 41 4 Choice is the Word of the Hour 67 5 The Immense Possibilities of the Word Reform 93 6 The Impact of Living in a More Global World 115 7 A Breeding Ground for Terror 141 8 A Sugary Coating of Respect 163 9 Conclusions 187 Notes References Index

199 202 207

List of Figures Figure 4.1 Relative frequencies of choice in British political manifestos 69 Figure 6.1 Concordances for global when it is immediately followed by action 119 Figure 6.2 Raw frequencies for global relating to data-driven categories in the Blair and Major Corpora 126

List of Tables Table 2.1 Profile of the Blair Corpus 26 Table 2.2 Profile of the Major Corpus 26 Table 2.3 Statistical keywords after exclusions 32 Table 2.4 The shortlist of six keywords with raw frequencies and frequencies per thousand (‰) in both the Blair and Major Corpora 34 Table 3.1 Frequency and relative frequency (in brackets) of spin in the Blair and Major Corpora, and the resulting loglikelihood score 42 Table 3.2 Spin in hyphenated forms 43 Table 3.3 Word-class for spin in the Major and Blair Corpora, and in the BNC 44 Table 4.1 Examples of different senses of choice in the Major and Blair Corpora 72 Table 4.2 Choice and sense (d) choice in the Major and Blair Corpora 76 Table 4.3 Public service policy uses of choice 77 Table 4.4 Examples of sense (b) of choice 77 Table 4.5 Proportion of sense (d) choice which are unmodified 79 Table 4.6 Verbs before sense (d) choice in the Blair and Major Corpora 82 Table 4.7 Postmodification of sense (d) choice in the Blair and Major Corpora 83 Table 4.8 Premodification of sense (d) choice in the Blair and Major Corpora (excluding simple determiner premodification) 85 Table 4.9 The coordinated collocates of choice in the Blair and Major Corpora (with frequencies) 86 Table 4.10 Choice in scare quotes 90 Table 5.1 Reform tokens in Major and Blair Corpora (with frequency per million words and log-likelihood) 94 Table 5.2 Reform tokens in BNC (with frequency per million words) 94 Table 5.3 Comparison of reform per million words in BNC (news) and the Major and Blair Corpora 94


List of Tables

Table 5.4 Reform as noun, verb and adjective in Major and Blair Corpora 96 Table 5.5 Reform as noun in Major and Blair Corpora compared with BNC as proportion of tokens 96 Table 5.6 Immediate left-hand nominal and adjectival collocates of reform (n) by theme 98 Table 5.7 Left-hand collocates of reform (n) by theme and statistics 99 Table 5.8 Left-hand collocates of reform (n) relating to value/ amount (complete list) 101 Table 5.9 Left-hand collocates of reform (n) relating to value/ amount (raw and percentage frequency, and log-likelihood) 102 Table 5.10 Significant left-hand collocates relating to value/amount 105 Table 5.11 Neutral right-hand noun collocates of reform occurring in both corpora 107 Table 5.12 Right-hand noun collocates of reform occurring solely in Blair Corpus 107 Table 5.13 Topics to be found on the right hand of reform of 108 Table 5.14 Bald, unmodified reform in the Major and Blair Corpora 110 Table 5.15 Left-hand verb collocates of un-premodified reform 111 Table 6.1 The frequencies and log-likelihood scores for global in the Blair and Major Corpora 117 Table 6.2 Semantic categories for global based on data in the Blair and Major Corpora 125 Table 6.3 Nouns following global + economic in the Blair and Major Corpora 128 Table 6.4 Negative head nouns postmodified by prepositional phrases containing global in the Blair and Major Corpora 129 Table 6.5 General and abstract word-forms modified by global 130 Table 7.1 Terror frequencies in the Blair and Major Corpora 145 Table 7.2 Forms and functions of terror with frequencies in the Blair and Major Corpora 145 Table 7.3 Comparison of the meaning functions of terror in the Blair and Major Corpora 148 Table 7.4 Terror as a premodifier of nouns in the Blair Corpus 149 Table 7.5 Terror as a premodifier of nouns in the Major Corpus 149 Table 7.6 Patterns of postmodifying terror in the Blair Corpus 152 Table 7.7 Patterns of postmodiftying terror in the Major Corpus 152

List of Tables


Table 7.8 Modified/unmodified patterns of terror in the Blair Corpus 157 Table 7.9 Modified/unmodified patterns of terror in the Major Corpus 158 Table 8.1 Total tokens of respect in the Major and Blair Corpora 164 Table 8.2 Distribution between word classes in the Major and Blair Corpora according to tagged corpus 164 Table 8.3 Total relevant tokens and their difference as identified by tagged corpora 165 Table 8.4 Respect tokens by word-class as identified by manual analysis 165 Table 8.5 Nominal tokens split between head noun and premodifying noun cases 166 Table 8.6 Occurrences of idiomatic phrases including respect and the compound self-respect166 Table 8.7 Significance of the introduction of Respect as a proper noun 167 Table 8.8 Premodifying uses of respect in the Major and Blair Corpora 170 Table 8.9 Total occurrences of respect in scare quotes 172 Table 8.10 Determiners before head noun respect 174 Table 8.11 Adjectives of quantity and quantifying pre-determiners before head noun respect 175 Table 8.12 Premodifying adjectives of respect as head noun 176 Table 8.13 Comparison of all relevant occurrences of respect with the unmodified category 177 Table 8.14 Head nouns coordinated with bald, unmodified respect 178 Table 8.15 Respect as grammatical subject of active verbs 179 Table 8.16 Verbs followed by unmodified respect as Goal 180


Background to Keywords in the Press

1.1 Introduction This book reports on a research project which attempts to combine Raymond Williams’ influential notion of keywords (Williams 1983) with corpus linguistics, while focusing on the reporting of political stories in the broadsheet press during the years when Tony Blair was prime minister of the UK (1997 to 2007). We have chosen the Blair years because there was a great deal of commentary on the language of the ‘New Labour’ project at the time, and there has been some scholarly investigation too (see, e.g. Fairclough 2000a; and L’Hôte 2014), confirming that the language used by Blair and his colleagues was important in gaining and maintaining governance of the country. Our focus, though closely connected to the language used by New Labour and Blair, is nevertheless on the language of newspaper reporting, which is one way of investigating how much influence the New Labour project managed to have on the language of politics outside Westminster itself. The New Labour period began in 1994 at a Labour Party conference in which the slogan ‘New Labour’ first appeared. ‘New Labour, New Life for Britain’ was later used (in 1996) in a draft manifesto and it became the rallying cry for the party as it progressed towards the electoral success which followed from this rebranding of a previously socialist political party to a post-Thatcherite party of both market economics and social justice. Although the New Labour project started earlier than 1997, our research takes the years of Blair’s premiership as our focus. This is for two reasons: First, we are interested in the general language of news rather than the language of Labour itself, so we needed to be sure that we were looking at news texts that were likely to be reflecting the zeitgeist of the Labour government rather than that of the Major government that preceded it. Secondly, for the purpose of this research to be comparable to future potential projects looking at news language under


Keywords in the Press

other prime ministers and governments, we needed a clearly delineated period. For this reason, we took the years of Blair’s incumbency as our period of study. The language of politicians is perpetually interesting and much studied (e.g. Beard 2000; Chilton and Schaffner 1996; Hudson 1978; Joseph 2006; Shapiro 1984). The language of the news is also the focus of a great deal of linguistic and other research in the humanities (e.g. van Dijk 1988; Fairclough 1995; Teo 2000; see also the outputs from the Glasgow University Media Group1). However, the language of news, as it concerns and is affected by the language of politics, is a less well-travelled research route within linguistics (but see e.g. Fowler 1991; Kress 1983; and for a discourse studies perspective, see Moeller 2009), even though the close relationship between the press and politicians is well known and is often criticized as dysfunctional. Popular dissatisfaction with politics (see, e.g. Stoker 2006) and with the press is high and growing, and there is a tendency for some of this dissatisfaction to be focused on the mistrust that the language of politics produces. The Orwellian nightmare of totalitarian and explicit control over language has been superseded by the more subtle, but perhaps more terrifying, spectacle of democratic leaders changing language to suit their own ends, not least by taking over everyday words and developing new semantic (denotational or connotational) or pragmatic meanings for them. We have focused on Blair’s time as a period when a number of significant changes appeared to be taking place in the sociopolitical landscape whereby the two main parties (Conservative and Labour) were increasingly located in the same part of the political spectrum, and the language of certain aspects of post-Thatcherite Britain produced a new and inescapable set of ideological absolutes. This chapter, which introduces the background to the research, (i) describes the importance and the contemporary relevance of Williams’ insights and characterization of society through its keywords; (ii) details the more recent attempts to bring linguistic knowledge to bear on his ideas; and (iii) sets out the aims of our research in using a combination of corpus linguistics and critical stylistics to discover some of the keywords of the Blair years as evidenced in the press, before (iv) setting out and discussing our research questions.

1.2  Cultural and statistical keywords In the research presented here, we use keyword in two different ways. The first reflects the original inspiration for the project, Raymond Williams’ book

Background to Keywords in the Press


(1976 [1983]) Keywords, and uses the term in a cultural sense. The second uses keyword in a statistical sense and is commonly used in corpus studies. In the rest of this section we will first introduce what we mean by corpus linguistics and keywords in the statistical sense, before going on to discuss Williams’ notion of the keyword. We then introduce research that has continued the work of Williams, including a study (Fairclough 2000a) that also explores the language of New Labour.

1.2.1  Corpus linguistics, keyness and statistical keywords A corpus is a collection of electronically stored language data or texts that have been selected to be representative of a particular language or language variety. Corpus linguistics, therefore, is the study of language using corpora (the plural of corpus), typically via the outputs of computer software designed to process large quantities of language data in various ways. It is the use of software to analyse language data that has opened up numerous methodical possibilities, including keywords analysis. Statistical keywords are commonly used in corpus linguistics and are based on the notion of keyness, which, according to Scott and Tribble (2006: 55–6), is ‘a quality words may have in a given text or set of texts, suggesting that they are important’. Keyness is determined via quantitative comparison, and is the identification of textual elements that are statistically significant in one corpus when compared with another corpus. Predominantly, the textual elements compared are word-forms and such comparisons can be routinely carried out using corpus tools.2 A keyword comparison is where all the wordforms3 and corresponding frequencies from the corpus under investigation (sometimes known as the target corpus) are compared with the word-forms and corresponding frequencies from a comparison corpus (also known as a reference corpus). This produces a list of words that are statistically overrepresented (positive keywords) or under-represented (negative keywords) in the target corpus. Mike Scott’s corpus software, Wordsmith Tools, has made the notion of quantitative keyness and keywords popular, and has been used, over the years, to good effect in many different studies (Scott 2010: 44 gives a review of such studies, but see, e.g. Culpeper 2002, 2009; O’Halloran 2007; Stubbs 2005; and Tribble 2000). In Chapter 2 we introduce our corpora and describe the comparison process that produced our initial list of statistical keywords. However, it is the detailed analysis of individual keywords in context that this research is particularly concerned with, and is the focus of Chapters 3–8.


Keywords in the Press

1.2.2  Raymond Williams’ keywords (cultural keywords) Williams’ book, unusual in its format (a list of words and long narrative definitions) and influential on cultural scholarship at the time, tried to capture something about the ideology of the post-war years, with the aim of challenging that ideology and contesting the meaning of the keywords he discussed. As Durant (2008: 125) comments: Williams’s interest was in words used to talk about the field of culture and society, words which have the effect of giving shape to our understanding and defining future priorities.

Williams’ cultural keywords therefore have dual importance since they describe the culture of the time and are used by those engaged in discussing that culture. In the words of Williams, they are ‘a shared body of words and meanings in our most general discussions, in English, of the practices and institutions which we group as culture and society’ (Williams 1983: 15). They thus form a kind of shorthand and shared vocabulary used regularly by those most likely to be reflecting on society, including politicians, business leaders and academics. One question that may arise from the notion of a shared vocabulary that is taken for granted by the movers and shakers in any society is to what extent that very assumption causes the words to become empty of meaning, as their usage increases and their meaning becomes less contested. In our study, recognizing what Durant (2008: 126) calls ‘continuing shifts of cultural and political landscape’, the emphasis is on those cultural keywords which have sociopolitical significance in a particular period. This is why we are calling them ‘sociopolitical keywords’, though we would also argue that they became widely used outside the political arena in the period concerned. These sociopolitical words, we hope to show, do indeed become emptier of meaning as their representativeness of the prevailing ideology becomes more established in the period of New Labour government in the UK. Like Williams, we too wish to characterize a period in British political history by the words of the period and in doing so question, perhaps even challenge, the ideology that they represent. Our project is thus founded on a general hypothesis that some words will be important indicators of the ideology and culture of the Blair years. However, while our underlying aims are very similar to Williams’, there are differences in our approaches. Williams chose a set of words that he thought had developed particular significance in that period. He then wrote a commentary on each word, drawing on his own extensive knowledge

Background to Keywords in the Press


and on resources such as the etymological information in the Oxford English Dictionary. Our project, by contrast, uses an inductive, data-driven approach to the discovery of sociopolitical keywords using corpus tools and statistical keywords, a concept which is not usually linked with the sociocultural sense of Williams. We are interested in demonstrating that it is possible to use corpus methods as a discovery procedure to find sociopolitically interesting keywords from a candidate list of statistical keywords using a principled set of limiting factors to reduce the list to something manageable. By doing so, we will also show that there is a connection between statistical significance and sociopolitical significance for certain word-forms.

1.2.3  Linguists revisit Williams’ keywords Our project is not alone in reflecting renewed and continuing interest in Williams’ cultural keywords in the light of corpus-based statistical keywords. For example, there is an ongoing keywords project at the University of Pittsburg and Jesus College Cambridge;4 a special issue of Critical Quarterly (2007) is devoted to the subject; and Durant’s (2006) article suggests that ‘the development of electronic search capabilities applied to large corpora of language use … encourages renewed attention to cultural keywords’ (Durant 2006: 19). We agree with Durant’s suggestion, though we use purpose-built, relatively small corpora, rather than large ready-made general corpora, to study lexical items over a relatively short, focused period of political history. This, it seems to us, is closer to the spirit of Williams’ original work, which was interested in the keywords of a historical period, though one rather longer than the New Labour years. There are other, earlier attempts to combine the insights of Williams’ work with the strengths of corpus linguistics. Stubbs (Ch 7 1996, 2002) uses some of the words from Williams’ 1976 and 1983 lists (community, standard, ethnic, racial and little) and investigates their collocational patterning in a corpus containing 200 million words of contemporary English. Although Stubbs uses Williams’ list as a starting point, he is aware of the potential problems with it, noting that it appears to be a product of Williams’ own background and identity as a ‘white male Marxist’ (Stubbs 1996: 182). We agree that the list probably reflects Williams’ own personal political and cultural biases. It is also (as Stubbs notes) out of date (it was last revised in 1983) and is therefore likely to reflect the different time in which Williams was writing. Most importantly, though, Williams himself gives no explanation for where the list comes from, and therefore, like O’Halloran (2010: 567), we were wary of using it as our starting point.


Keywords in the Press

Stubbs’ own solution to this issue is to produce a new list combining the insights of other recognized sociocultural theorists, commentators and linguists, such as Foucault, Bernstein, Giddens and Fairclough, as potential sources of (or inspiration for) cultural keywords. Stubbs (1996: 171) comments: The identification of culturally significant words will always involve personal intuition … . But having identified such words, we require a method for systematically searching for fixed phrases in corpora.

While we agree that identifying culturally important words will inevitably involve personal intuition, the approach we adopt considers the option of first using the corpus linguistic methodology to discover prospective (sociopolitically) important words from a corpus of relevant data rather than starting with a pre-existing or an intuitively compiled list of words. We then use corpus tools to understand more about the meaning(s) of the words in the context of the data in which they occur. Our approach thus endeavours to discover keywords from a set of relevant data and to make certain that the list of keywords is not anachronistic, but pertinent to the Blair period of government. Stubbs identifies a further problem with using Williams’ keyword list: it is difficult to capture politically and socially important words without getting caught up in very short-term ‘buzz words’. We see this as a less serious problem and indeed we are precisely interested in looking at the way that words might take on political or cultural significance in a limited period, particularly where they may also have some influence on the prevailing ideology. Although there could be some very short-lived neologisms or buzz words which hardly have time to be of great impact, we nevertheless suggest that the investigation of lexical items over much shorter periods can be insightful. As we will see in Section 1.3.3, Jeffries (2003) focuses on ‘emergent meanings’ of water over a period of water shortage, while Jeffries (2011) considers the usage and specific meanings of radicalization and democracy, both of which are politically contested, in a particular period of time. These studies demonstrate the potential and often quite subtle alterations in the semantics of apparently quite everyday lexical items and show their importance in naturalizing ideologies and thereby potentially influencing political and cultural events. Though there may be projects that could use our methods to investigate the wider historical spread that interested Williams (and by implication Stubbs), in this project we deliberately set out to discover and describe the usage of words in a more limited timescale that matches the dynamic of British political events.

Background to Keywords in the Press


1.2.4  Keywords and the language of New Labour It was recognized early on in Blair’s leadership of the party that the language used in describing the proposed New Labour programme of reform was aimed at changing the thinking of the electorate. Fairclough’s (2000a) book, New Labour, New Language?, analyses this phenomenon using statistical keywords as a starting point, which he generates by comparing a small corpus of New Labour texts with a corpus of ‘old’ Labour texts. The strongest of the keywords are reported5 to be: we, welfare, new, Britain, partnership, schools, people, crime, reform, deliver, promote, business, deal, tough and young. These and other wordforms, apparently not statistical keywords but presumably seen as sociopolitically important, such as family, change, society and equality, are explored in relation to a number of themes and ‘discourses’ relating to New Labour (including social exclusion, competition and cooperation, community and civic society), the rhetorical style of Tony Blair, and the language of government. Fairclough’s account includes analyses of short extracts from various texts including government documents, speeches, pamphlets and books which are introduced as representative of New Labour’s way of presenting various aspects of the world (such as the global economy) more generally. There is little information on how this representativeness was arrived at and one of our aims in this study was to address the potential methodological circularity of this kind of work by being as rigorous as possible in all the stages of our work. Our study of a slightly different dataset from the Blair years supports some of Fairclough’s (2000a) conclusions concerning New Labour and their language. However, at the outset of our study, we were not aiming to demonstrate one simple view of the New Labour project, but were interested instead in examining the reporting of the Blair years to see what keywords – and what ideological values – were being used by the commentating class. As the reader will see in the following chapters, the research presented in this book continues to investigate and demonstrate how, through language, New Labour created a particular world view, and shows that this language – and therefore world view – was adopted, even if at times critically, by the broadsheet newspapers of the time.

1.3  Analytical and theoretical background In this section we introduce critical stylistics (Jeffries 2010a) and discuss the interface between this and corpus linguistics. As we noted above, corpus


Keywords in the Press

linguistics utilizes corpora and computer tools to study language. Stylistics is, very generally, the study of style in language, using methods, theories and concepts from linguistics (Leech and Short 2007: 1). The aim of stylistics is to study the relationship between linguistic forms and their functions within a text (Leech and Short 2007: 3), in order to attempt to explain how texts create meaning. Critical stylistics (Jeffries 2010a) is a strand of stylistics that is specifically concerned with the interaction between language, ideology and power, and takes the position that ideology is frequently identifiable through the analysis of textual choices. Below we introduce critical stylistics in more detail, including some of its theoretical underpinnings, and outline the current set of analytical tools. We finish by discussing how corpus linguistics and critical stylistics can be combined.

1.3.1  Critical stylistics This project depends to some extent on the critical stylistics framework developed by Jeffries (2010a, 2013, 2014, 2015a,b) which theorizes a level of ‘textual’ meaning between the semantic and the pragmatic, whereby the text presents events and processes and creates relationships by a number of textual means, which we refer to as ‘textual-conceptual functions’ (hereafter TCFs). These TCFs include well-known Hallidayan notions such as: transitivity, where the choice of verb type affects the potential number of – and relationship between – participants; modality, which Halliday sees as interpersonal, but we treat as primarily textual; and deixis, which is the foundation of text world theory (Werth 1999) and is the basis of the creation of space and time in a text. The list of TCFs also includes prioritization, which links to information structure; negation (Nahajec 2009); equating and opposition (Davies 2013; Jeffries 2010b); enumeration and exemplification; and speech thought and writing presentation (Semino and Short 2004). What these TCFs have in common is that they draw upon the underlying system of language (the grammar and lexis in particular) to produce the building blocks of textual meaning through co-textual means. The reason why this framework is important to fields designating themselves ‘critical’ is that the TCFs produce the kind of meaning which is at the level of background assumptions about the world being described. Rather than just the proposition of its sentences, a text produces many meanings which depend on the relationships being backgrounded by the structure. So, ‘That’s a cow pat, not a roundabout!’ when said (by a rather rude visitor) to a village resident giving directions to the stranger, could indicate that the roundabout being pointed out is rather small to his/her urban way of thinking. The proposition relies for its

Background to Keywords in the Press


effect on the unconventional opposition between the two referents, on the basis of the frame: ‘X, not Y’. This leads the hearer to think of X and Y as opposites by their juxtaposition in the frame, but they are dependent on conventional oppositions such as big/small (based on the hearer’s background knowledge) and maybe also urban (= sophisticated) versus rural (= unsophisticated) in order to be interpreted successfully. The ideology that urban lifestyles are to be valued above rural ones is slipped into this imagined conversation between strangers while its more ideational meaning (see below) may be that it (the roundabout) is rather small. Note that the constructed oppositional meaning (cow pats are the opposite of roundabouts) is not at the level of the sentence’s proposition, but is nevertheless part of its meaning. The full (current) list of TCFs is as follows: ●●










Naming and Describing – what is packaged into noun phrases by the head noun and its modification. Representing Actions/Events/States – the transitivity choices reflected by the verbs in a text. Equating and Contrasting – the construction of equivalence and opposition in texts by means of structures which act as triggers. Exemplifying and Enumerating – the textual effects of listing, which can be comprehensive (enumerating) or symbolic (exemplifying) and many shades between. Prioritizing – the relative focal effect of placing items high in the grammatical structure versus the backgrounding of items placed lower down. Assuming and Implying – presuppositions and conventional (i.e. textual) implicatures. Negating – the construal of both positive and negative scenarios by negated text. Hypothesizing – the effects of modality on the production of textual concepts. Presenting the Speech and Thoughts of other Participants – the framing of others’ ideas and words. Representing Time, Space and Society – deixis and its effect on the text world.

As we explain in Chapter 2, we used the TCFs as appropriate in the analysis of individual concordance lines to aid our understanding of how the emergent meaning (see below) of lexical items can be traced through this kind of corpus study. This is partly how we see corpus linguistics and critical stylistics combining:


Keywords in the Press

we think that some kind of rigorously applied stylistic framework is needed in order to interpret the patterns of language found in corpus data (e.g. concordance lines). It seems to us that some sort of (stylistic) framework needs to be applied in order to be able to claim that the analysis is systematic and rigorous. Whereas we appreciate the ideological insights of critical discourse analysis approaches in general terms, we do not find in that body of work any text-analytic framework comprehensive enough to be applied to our data. What critical stylistics tries to achieve is a comprehensive set of analytical tools, some of which have been used by critical discourse analysts, some of them specific to critical stylistics and some of them deriving from stylistics more broadly. This set of tools, we would claim, all operate at a similar level of meaning, situated somewhere between the linguistic (propositional) and the interactional (pragmatic). This ‘textual’ level of meaning creates the ideational world (see below) of the text upon which the propositional and pragmatic meaning build. It is largely backgrounded and for that reason it has the power to naturalize ideological assumptions which may not be consciously noted by the recipient of the text.

1.3.2  Ideation and ideology A main ingredient in the theoretical underpinning of this study is the connection between the related but different notions of ideation and ideology. Texts use the resources of the language to present a particular view of the world. Ideation is the creation of a text world and it shows what the world looks like, who inhabits it and how the inhabitants behave. The concept of a text world is most often discussed in relation to fictional texts (see, e.g. Gavins 2007), but it is also relevant to nonfictional texts because our views of the ‘real’ world differ, and it is in the differences between our world views that ideological values can become important. Ideology can be seen as referring to sets of values and/or beliefs that are held by a group of people or by a society as a whole. At one extreme, ideology is used to refer to the views that people you disagree with hold; everyone else is ideology-neutral. This is rather like claiming that only people with an accent that is different to your own have an accent. At the other extreme, ideology is everywhere; it is present in all texts at all times, not just in those which are clearly at odds with mainstream views, or explicitly prejudiced for/against certain people or ideas. The latter view can lead to ideology being seen as little more than the surface meaning of a text, which can undermine the usefulness of ideology as a term by making it too general.

Background to Keywords in the Press


Clearly, though, some texts have low levels of ideological interest, such as this invented sentence, I had fish and chips for dinner last night. Such a statement is harder to link to a system of values (i.e. ideologies) than, say, the following text (associated with 1950s/60s London boarding houses): No blacks. No Irish. No dogs. When we ask our students about the latter text, they often say that the ideology is that blacks, Irish and dogs are not allowed/desired in the boarding house. While the text does indeed create a world where certain ethnic groups/races and a particular species of animal are barred from seeking lodgings at houses displaying this sign, this is not the ideology of the text but the propositional meaning (and the illocutionary force), which is created using certain linguistic forms. Other students do correctly suggest that below the propositional meaning lie a set of beliefs that see some ethnic groups (and animals) as undesirable or less important or inferior to other ethnic groups, and that this is acceptable. The text, therefore, presents a racist world view, and students usually explain this by returning to the propositional meaning of the text, which denies access to lodgings on the basis of race, arguing that this is therefore racist. Such an explanation ignores an important textual feature that suggests a more specific belief, whereby the text, through repetition of a particular grammatical structure (i.e. parallelism), creates equivalence between certain elements in the text: blacks, Irish, dogs. The text thus lowers the status of human beings belonging to two particular ethnic groups to that of dogs. This is a clear example of equivalence, using a listing structure, which is constructed by the text. We can see from this example that the text presents a world view which has an attached ideology that (i) can be linked to the linguistic level of meaning (the semantic meaning) of the text, and (ii) is constructed by the text at what we call the textual-conceptual level of meaning. The latter is where the text producer decides: how to name things; how to describe processes, actions, etc.; whether the text world is certain, desirable, etc.; whether two things/people are opposites or equivalent; how to present speech and thought; and what to assume or imply. In other words, the TCFs of critical stylistics, which we introduced above. Ideology, then, comes into play where ideational processes in texts produce textual-conceptual worlds which have values attached to them, and ideologies can be attached more or less implicitly/explicitly. In the No blacks. No Irish. No dogs example, the propositional meaning of the text (people denied access on the basis of race) is more explicitly racist than the textually constructed equivalence

Keywords in the Press


between certain ethnic groups and dogs. Of course, the text could have expressed the text producer’s beliefs more explicitly by stating something like: I believe that not all races are equal and that black and Irish people are inferior to white English people. In fact, they are equivalent to dogs, which I think are unclean and smell, and therefore I do not want them to stay in my guesthouse.

Critical stylistics takes inspiration from critical linguistics and critical discourse analysis in being more interested in the implicit than in the explicit ideologies in texts. The development of a framework of TCFs makes possible a more systematic approach to the description of these implicit ideologies. The explicit ideologies are easier to spot and easier to critique or disagree with. As a result, they are less commonly used with manipulative intent, though this is not impossible. Ideologies that are expressed explicitly are usually self-consciously and sincerely held views which, even though they might be malicious or unpleasant, are less likely to be used by those seeking to persuade others by underhand means. Some ideologies, which are usually implicit rather than explicit in texts, become so embedded in a culture that they seem to be common sense and therefore ‘naturalized’. Such ideologies can be, at times, difficult to spot and as a result are more difficult to argue with.

1.3.3  Emergent meaning The other main ingredient in the theoretical underpinning of this study is the notion of emergent meaning. This idea is first investigated in detail in relation to the lexical item water in Jeffries (2003) where the crisis over a shortage of water in Yorkshire (one of the UK’s wettest regions) produced local reporting which formed a time-limited snapshot of how a very common general noun can sometimes take on specific semantic features in the context of a particular news story or political debate. Here, water was found from its co-text to have been constructed discoursally as a commodity, rather than a natural resource, and as ‘an inert, passive substance with no agency of its own and at the mercy of its human “owners”’ (Jeffries 2003: 535). However, evidence from a large corpus (The Bank of English) showed water being used more generally as: the Actor in Event processes; a mass noun which is relatively rarely described in terms of units (e.g. litres); or as the Goal of a Material Action. A later development of this concept of emergent meaning is to be found in Jeffries (2011), which investigates the developing meaning of two significant words of the time: radicalization and democracy during the years when Blair

Background to Keywords in the Press


was prime minister of the UK. This chapter makes the point that such subtle semantic shifts in lexical meaning are not as obvious as the explicit control over language that can be seen in some totalitarian regimes: More invidious in some ways is the process by which those of us living in a ‘free’ society may find ourselves using words differently as a result of a strong political climate. This, of course, is fundamentally the same process by which words change meaning generally, and it is partly for this reason that politically driven changes are potentially so powerful, since they operate beneath the radar of language users’ conscious choices. (Jeffries 2011: 37–8)

The two words focused on in this study were already hypothesized through the researcher’s observation to have changed meaning within the recent past. In the case of radicalization, although the researcher knew it to have had positive connotations in living memory, it had almost completely lost the potential to be a celebrated quality and had become universally feared (and almost as universally attached to Islamic extremism). In the case of democracy, the opposite seemed to be the case; the word had moved from being complex and contested (see Williams 1983), to being greeted as an ‘absolute good’ with no room for discussion about its nature or its value. Occurrences of these two words were analysed and compared in newspaper data from 1998 (the start of the Blair premiership) and 2007 (the final year Blair was prime minister). The findings from this study include some that are relevant to the current project. First, the word radicalization by 2007 was not only almost exclusively used to refer to the development of extreme versions of Islam, it had almost become so predictable that an unmodified (bald) form of the word was often to be seen in the data, with the inference that Islamism is the focus: ‘in danger of radicalism’ (Jeffries 2011: 45). This in turn leads to an unquestioning use of terms like radicalisation to describe the process by which (mainly) young Muslim men in Britain and elsewhere have been persuaded to become suicide bombers. (Jeffries 2011: 45)

As we will see in Chapters 3–8 of this book, one significant and repeated feature of the keywords we have been investigating is that they become so well known for their emergent meanings that the usual collocational and other signs of their ideology or value are no longer needed. The early-twenty-first-century reader will not be surprised, being inured by now to the clash of ideologies continuing to dominate our world, that radicalization is evaluatively negative and implies Islamic fundamentalism by default. But in fact the 1998 data was much less


Keywords in the Press

clear in its negative overtones, as seen in the rather more approving example the radicalization of the Women’s Institute and other examples where the evaluation was even more clearly positive, as when the radicalization of American cinema was described as lovely. Although the trajectory of democracy was in the alternative direction, towards singular meaning and positive evaluation (from a starting point of neutral or contested definitions, rather than negative evaluation), the same kinds of observations were made in examining the two different time periods. In 1998, the word-form democracy was often modified (e.g. modern democracy; enlightened democracy; a liberal democracy) in relation to the kind of democracy that was meant, whereas in 2007, the tendency was towards constructing oppositions between, for example, Western democracy and other forms of government. In addition, the data showed that democracy regularly starts to appear alongside other more long-established absolute positive values (e.g. the principles of freedom, democracy and justice around the globe) and is often found unmodified as an undifferentiated concept (e.g. When will democracy end and racism start?) (Jeffries 2011: 51). As we will aim to show in later chapters, this pattern of local adjustment of lexical meaning is common to a great many of the apparently everyday words that turn out to be significant markers of the naturalized ideology of the Blair years. In particular, an increase in the Blair Corpus of what we are calling ‘bald, unmodified’ occurrences of keywords, where they are used entirely without modification (either before or after) so their meaning is left underspecified and assumed to be transparent, is perhaps the most striking finding of the whole study. As it turns out, it is also common across the political landscape, and we have more recent work on the word-form austerity (Jeffries and Walker forthcoming) which shows a similar pattern continuing.

1.3.4  Corpus stylistics While corpus linguistics has responded to the rapidly increasing power of computers by developing larger and larger corpora and different ways to automatically derive linguistic information from them, including, for example, different ways of ‘visualizing’ the data, there is a small (but growing) backwater of corpus linguistics, which we choose to call corpus stylistics, where the virtues of a (relatively) small corpus are central to the enterprise. At one extreme, therefore, we have the power to find out what linguistic norms exist in very large populations of data, such as British English in the early 1990s, where some

Background to Keywords in the Press


kind of sampling technique is needed from the immense amount of potential data, despite the available computational power. At the other extreme, we may wish to find out what patterns can be established in the works of a single writer, where it is possible to collect the dataset in its entirety and sampling is not needed. At and between these two extremes, the available techniques of analysis vary. So, at the ‘big data’ extreme, computational techniques of presenting results and patterns, and statistical techniques of evaluating them, are a valuable way of investigating the data. It is less feasible to investigate individual concordance lines (still less their extended context), of which there could be many thousands, and therefore some sort of structured sampling of concordances (e.g. when no new patterns emerge in the data, then sampling stops) is usually required. At the other extreme, very small datasets do not lend themselves to corpus study, since (statistically valid) patterns are less likely to emerge. Between these two extremes, relatively small corpora, which are nevertheless too large to investigate purely by hand, combine the strength and speed of computational techniques with the insights of analysis by hand and by their nature are suited to investigating stylistic effects, which can be seen in simple terms as the result of producer (author) choices in expression (style). They can also demonstrate discourse style, with the resulting ideological effects, as Jeffries (2003: 521) states: One can therefore make tentative claims about the discourse surrounding a particular event or issue based on such a corpus, where a single text would not be sufficient. An advantage of the small corpus is that it can be used to focus on particular events and/or local contexts … rather than discovering patterns that obtain across a very large area of usage.

There are very many interesting questions that can be asked of huge corpora about the norms of the language across a wide range of genres and text-types, but these large-scale questions and their answers smooth over the smallerscale variations in usage and resulting semantic fluctuation that contribute to the bigger picture. We therefore think that there is a place for research that uses the data-structuring advantages of corpus linguistics combined with the potential of stylistic analysis, guided by analytical frameworks, to add to our understanding of the ways in which language is used in smaller, well-defined and often time-limited corpora. This kind of focused corpus linguistic work is well suited to answering questions about literary style, but it also lends itself to answering questions about usage in non-literary genres such as


Keywords in the Press

political language, the press, the courtroom, the classroom and so on. It is this combination of the more automated and statistical methodologies of corpus linguistics, and the detailed, interpretative analytical elements of stylistics that make corpus stylistics. Our corpus stylistic approach reported in this book uses the available resources of current software to find salient patterns of occurrence in the data and organize the results in order to facilitate detailed, co-textual analysis of whatever aspect of the data is under scrutiny. We find that the immediate syntactically defined surroundings of the search term (rather than an arbitrary number of words each side of it) are important to help us understand the sociopolitical significance of any purely statistical result and pattern. We are deliberately avoiding using the terms quantitative and qualitative here, because although the earlier, patternfinding, stages of this kind of study are inevitably somewhat quantitative in nature, as keywords are based on statistical comparisons, and the latter stages of detailed contextual analysis are not fundamentally statistical, there are decisions made at each stage of the process which can be quantitative in some aspects and qualitative in others. We also wish to avoid the over-simple (and incorrect) tendency of equating quantitative investigation with objectivity and qualitative analysis with subjectivity. Therefore, we present our study as having a number of stages, some more quantitative and statistical than others, but all contributing to the answers to the same two research questions. Our preferred touchstone of scientific quality is, therefore, not objectivity (though we strive for that too) but the three principles set out by Simpson (2004): rigour, retrievability and replicability (Simpson 2004: 4). As long as our work is transparent in its premises, objectives, methods and results, we are confident that others can engage with it, critique it and ultimately improve it, with every confidence that they understand how we derived our results from the data. We discuss our methods of analysis in more detail in the following chapter, and within our analysis chapters.

1.4  The keywords of the Blair years project As we explained at the start of this chapter, our aim for the project reported here was to find and then investigate the sociopolitical keywords of the Blair years, with a view to establishing how the use of language in this period of government had an impact on the general ideology of the times. Our goal was the kind of zeitgeist temperature-taking that Raymond Williams seemed

Background to Keywords in the Press


to be doing in an earlier period, but using modern computing techniques to add some rigour to the discovery of the words we were investigating. In this section, we will explain a little more about the basis of the project, its frames of reference and the origins of our research questions in hypotheses derived from earlier work.

1.4.1  The rationale for this project There is something fascinating about the effects of all of the realistic options in a first-past-the-post electoral system being crammed into what is euphemistically called ‘the centre ground’, though its tendencies towards a free market economy must surely be seen as right of centre in fact. What happens to political commentary when there is only really one game in town? How do the words of the time reflect that absolute assurance of the political class that the particular combination of state control and rhetoric of freedom and democracy are somehow unquestionably right? These vague questions are some of the motivations behind the general ‘hunch’ that forms the background to this study. We were certain that something interesting happened in the Blair years and that it was partly a response to the language of Blair and his advisors and colleagues, in particular the use of certain words. Of course, in the context of ever more sophisticated software to investigate linguistic corpora, one might ask why the individual lexical item is even of interest to researchers. The development of semantic tagging software (for example, the semantic analysis system developed at Lancaster University,6 which is being improved still further by the incorporation of the Historical Thesaurus of English to disambiguate polysemous senses7), has, to some extent, altered the focus of corpus linguistics to the general semantic patterning of corpora, rather than the specific lexis or its context and co-text. However, there are a number of reasons why it will remain of interest to linguists to see how particular lexical items are used in corpora. These include the need to understand the creation of lexical meaning through usage, as it is now widely understood to be the engine of semantic change (Croft 2000; Langacker 2000). And, in specific corpora such as ours, it includes the wish to examine the rise of politically significant (although sometimes semantically empty) lexis reflecting the ideology/ies of a ruling class, political party or historical period. Thus, in our case, we are attempting to trace the development of individual words that encompass a composite set of elements of meaning relevant to the period of use and the prevailing political climate, and semantic domain analysis does

Keywords in the Press


not provide the kind of information that will help us establish how a word is behaving in a particular set of data.

1.4.2  Research questions This study is one that endeavours to discover whether there are sociopolitical keywords that characterize the period when Tony Blair was prime minister of the UK, not by considering the language of Blair and his colleagues, as Fairclough (2000a) does, but to see to what extent the language of broadsheet journalism showed signs of reflecting the ideological landscape of the UK under Blair’s government. The project being reported on here started out with a simple question: What are the sociopolitical keywords of the Blair years? The answer we present in this book is the following list: ●●






choice global reform respect spin terror

This list is, of course, shorter than it could have been; indeed, there are other candidate words, discussed in the next chapter, that we – or others – could investigate at a later stage. However, the list begins to show that there is a set of apparently inconsequential words that carried a very great – and naturalized – ideological load in the Blair years. Our quest in this book is to investigate these six words in detail, starting with the question of how we arrived at this list. Our research questions are therefore as follows:

RQ1. What were the sociopolitical keywords of the years 1997–2008, as evidenced in the British (broadsheet) press? The reasons for focusing on broadsheet rather than tabloid newspapers were that the producers and the readers of such papers are likely to constitute the section of the population that spends most time thinking about political, social and cultural issues that affect the prevailing ideological landscape of the country. The tabloid usage of the time is not without interest, of course, but in the spirit of Williams’ original work, we were concerned here to identify the keywords of the intelligentsia or the cultural commentators with a view to seeing whether they reflect something of the New Labour language.

Background to Keywords in the Press


RQ2. Did they develop (ideological) meanings specific to this period? As well as identifying the sociopolitical keywords of the Blair years, we wanted to establish whether there was, as seemed possible, a tendency for such words to develop particular meanings in the corpus we had collected. We were interested in meanings that took the words out of the realm of everyday language and made them more of a shorthand, specialized or ideologically loaded language that an in-group or ruling class might use to build up the kind of doublespeak that Orwell parodied in 1984 and that Fairclough (2000a) identifies in the language of the New Labour Party itself: The language of the ‘Third Way’ is a rhetoric of reconciliation – ‘economic dynamism as well as social justice’, ‘enterprise as well as fairness’. The ‘old’ politics misguidedly thought you had to choose between these, but you don’t! … Doesn’t New Labour’s absolute rejection of state ‘interference’ in the economy mean that the language of the ‘Third Way’ is just that – mere words, empty rhetoric? (Fairclough 2000a: viii–ix)

So, the second part of our project, which takes up the bulk of this book, explains what we found when we started to investigate in detail the contextually produced meanings of our keywords.

RQ3. What (if any) were the emergent meanings? This question is closely linked to our previous questions, but asks more specifically how the words begin to take on specific semantic features in the context of the newspaper data that we assembled. We answer this question over the course of the following chapters.

1.4.3 Discussion Although this is a bottom-up (inductive) study of the language of the broadsheet press in the Blair years, it is nevertheless based on what we called a ‘hunch’ at the start of this section. This ‘hunch’ grows out of not only the observations of politically curious citizens, but also from our knowledge of linguistics and our prior research (Jeffries 2003, 2011; Evans and Jeffries 2015), which indicates that focused periods of time in specific political arenas can evidence lexical change leading to naturalized ideologies that become difficult to question or even to conceive of questioning. Why, for example, would anyone argue against the availability of (politically provided) choice when it is increasingly seen as almost a ‘right’, even though it may in fact be offered as a smokescreen for the privatization of public services such as health and education?


Keywords in the Press

There may be all sorts of problems in practice with policies offering choice in these fields, but the bald question of whether people would, or would not, like to be offered choice – in any field – clearly loads the dice towards the notion that having choice is best. Once words such as choice, that appear to be taking on a significance greater than normal in a particular period, are investigated, it becomes clear that the contextual usage of lexical items over a quite short period can raise them to the status of ‘absolute good’ like those words which have a longer-lived status of this kind, including freedom, democracy and equality. Once the transformation from an everyday word to a sociopolitical keyword, possibly with some kind of absolute value (positive or negative), is completed, the question of how we interpret these values or ideologies becomes less an issue than the fact that they are being offered by our political masters at all. Though well-established absolutes, such as freedom and democracy, might not feature so frequently in debates once they have been accepted as unquestioned (but see Jeffries 2011 for insights into the use of democracy), there appears to be a period of heavy usage of words while they are becoming established as such. This is true of some of the keywords in our study.

1.5  Summary and structure of the book In this chapter we have defined the framework we are using for this project, and outlined its rationale and how it links to a wider and longer-term set of research objectives. As we said earlier, our main concerns were to use corpus stylistic methods to identify and then investigate words that could be seen as sociopolitically key in the reporting of the Blair years, particularly if they were being used in ways which reflected the political ideologies of the time. As we will see in the next chapter, there were other candidates than the six that were followed up here. Partly for reasons of time and space, we needed to limit the detailed investigation to a small handful of words, though one of the points we will make later is that these words are relatively few in number compared with the vocabulary as a whole. Nevertheless, we were at pains to make sure that we used a methodology which others could follow and/or critique – including the reduction of our candidate list of keywords to something more manageable. In the next chapter, we give perhaps more information about our methods than is common in books like this. We understand that many readers will be more interested in the (quotable) results of our investigation, but we feel strongly that for other researchers who may wish to replicate this study, or perhaps try out a

Background to Keywords in the Press


similar study on different data, it is vital to know exactly what we did. This lays us open, we realize, to potential criticisms that we could sidestep if we were a little less frank, but this is surely how progress in research – and particularly in research methodology – is made.

1.5.1  The structure of this book In the next chapter we outline the methodology of our research. Then, in the following chapters, we discuss in detail each of the six keywords we singled out for special attention. The titles of each of the six analysis chapters are all derived from examples found in the data, and each shares a similar structure in that we report the frequencies of the keyword in question, discuss the meaning senses of the word as reported in online versions of the Oxford English Dictionary, before going on to report the findings from our data. Although dictionaries cannot be said to be the absolute arbiter(s) of lexical meaning, since this changes through time, space and context, the practice of lexicography gives us some baseline meaning of the words we are investigating against which to compare our own data. Some lexicographical practice uses evidence of the history of the word to conclude that one sense of a word is more basic than another, while others use corpus evidence to demonstrate the dominance of one sense or word-class over another. Dictionaries, therefore, provide one snapshot of the relative meanings of a single word from among a number of possibilities. While the chapters share a similar structure and all share a common interest in the emergent meanings of the keywords, they differ to some extent in their specific analytical focus and methods, with each analysis being driven by the individual properties of the keyword and the way it behaves in the data. In the final chapter, we reflect on our research, our methodology, our results, and look forward to other research possibilities.

1.5.2  Conventions used in this book At this point, we should make clear that we are deliberately using ‘word’, ‘wordform’ and ‘lexical item’ pretty much interchangeably, which may be irritating for some lexical semanticists among our readers. This is because there may well be some readers who are not linguists and are not accustomed to the terminology of linguistics. We also think it is relatively harmless in that we are mainly interested in words that have few forms and, indeed, we focus largely on the single form that is marked out as statistically key, rather than collecting together


Keywords in the Press

different forms of the lemmas. Where we do need to refer to lemmas (also called lexemes) in the analysis of the context of our keywords, we follow Stubbs (2002: 25) and use uppercase letters when referring to lemmas, and lower-case italics when referring to individual word-forms. For example, the lemma BE can be realized in a text by the word-forms am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been. We label polysemous senses of a lexeme using the convention of lower-case letters to indicate that they are related senses. We also differentiate between word-forms and concepts. When we are discussing the behaviour of a word-form in our corpora, we will italicize the word-form, whereas when we are referring to the concept that the word-form denotes, the word will be non-italicized. There are times when differentiating between word-form and concept is difficult, but we have attempted to be consistent where possible. Where we summarize syntactic and other patterns, we use a combination of upper case letters for lemmas, italics for word-forms and small capitals for wordclasses and other grammatical classifications (e.g. noun; verb; modifier). We use LL to mean log-likelihood in tables throughout.


Methods and Data

2.1 Introduction In the last chapter, we outlined the background to our study, explaining the combination of corpus and critical stylistic approaches that we took to answer our research questions. Our article (Jeffries and Walker 2012) introduces the methods of data collection and enquiry that we used, but here we give a more detailed account of the process of constructing the corpora used in this research and explain how they were interrogated. Throughout the project we used AntConc 3.4.4w (Anthony 2014), which is one of a suite of a freeware corpus tools developed by Laurence Anthony, to interrogate our data. AntConc is quick and easy to download from its companion website,1 does not require any installation and is straightforward to use. We therefore find it an excellent tool for both teaching corpus linguistics and carrying out research projects on small- to medium-sized corpora, like those used in this study. For the sake of clarity, particularly for those new to the field of corpus linguistics, we explain how we utilized2 AntConc first of all to discover the prospective cultural keywords in the data by calculating the statistically significant keywords, and then to organize the data relating to our chosen keywords for more detailed and contextual analysis. Between these two stages, we had to find ways to reduce the candidate list of keywords and this required a process which could not be done by computer. We explain below how we tried to make this as rigorous and defensible a process as possible.

2.2  Corpus construction To answer our research questions, we used two corpora: the first consisting of the data from the newspaper reporting of the Blair years (our target corpus);


Keywords in the Press

and the second performing the role of reference corpus against which our target corpus could be compared. The target corpus consisted of newspaper articles from 1998 through to 2007 (the first and final full years respectively of Blair’s premiership). The reference corpus was required to generate statistical keywords, which are the words in the target corpus that are over-represented3 by statistical comparison with relative frequencies in the reference corpus. The choice of reference corpus can, to some extent, affect the keywords obtained (see Scott 2009 for a discussion of reference corpus choice). Typical approaches to corpus comparison compare research data with either (i) a much larger reference corpus that represents some kind of norm of the language in general or (ii) a similar sized, similarly constructed corpus. Since we wanted to demonstrate change between two relatively focused periods of time so that our sociopolitical keywords would be representative of the Blair years, rather than a general latetwentieth-century period, we took approach (ii). Our reference corpus therefore contained comparable data (i.e. newspaper articles from the same broadsheets used in our target corpus) from a time period immediately prior to the Blair years: 1991 through to 1996 – the first and final full years that John Major was prime minister. We sourced our data from an online database of newspapers. The amount of relevant data potentially available in the database was more than we could practically deal with in the time allowed by the project. We therefore placed limitations on the data we collected: 1. We only collected articles from three national broadsheet newspapers: The Guardian, The Times and The Independent. The other UK broadsheet, The Telegraph, was not available across the whole ten-year period of the Blair premiership, nor was it available at all for the years when Major was prime minister, so we decided not to use this newspaper. Though we originally considered collecting data from tabloid newspapers, we decided that the kinds of words we were interested in – and those closest to Williams’ kind of keyword – were those that tend to have currency among the likely readers of the broadsheets, who are generally reckoned to reflect a higher social status and educational background than tabloid readers. Investigating the keywords of tabloid journalism is likely to produce different results and though this would be an interesting comparison in itself, it was not our main aim in this project. 2. We were selective about the articles we retrieved, and included only news articles that dealt with political or current affairs, and not, for example,

Methods and Data


football or celebrity gossip. We achieved this in part by selecting only those articles which contained specific search terms. For the Blair Corpus we used: Labour AND/OR Blair AND/OR Government, and for the Major Corpus we used: Conservative AND/OR Major AND/OR government. We then sorted the articles in order of relevance using the web-based interface so that those containing the highest number of instances of our search terms were at the top of the list. While doing this gave us a better chance collecting articles about politics in the UK, the resulting list of articles returned by the database search tool still required some manual sifting in order to remove new stories not concerned with politics. Therefore, prior to downloading the articles, we vetted articles for suitability, rejecting those that were not about UK politics. Our approach here was necessarily less automatic, and relied on researcher judgements about the relevance of the topic. For example, we rejected articles to do with childbirth, which contained many instances of the word labour and therefore ranked fairly highly by relevance,4 and those that reported on foreign governments, or labour movements in other countries. 3. We set a size limit for our corpora of around 15 million words each. This number was chosen because of issues of practicality, what Hunston (2002) calls ‘pragmatic issues’. The constraints of the project meant we had a limited time for corpus building, and the downloading and manual vetting of files for the corpora, described in (2), took a considerable length of time. Despite these restrictions, we considered the resulting corpora sufficient in terms of both size and relevance of data to yield satisfactorily robust results. Relevant articles were downloaded from the database as plain text files and amalgamated into one file for each newspaper for each year, with each file containing enough articles to satisfy our word-count requirement. For both our research and reference corpora, we spread our data collection evenly across the time periods represented by our two corpora and across the three broadsheet newspapers. For the Blair Corpus, we collected approximately 0.5 million words per newspaper, per year, and for the Major Corpus, we collected approximately 0.8 million words per newspaper, per year. Table 2.1 shows the profile of our corpus for the Blair years, which we refer to as the Blair Corpus throughout this book. The corpus is approximately 14.8 million words in size, and comprises thirty plain text files (ten for each newspaper) of approximately 500,000 words each. Our reference corpus (see Table 2.2) comprises approximately 14.8 million words of newspaper data made up of articles from The Guardian, The Independent

Keywords in the Press


Table 2.1  Profile of the Blair Corpus

Year 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 Totals




No. of words

No. of words

No. of words

546,240 511,188 479,224 488,432 548,109 543,933 542,035 539,701 510,660 538,076 5,247,598

463,789 457,453 483,160 484,013 482,944 502,861 518,019 517,641 471,380 486,073 4,867,333

479,757 464,308 465,843 490,145 485,359 500,629 487,633 488,775 445,204 472,961 4,780,614

14,895,545 Table 2.2  Profile of the Major Corpus Guardian Year 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 Totals

No. of words 909,178 894,241 911,770 905,365 839,001 799,118 5,258,673



No. of words No. of words 992,082 750,555 989,554 641,841 728,489 605,761 4,708,282

974,234 946,840 914,734 666,482 697,461 672,684 4,872,435


and The Times from the six full years prior to Labour’s landslide victory of 1997 when the Conservatives were in power under the leadership of John Major. Our project represents an approach where the reference corpus, which we refer to as the Major Corpus, does not represent a general norm, but comprises data matched to our target corpus, allowing us to compare the language used to report two different periods of government. We are thereby comparing the reporting of what could be seen as two different (ideological) approaches to government. Once we had completed the corpora, we tagged them for parts of speech using the CLAWS tagger at Lancaster University.5 We used the tagged versions of the corpora to aid our investigations, and we report on where they were useful in Chapters 3–8.

Methods and Data


2.3  Finding the sociopolitical keywords of the Blair years In this section, we describe the steps we took to identify the sociopolitical keywords which we would later investigate in detail, to discover whether they represented some kind of naturalized ideological landscape for the years when Tony Blair was in power. First of all we needed to discover the wider list of candidates for such keywords and these were the statistically significant frequency-based keywords familiar to corpus linguistics.

2.3.1  Identifying statistical keywords As we mention in Chapter 1, statistical keywords are those words which are over- or under-represented in a corpus, and are calculated by comparing all the word-forms and their frequencies in the target corpus against all the word-forms and their frequencies in a reference corpus. In order to identify the statistical keywords for this project we used AntConc (Anthony 2014), which uses log-likelihood (LL) (Dunning 1993) calculations to determine the statistical significance of differences between word frequencies, and produces a list of all the over-represented items right down to those with an LL of zero. The comparison of the Blair Corpus with the Major Corpus produced a keyword list containing 77,127 items, which presented an impractical amount of data to investigate. We narrowed down this list first on a purely quantitative basis, and then qualitatively using data-driven categories to exclude frequent but uninteresting candidates. This process of narrowing the list is described in some detail in the following section, where our attempts at rigour and the problems we encountered are discussed. Here we explain the first, statistical, process we applied to the keyword list. One way of dealing with (long) lists of key items is to choose a significance level at which to cut the list short. Significance levels are usually given as p-values where ‘p’ stands for the probability that your results are not reached by chance. The p-values typically used in science (and social science) are p ≤ 0.05 (or the 5 per cent level), p ≤ 0.01 (or the 1 per cent level) and p ≤ 0.001 (or the 0.1 per cent level). These equate to there being a 95 per cent, 99 per cent and 99.9 per cent probability, respectively, that the results are correct and not due to chance. The even higher test value p ≤ 0.0001 (99.99 per cent) can also be used (see Rayson, Berridge and Francis 2004). These p-values have associated LL values as follows: p ≤ 0.05 = LL3.84; p ≤ 0.01 = LL6.63; p ≤ 0.001 = LL10.83; p ≤ 0.0001 = LL15.13.6 The chosen level of cut-off depends largely on the research questions and/or the needs of the research project. Butler (1985) suggests that if you are trying


Keywords in the Press

to prove/disprove a theory, then it might be well to opt for a more ‘stringent significance level’ (Butler 1985: 71), whereas, if you are ‘looking for suggestive evidence on which to decide whether further work may be useful’ (ibid.), then a higher p-value, such as the 5 per cent or 1 per cent level, might be adequate. In a situation where there are too many results to practically assess, choosing a very high cut-off point will reduce a lengthy list, possibly sufficiently to make it manageable, while selecting a lower cut-off might mean that there is still more data than can practically be handled. For this project, we used an LL cut-off value of 15.13 (p ≤ 0.0001). Applying this cut-off reduced the list of key words to 3,064 items, which is still a large number to be analysed in detail. In our project, the keyword analysis was an initial step leading to extensive researcherled analysis during which many more keywords were likely to be discarded. We opted for what we considered to be the optimum cut-off level for our study to ensure that we could answer our research questions while keeping the amount of data practical and being confident of the project’s statistical robustness. We were aware that using statistical significance alone as a starting point may produce a list of words which included very rare words. Although these may be more frequent than in the reference corpus, their comparative rarity overall would make them poor candidates for sociopolitically significant keywords in the period under consideration. We therefore decided to add a raw frequency cut-off to the statistical cut-off. There are no strict guidelines for applying frequency cut-offs, as this also depends on the research questions being asked and the restrictions of the data (see, for example, Culpeper 2009: 36). Our decision was to use a raw frequency cut-off of 500, meaning that items occurring less than 500 times in the statistical keyword list would be excluded. Using these numerical criteria, the list of 3,064 was thus reduced by this process to 899 items. It is important to note here that statistical significance does not necessarily equate to interpretative significance or, in our case, sociopolitical significance. Therefore, for this and other types of textual analytical research there needs to be a more qualitative stage of analysis in order to establish whether a keyword is important in other than just statistical ways.

2.3.2 Identifying sociopolitical keywords – narrowing down the list Having established an initial keyword list of 899 items by these two automated numerical cut-offs, the next stage of elimination required some consideration of the keywords in context in order to ascertain their relevance to our research

Methods and Data


questions. It seemed obvious and uncontentious to us that the proper nouns and grammatical words in our list of statistical keywords were not sociopolitical keywords in Williams’/our sense and could be routinely excluded from further consideration. Of course, these types of word-forms are of central importance and interest in other studies (e.g. Culpeper 2009; Leech 2005; Leech and Smith 2006), but we considered it unlikely for them to be culturally significant and for their meaning to have developed appreciably during the limited number of years we were investigating, since changes to grammatical lexis (e.g. the loss of thou in English) take place over considerably longer time periods. We therefore removed 119 grammatical words including prepositions, auxiliaries, copular verbs, conjunctions and pro-forms such as everything and something, and 259 proper nouns and other word-forms related to naming. The latter were mostly, but not exclusively, people’s names (e.g. Bush; Laden), address forms and titles (e.g. Mr; minister; lord; Ms), place names (e.g. Downing; Palestine) and names of organizations and groups (e.g. EU; UKIP). We also removed adjectives relating to nationality (e.g. Palestinian), religion (e.g. Muslim) or derived from proper names (e.g. Blairite), as well as the names of people’s roles or jobs since they are similar in discoursal function to proper nouns, because they largely have unique reference in context and are mostly uncontested in their sense relations (e.g. editor; adviser; politician; friend; supporters; troops). We considered all these types of items in our keyword list to reflect the content of the news, rather than attitudes towards it, and therefore not germane to our aims. The categories of items for exclusion so far were relatively simple to decide upon and removing such items reduced the number of statistical keywords to 521. At this stage, the process of elimination became necessarily more complex, as we attempted to exclude those words which, though statistically key, were not likely to be ideologically or conceptually important in the period under investigation. We wanted to discount from consideration those common lexical items whose reference is not contested and is likely to be concrete, whose usage does not appear to vary across contexts or through time. This included those whose occurrence is part of a multi-word unit with one or other of these qualities. In order to ensure some degree of rigour in this final process of elimination, we endeavoured to control the extent of the subjectivity by: 1. using ‘blind’ processes whereby both researchers involved with the project’s separately selected words to either keep, ignore or consider further. 2. comparing these lists and reconsidering the key items which were mismatched, using concordance lines to provide context, and discussing them until agreement was reached.


Keywords in the Press

3. using concordance lines to verify that there was some evidence of the additional linguistic criterion of shift in meaning or use. We were seeking particularly those lexical items that could be shown to develop semantically and/or grammatically in the period. After further independent analysis and subsequent discussion, we agreed fairly rapidly that there were still many other statistical keywords in our list that seemed self-evidently not sociopolitically relevant. These fell into the following categories: a. Adverbs (e.g. rightly; actually; completely; genuinely; hardly; absolutely; obviously; potentially) and adjectives (e.g. new; old; bad; good; better; best; hard; easy; difficult; important; obvious; different; controversial), including numbers (e.g. third; second; fourth). While adverbs and adjectives might be interesting in terms of newspaper style, or indicative of an evaluative stance, we did not see the ones that we excluded as key in the sociopolitical or cultural sense. Not all adjectives were excluded, however, as we considered some to be socially prominent and of potential interest semantically. We discuss one in particular – global – in Chapter 6. Note also that Bennet, Grossberg and Morris (2005) also have adjectives in their list of new keywords. In total, we excluded 139 words from further consideration. b. Forms of common verbs that seemed unlikely to be politically charged, since their patterns of usage were normal, and their meanings were semantically empty, related to everyday processes and not obviously contested (e.g. get; got; gets; getting; go; stay; goes; comes; start; stop; make; need). This category allowed us to exclude eighty-one further keywords. c. Word-forms relating to the presentation of discourse, mostly speech and thought7 (e.g. think; say; admitted; knew; revealed; insisted; told), and perception (e.g. listen; look; sense). While such forms and their associated functions in their presentation of discourse are the focus of numerous studies (see, for example, Short 2007; McIntyre and Walker 2011), we did not consider these reporting verbs to be culturally key in the sense proposed by Williams. The total number of keywords removed from this category was seventy-eight. After these deletions, 223 keywords remained for further consideration. Among the remaining statistical keywords were those whose referent(s), we agreed after independent scrutiny, did not fit into the general notion of a cultural/sociopolitical keyword. For example, keywords that seemed to us uncontested because of their unambiguous and mostly concrete referents included hospitals, pensions, peers, emissions, critics, donation, book, dinner,

Methods and Data


focus and moment. Others, such as achievement(s), affair, agenda, ally, ambition, boss and job, may not have been so concrete, but they similarly did not seem to us to be socially prominent because of their unambiguous reference. Some of these excluded words were potentially interesting as newspaper style or bias markers but they were not indicators of the zeitgeist and appeared not to be taking on specific sociopolitical meanings in the period concerned. Some of these word-forms are clearly frequent by comparison with the earlier data because they relate to important political issues or stories of the time, but their meanings and patterns of usage in the corpora nevertheless remain stable and as expected. Included here were those statistical keywords where the majority of the instances were part of a multi-word unit (or n-gram), often combining with other keywords. For example, in our data 88 per cent (866 out of 985) of the instances of the keyword tuition combine with the keyword fees in the bi-gram tuition fees. Of the 2,616 instances of the keyword fees, 82 per cent (2,143) combine with other keywords (tuition, university, student, top-up, variable) to form referentially related bi-grams. Of course, each of these bi-grams, and their usage within the discussion surrounding the political and social issue of payment for higher education, are of political interest. However, because the denotation of the bi-grams (tuition fees, student fees, etc.) is not contested (even though their introduction might be!) and the referent is the same for each use, we removed them from further consideration. Other keywords that fell into this category included: fox, hunting and ban; circle (in Blair’s inner circle); mass, destruction, weapons; proportional and representation; greenhouse and gasses. Clearly, some of these n-grams and their usage could warrant further investigation in another project, but they are beyond the scope of this book. The total excluded in this process was 169. We were obliged to exclude many of these word-forms by hand, checking the decisions first by the double-blind process between the two researchers, and secondly through discussion. However, we hope that by spelling out the categories of exclusion that we operated, our readers can see for themselves our decisions and judge whether or not they agree with them. Although we were making individual decisions in these cases, we provided a rationale for them by means of the categories explained above. Thus, the process was as rigorous and transparent as we could make it at this stage. Readers will see that our elimination process starts with what we consider to be fairly obvious choices about what a cultural/sociopolitical keyword is NOT (i.e. grammatical, pronominal, Proper nouns), and ends with more difficult choices based on contextual information

Keywords in the Press


about the word-form in the corpus (concordances, collocations) provided by a corpus tool. A shorter list of fifty-four potentially culturally interesting statistical keywords that we considered to be worth further investigation eventually emerged from the process of elimination discussed above. Our list includes, incidentally, twenty-one word-forms that also appear in the list of new keywords presented by Bennet, Grossberg and Morris (2005). Table 2.3 shows the full list, with the twenty-one keywords from Bennet, Grossberg and Morris asterisked to show the extent of overlap between the two lists. Table 2.3  Statistical keywords after exclusions Freq. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 14. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27. 28. 29. 30. 31. 32. 33.

1,214 1,253 899 3,749 3,779 1,981 2,512 1,739 792 508 1,372 1,431 1,780 3,248 1,314 519 2,038 917 1,642 3,233 2,137 2,384 859 6,418 2,752 1,517 2,732 2,558 10,656 549 8,027 1,436 26,273

LL 76.16 48.08 259.80 104.45 245.06 172.04 22.42 47.02 149.50 90.94 50.56 299.33 19.59 21.79 254.06 265.43 18.32 187.12 460.95 26.82 48.51 97.03 476.25 28.31 23.02 34.63 107.46 944.84 346.90 63.88 224.83 614.64 1,610.50

Keyword access behaviour* challenges choice class* culture* democracy* difference* equality* fairness generation* global green history* immigration inequality information* initiatives intelligence international justice* modern* modernization money official person* poor poverty* power* presentation private* progressive public*

Methods and Data 34. 35. 36. 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46. 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54.

2,568 7,881 1,091 599 1,569 1,399 763 2,958 2,384 752 818 1,609 729 2,414 21,436 1,994 3,542 1,847 11,770 2,921 9,056

134.14 965.51 71.79 127.50 60.96 41.70 46.71 2216.27 40.89 77.39 558.90 882.97 222.17 20.98 133.16 30.79 611.29 69.19 1675.74 222.42 197.28

33 radical* reform* regime renewal respect rich sleaze spin style substance terror terrorism terrorist threat time* traditional trust values war welfare* work*

At this point, we needed to reduce the list still further to something manageable, given the level of detail that we wished to apply to our analysis. This part of the process was the most potentially difficult, though in practice we had little difficulty agreeing to exclude words which we felt were least likely to actually demonstrate a change in their semantics between the two corpora, important though they may be in the politics of the day. Thus, for example, though words like welfare and work are more common in the language discussing politics in the Blair years, these are likely to be uncontroversial with regard to their reference or sense. We compared our lists of exclusions, and checked the concordance lines for the words we were excluding, to make certain that we were not going to miss an interesting new usage of these words. By a number of iterations of this process, as well as the more positive identification of likely sociopolitical keywords, we arrived at a list of six words which we anticipated would reward further detailed study in this data. Although we certainly found enough interest in these words, there may well have been one or two more which were worthy of study in addition. However, there was a great deal to say about these six keywords and they differed in interesting ways, so we limited ourselves to this list. The interested reader might like to try their own reduction exercise on the fifty-four, to see whether your final candidates are anywhere close to ours, keeping in mind

Keywords in the Press


Table 2.4  The shortlist of six keywords with raw frequencies and frequencies per thousand (‰) in both the Blair and Major Corpora Keyword 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

choice global reform respect spin terror

Major Corpus freq.(‰) 2,904 (0.2) 669 (0.05) 4,433 (0.3) 1,157 (0.1) 423 (0.03) 128 (0.01)

Blair Corpus freq.(‰)


3,749 (0.3) 1,431 (0.1) 7,881 (0.5) 1,569 (0.1) 2,958 (0.2) 818 (0.1)

104.45 299.33 965.51 60.96 2,216.27 558.90

(Frequencies per thousand are shown in brackets)

the aim, which is to find words which seem to take on additional political baggage during the period. Table 2.4 shows the six statistical keywords, including frequencies in both corpora, that we consider to be culturally salient and therefore worth investigating further within our data. Many of the remaining fifty candidates could have been treated in the same way and, at some time in the future, may warrant further investigation. The six chosen are our keywords and our focus for a fuller analysis where we consider how the co-text helps to construct a semantic profile for the lexical items specific to this period, and this semantic profile is captured by looking at the textual-conceptual functions of the clauses in which they occur. Even when we had reduced our list to six main items, we still had a large amount of data to consider and so in the following section we provide a discussion of how we went about investigating the contextual usage and resultant meaning of the keywords of the Blair years. It is worth mentioning here that although many of the final list of keywords are used by both politicians and the media, one of them (spin) appears to belong firmly in the language of the media, except perhaps to the extent that politicians might use it to criticize each other and/or deny such activity themselves. This perspective is commented on further below.

2.4  Contextual investigation of the keywords Once we had established the shortlist of keywords to investigate, we needed to find a way of making the examination of their usage in the data manageable and to choose a framework for analysing their emerging meaning as it arises from the usage in the corpora.

Methods and Data


Our analysis of the keywords and their meaning involved examining the potentially insightful features of their co-textual surroundings. This included exploring the close and frequent lexical collocates and their potential effects, and whether and how the keywords were used in relation to the textual-conceptual functions of critical stylistics, because we wanted to see if this framework would provide more structured information about the developing meaning of the words in their context. We therefore used a checklist of textual-conceptual functions in considering individual concordance lines to see how the keywords were functioning syntactically and semantically in context. By manipulating the concordance lines using the sort function in various ways, we made the analysis of large numbers of occurrences more manageable. As we will show in Chapters 3–8, our keywords each presented different practical and analytical challenges, and the precise methods used to investigate the concordance lines in each case differed according to the data that we were faced with. We also wanted to demonstrate here a range of options for arriving at a reasonably comprehensive analysis of large numbers of concordance lines, which we hope that other researchers may find useful in their work. The detail of what was done in the case of each keyword will be discussed in their relevant chapters, but they generally all drew on the following ways of approaching corpus data.

2.4.1  Collocation and collocates As we noted above, much of our analysis was concerned with the co-text of our keywords, and this included exploring patterns of collocation within our data. Collocation is a term first coined by J. R. Firth (1957) and relates to the co-occurrence patterns that words are involved in and how they might add to aspects of word meaning, what Firth calls ‘meaning by “collocation”’ (Firth 1957: 194). Firth notes: Meaning by collocation is an abstraction at the syntagmatic level and is not directly concerned with the conceptual or idea approach to the meaning of words. One of the meanings of night is its collocability with dark, and of dark, of course, collocation with night. (Firth 1957: 196)

Firth, then, is suggesting that the co-occurrence of words with other words contributes to (what might be termed) the textual meaning of a word derived through usage, rather than the conceptual or denotative meaning. He famously said, ‘You shall know a word by the company it keeps’ (Firth 1957: 179). In a similar way, Leech (1981), in his exploration of semantics, suggests that


Keywords in the Press

‘collocative meaning … consists of the associations a word acquires on account of the meanings of words which tend to occur in its environment’ (Leech 1981: 17). Here then, Leech, like Firth, is suggesting that co-occurrence can contribute to word meaning; this is also fundamental to the following exploration of the six keywords. Firth’s notion of collocability suggests that some words have a tendency to frequently, or habitually, co-occur with others. Of course, what counts as a tendency, frequent or habitual, is not altogether clear or universally acknowledged.8 However, with the advent of corpora and computer tools, the collocational behaviour of words can, at least, be explored and tested out in ways that were unavailable to Firth. Corpus tools can: (i) enable concordance lines to be sorted and scanned in order to help identify patterns of co-occurrence; (ii) calculate absolute frequencies of collocates of words; and (iii) use statistical measures to assess the strength of attraction between words in a corpus (e.g. mutual information – MI), or test whether the co-occurrence is by chance or not (e.g. t-score). Options (ii) and (iii) relate to a notion of collocation where collocates are those words that occur in close proximity to the word under investigation (usually referred to as the node; see Sinclair et al. 2004: 10) within a particular span (e.g. within four words before or after the node word) (see Sinclair et al. 2004: 35). With this type of collocation, the results are calculated automatically by the computer tool without taking into account any punctuation, which can have consequences for the validity of the results in terms of whether they relate to meaning or not. Within our study, we made extensive use of option (i) whereby we used sorted concordance lines to provide a systematic and complete assessment of what words were immediately adjacent to the left and right of our keywords, or within adjacent syntactic units, such as phrases or clauses. With this approach, because it is a largely manual process, we were able to take into account punctuation when assessing the collocates of our keywords. We also adopted a view that the term collocate potentially applied to all co-occurring words regardless of their frequency. It is worth mentioning at this point that whichever approach to collocation is adopted, manual effort is required in order to make sense of the results. With option (i), the process is largely manual from the start including any calculations of frequencies which might be used to ascertain whether a particular collocation appears to be habitual or not (within the data). With options (ii) and (iii) where the computer tool does the counting for you, making sense of the results requires manual investigation, usually by returning to concordance lines. Any manual

Methods and Data


analysis might involve in part creating data-driven categories, which can help to ascertain and make sense of the collocational tendencies and patterns, and Chapters 3–8 demonstrate this process in practice. Here, two further concepts relating to collocation are of importance: semantic prosody and semantic preference.

2.4.2  Semantic prosody and semantic preference9 The notion of semantic prosody (Louw 1993) takes us back to where we started the discussion of collocation: that the meaning of a word can be affected by the ‘company it keeps’ (Firth 1957), and collocational tendencies can give rise to associative meanings or connotations. Partington (1998) notes that connotation relates to three distinct phenomena: markers of particular speech varieties such as colloquial or formal; cultural baggage that a society might attach to a lexical item; and the evaluation (favourable or unfavourable) implied by a lexical item (Partington 1998: 65–6). The latter is sometimes called expressive connotation (ibid.) which relates to the ‘… association a word may have due to its most common usage’ (Sinclair 1991), and it is this that is usually referred to as semantic prosody: a ‘consistent aura of meaning with which a form is imbued by its collocates’ (Louw 1993: 157). The term, prosody, is borrowed from phonetics and draws an analogy between the way in which articulation of letters can be affected by the surrounding letters; ‘The nasal prosody in the word Amen would be an example: we find that the vowels are imbued with a nasal quality because of their proximity to the nasals m and n’ (Louw 1993: 158–9). An often quoted example of semantic prosody is juvenile, which can be said to have a negative connotation because it usually co-occurs with words such as delinquent or court. Sinclair (1991) discusses this concept further using evidence from corpora, and notes, for example, that ‘the verb happen is associated with unpleasant things’ (Sinclair 1991: 112). Semantic prosody, then, relates to a collocational tendency that ‘imbues’ a word (the node) with ‘some expression of attitude or evaluation’ (McEnery and Hardie 2012: 138) that typically tends to be either positive or negative. Closely connected to semantic prosody is semantic preference, which relates to any collocational tendencies of the node that can be grouped ‘on the basis of semantic similarity’ (McEnery and Hardie 2012: 137) or semantic field. Any such tendencies might also have an effect on meaning, and depending on the semantic field, might also give rise to a semantic prosody. For example, if the collocates of happen turn out to be mostly from the semantic field of natural


Keywords in the Press

disasters, then there is both a semantic preference and, since natural disasters tend to be evaluated negatively, a semantic prosody. We return to the concepts of semantic preference and prosody in our explorations of our keywords.

2.4.3  Concordances and local textual context The six keywords resulting from the elaborate process of selection explained in this chapter were of varying frequency, with some having very many examples to be considered in terms of their local textual context, by which we mean the co-text available within the confines of individual concordances. Our analyses were, by and large, manual, and included, for example, establishing close and immediate collocates of the keywords, and analysing each instance of a keyword at the level of grammatical phrase (noun phrase, prepositional phrase, etc.) to explore, for example, whether and how the keyword was modified. We discuss other local textual contexts in the next section. An important first step in evaluating the local textual context of the keywords in detail was to sort concordance lines according to the words occurring to the left and/or right of the keyword. We did this using AntConc, which allows for sorting on up to three places, including a combination of right and left places, each side. Such sorting enabled us to consider large numbers of examples fairly rapidly, and establish regular patterns of co-occurrence and collocation where they existed. Where there was good reason to do so, we organized the concordance lines into subgroups according to their immediate collocates in order to break up the data into smaller sections. This worked, for example, with terror, which had a very large number of almost identical examples in which the keyword formed part of what had become a multi-word unit of the war on terror. These examples were considered as a group, since they often appeared to have a single referent different in nature from the referent(s) of the word in isolation. When relevant, we also established groups based on word-class, and where helpful, we also made use of the parts-of-speech (POS)-tagged versions of the corpora. The POS-tagged versions were useful in separating out in particular nominal and verbal uses of keywords where both were in play, but in some cases (notably respect – see Chapter 8), the tagging for adjectival uses was less reliable than for word classes, and the simple sorting on word-forms, plus manual analysis, produced better results. Where our analyses warranted breaking results down into smaller subgroups and categories, we achieved this on some occasions by exporting the (sorted) concordance lines in the form of plain text files from AntConc, and uploading

Methods and Data


them into Excel. This enabled us to manipulate the results in ways that are impossible in AntConc (and other tools), and eventually produce frequency statistics for the different ways in which the keywords were used within the data. Each keyword presented different challenges according to whether it had different word classes associated with the political sense that we were interested in. Thus, spin, reform and respect had both nouns and verbs in the data, whereas global is only an adjective, and terror and choice are only observed as nouns. Each keyword also produced a different ‘noise’ in the data which needed to be discounted before the analysis began. This included, for example, the relatively small number of ‘everyday’ uses of spin and the much more numerous idiomatic phrases which incorporate respect. We found therefore that we had to approach each keyword differently, while at the same time using the same software and adopting similar techniques for each analysis.

2.4.4  Syntactic contexts We decided at the outset to consider the relevant syntactic context of each occurrence, rather than relying on automatic calculation of statistical collocational patterns. We therefore used the framework of the TextualConceptual Functions (TCFs) from critical stylistics as our reference point in considering the concordance lines. We considered each keyword in its immediate syntactic/semantic context and drew on the relevant TCFs to explain what we found there. For example, where we were looking at the nominal usage of a keyword (such as choice or reform), we examined the transitivity processes in which this nominal participated, and looked at the roles it took in relation to the process. We were also interested in whether a keyword was a head noun in its immediate context, or modifying other nouns, what else was packaged up inside its noun phrase context, or whether it was a ‘bald, unmodified’ noun with no modification at all. The less ubiquitous TCFs, such as negation, enumeration and exemplification, equating and contrasting and modality were kept alongside the analysis as a checklist of potentially interesting angles on our keywords. Though questions of prioritization (i.e. subordination) may also have something to offer in this analysis, they were appealed to less often, partly because the restriction on concordance line lengths precluded a full analysis of hierarchical structure. Speech, thought and writing presentation was not considered relevant in this study as we were interested in a cumulative ‘zeitgeist’ impression of these keywords and so it did not matter who was using them. As for deixis, it was relatively unexplored in our


Keywords in the Press

analyses, though if we had seen significant patterns of proximal or distal usage connected with the keywords, we would have reported on this observation. This part of the analysis helped us to get beyond a simplistic use of collocational tendencies and provided a way to assess the textual patterning of these words in their contexts. In the following chapters, we refer to the TCFs where relevant in reporting and/or interpreting our findings.

2.5  Chapter summary and concluding remarks In this chapter we described in detail the process by which we produced a list of candidate sociopolitical keywords from a large list of statistical keywords. We started by explaining how we built our corpora, and then how we used them to calculate statistical keywords using AntConc (Anthony 2014). We then went on to describe how we reduced a list of several thousand statistical keywords down to a more manageable list of candidates for further investigation within our data. This process started out using a quantitative rationale for reducing the list, using both LL and raw frequency cut-offs. We then moved on to a more qualitative approach which considered the function of the keywords. While the process inevitably eventually involved subjective choices, we made these choices as open as possible so that they can be evaluated and critiqued by our readers. We began to set out the processes by which we explored our data, which was a mixture of automated and manual analysis. An important part of our investigation of our six keywords is the assessment of their syntactic context, since this is crucial in evaluating the textual construction of meaning. In the following chapters, we present our analyses of our six keywords: Chapter 3 explores spin; in Chapter 4 we investigate choice; Chapter 5 deals with reform; Chapter 6 discusses global; in Chapter 7 we look at terror; and Chapter 8 presents an analysis of respect. Our aim in each chapter is to describe as clearly as possible the methodological steps we took to complete analyses that account for all instances of the words in our data systematically and rigorously. In Chapter 9, we summarize our findings and reflect on the significance of the project as a whole.


Sultans of Spin1

3.1 Introduction This chapter details the findings of our study in relation to the word-form spin. First, the statistical findings are discussed, demonstrating the overwhelmingly nominal nature of the usage in this data. These findings are followed by further analysis of the behaviour of spin, which demonstrates the emergent meaning of the word in this period by reference to its contextual usage, both as noun and verb. Where relevant, the analysis will draw upon the critical stylistic framework and its TCFs to explore the import of this keyword in our corpus. From the analysis, we develop a proposed semantic description of how spin is operating within this data and draw conclusions about the meaning of spin in the Blair years, the ideational – and at times ideological – implications of its usage and how this may have affected political debate. The implications of our findings for theories of lexical meaning are also discussed. Our general aim to consider the nature of the keywords of the Blair years meant that we were most interested in the political sense of our keywords themselves, though their connections, if any, to everyday uses were also of interest. Our data provided very few examples of non-political usage of spin, though we will see below how these may connect to the more political uses too. The main argument we will make about spin in this chapter is that it has developed a special political meaning, which is dependent on, but not confined to, more conventional meanings and usage. Certainly this did not start in the Blair years, but it became more pronounced and widely used at this time, making it more than just a temporary, fairly narrowly used metaphor. By this period, spin has evolved a sense in its own right that goes beyond the more conventional meanings. Though we focus on the word-form spin itself, as this was the statistical keyword in our data, we will also mention other forms of the lemma SPIN as supporting evidence for this new political sense.

Keywords in the Press


3.2  Spinning statistics In this section, we aim to provide a snapshot of spin and its usage in our corpora. Our data provides the figures for the occurrence of spin in its various grammatical functions and the compound forms that it participates in. We discuss the nonpolitical senses found in the corpus and show the proportions of non-political versus political usage.

3.2.1 Frequency According to AntConc, there are 2,958 instances of spin in the Blair Corpus compared with 423 in the Major Corpus. Frequency comparisons (including relative frequencies per 1,000) and log-likelihood figures (LL) are shown in Table 3.1. These frequency figures tell us that there is a clear over-representation of spin in the Blair Corpus, when compared to the Major Corpus. Due to the way in which AntConc counts word-forms, instances of spin involved in hyphenated compounds (e.g. spin-free; spin-corrupted; spin-doctor) are included in these figures, but instances of spin that are involved in unhyphenated compounds (e.g. spinmaster; spindoctor) are not. For the sake of clarity, in the discussion below we separate out the hyphenated forms that spin is involved with.

3.2.2  Compounds and grammatical classes of spin In order to investigate the contextual behaviour of this word, we needed to consider the occurrences separately in concordance format. We used the Constituent Likelihood Automatic Word-tagging System (CLAWS)-tagged versions of our corpora to break down the instances of spin by grammatical class (excluding hyphenated forms for now) to see which functions were more common. However, the results from CLAWS turned out to be inaccurate as a considerable number of the tags were wrong. For example, numerous instances of spin in spin doctor were tagged as a verb, presumably because superficially at least these two words could be a verb + noun combination. The results were therefore checked manually and Table 3.3 presents the corrected results. Table 3.1  Frequency and relative frequency (in brackets) of spin in the Blair and Major Corpora, and the resulting log-likelihood score Word-form spin

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus


423 (0.03)

2,958 (0.2)


Sultans of Spin


Before we consider the occurrence of spin in other syntactic contexts, it is worth looking at the range of hyphenated forms in which spin participates in this data. Table 3.2 contains the full range of these forms showing the inventive compounds that arose from the political usage of this keyword as well as some of the everyday, and therefore irrelevant, forms (e.g. spin-off) that were found. The table also gives the LL scores for those cases where there are significant differences between the frequencies in the two corpora (at p ≤ 0.0001). What is striking about the information presented in Table 3.2 is the sheer range of forms that occur in the Blair Corpus, compared with the Major Corpus. Table 3.2  Spin in hyphenated forms Hyphenated word-form spin-doctors spin-doctor spin-doctoring spin-offs spin-off spin-doctored spin-king spin-doctor-in-chief spin-free spin-doctory spin-driven spin-masters spin-meisters spin-meistery spin-merchants spin-doc spin-bowlers spin-control spin-corrupted spin-laden anti-spin counter-spin post-spin lo-spin euro-spin hi-spin no-spin reverse-spin pre-spin spin-philosopher spin-dryer tail-spin Total tokens/types

Major Corpus 48 29 9 2 16 3 1 1

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 1 1 1


Blair Corpus 291 133 43 6 5 3 1 1 9 2 2 2 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 9 7 8 4 2 1 1 1 1

LL 192.52 71.94 24.04

– – –


Keywords in the Press


Table 3.3  Word-class for spin in the Major and Blair Corpora, and in the BNC Word class Freq. Major Corpus (%) Freq. Blair Corpus (%) Freq. BNC (91) (%) Noun Verb

293 (94) 18 (6)

2,254 (93) 162 (7)

543 (60) 357 (40)


311 (100)

2,416 (100)

900 (100)

Not only has the political sense of spin increased dramatically between the two periods, but the most common compound, spin-doctor, occurs six times as frequently, giving rise to many more derived forms. Spin is a very big subject for the political reporters and commentators of the Blair years and this is reflected in these figures, which form a subset of the overall 2,958 instances in the Blair Corpus and the 423 instances in the Major Corpus. If we consider the make-up of the subset of spin which is not hyphenated, we can see from the figures presented in Table 3.3 that the large majority of these occurrences are nominal, rather than verbal. From the table, it seems that over 90 per cent of instances of spin are nouns in both corpora. We can also see that this is considerably higher than the proportion of nominal forms in the British National Corpus (BNC), where only 60 per cent are nouns. In our analysis below, we will consider why this might be significant for this particular word and its political meaning. For now, it is simply worth noting that the word in the political sense appears to be increasing in the proportion of nominal uses in our data, whereas in the BNC, with presumably a greater number of everyday uses referring to the literal process of spinning, its proportion of nominal uses is much lower. While this could suggest that it has a reified existence in our data, a more subtle analysis of context is required to see what this nominal presence implies beyond this general observation. Clearly, though, lacking comparison with a dataset that represents general written English from the same time period (1997 to 2008), it is difficult to say whether this is telling us something about spin in our data or about spin in general. Currently, a suitable tagged corpus of general British English from the same time period as our Blair Corpus is not available. However, Table 3.3 shows comparisons of Blair Corpus with our Major Corpus and the BNC, which is a corpus of general British English from 1991.

3.2.3  Non-political uses of forms of spin One issue when investigating common words with specific sociocultural or political meanings is that the target uses will often be indistinguishable by

Sultans of Spin


computer from more everyday and non-political uses. In our data, for example, we found that spin occurs with a non-political meaning eighteen times, fifteen of which are in the phrasal/compound form of spin followed by off or offs, either hyphenated or unhyphenated, for example: −− That growth is necessary if the economy is to spin off the higher tax revenues −− investment in research and innovation and better spin-offs from university to business These forms are linked to one another as the noun sense (spin-off) is the nominalization of the phrasal verb (spin off) and they both refer to something being a by-product of something else, either literally or metaphorically. In neither case does the usage refer to the kind of manipulation of image and brand that is referred to by the political use. The remaining three occurrences of non-political spin are as follows: −− the TV crew cheerfully during a spin [n] around Parliament Square −− Mo Mowlam takes Chris Evans for a spin [n] −− As his wheels spin [v] in the mud These cases all derive from a literal sense of spin (v) which refers to circular motion, often of wheels. The derived noun referring to going for a drive (a spin) is a colloquial everyday item which has no obvious link to political spin. The last example is a relatively easy-to-understand everyday metaphor which may seem more inventive than most in political reporting, but is certainly not restricted to the reporting of political news and does not link to the political sense of manipulating information. If we set aside the eighteen occurrences (4.8 per cent of 2,958) of nonpolitical uses of spin, we are left with 2,940 occurrences (95.2 per cent) that are political and of direct interest to us here. This is perhaps to be expected, since our corpus was constructed from articles relating to politics. Since the Major Corpus also has a high proportion of cases of the political sense of spin (94.8 per cent), this may indicate that where a specialized meaning of a word becomes frequent, other more everyday senses may be suppressed as a result. We will see later in this chapter, however, that the everyday semantics of spin can be of some help to us in trying to describe the semantics of the specifically political meaning of this word. There are at least two related polysemous senses of spin in English which are common in everyday speech, and which may form the underlying basis of the metaphor around which political information is spun. These are the fundamental meanings of the verbal use of spin: to turn around


Keywords in the Press

(or turn something around) quickly and repeatedly, and to turn something from one form (e.g. raw wool) into another form (e.g. woollen thread) by the act of turning it around repeatedly. These are clearly related to each other, but may also underpin the political sense we are investigating here.

3.3 Spin in context We have established through the corpus analysis that the word-form spin is statistically key in the Blair Corpus when compared with the Major Corpus and that it occurs in a number of combinations (as compounds or set phrases) as well as grammatical classes, though the noun class is dominant. The large majority of these occurrences are used in a political sense to indicate the presentation of information in a manner beneficial to the producer and possibly also in a lessthan-honest, if not downright deceitful, manner. The remainder of this chapter will investigate the way in which this word is used and the consequences for its local semantics by taking a closer look at the data, usually in concordance form, to see how spin is used. This will help us to fulfil the aim of mapping out the semantics of cultural (i.e. political) senses of the keywords of the Blair years, at least in this specific corpus. Generalizations beyond this corpus will be made where possible, though a differently constructed corpus could be expected to produce somewhat different results. For convenience, we will consider each of the word classes in turn and then investigate the context of the keyword drawing on the TCFs of critical stylistics as a framework to produce a composite picture of what is conveyed by the political sense of spin in this data. Where it provides support for our analysis, we draw on the other forms of the lemma SPIN, though these forms are not part of the statistical analysis above. Our decision to limit ourselves to the statistically significant keyword does not preclude reference to other forms where they can provide evidence for our interpretation of the data.

3.3.1 Spin as a process Spin is used relatively infrequently as a verb, making up only about 7 per cent of the occurrences in the Blair Corpus and 6 per cent in the Major Corpus. By contrast, 40 per cent of the instances are verbs in the BNC which represents a broader range of text-types and domains than our data. It is likely that most speakers would consider the verbal use of spin to be the more fundamental as it

Sultans of Spin


refers to a process. We will see later that there are some interesting links to the older and more everyday uses of the word. According to the OED online (OUP 2014), the primary and earliest meaning of spin relates to the action of twisting fibres together to form a continuous thread. In this sense it is a verb used both transitively and intransitively, with a first recorded use of around 725: intr. To draw out and twist the fibres of some suitable material, such as wool or flax, so as to form a continuous thread; to be engaged in or to follow this occupation. c725 Corpus Gloss. R 148 Reuerant [read neuerant], spunnun. trans. To draw out (wool, flax, man-made fibre, or other material) and convert into threads either by the hand or by machinery. c1000 Ælfric Gram. xv. 97 Hig spinnað wulle.

Spin as a verb developed figurative meanings that related to the early literal meanings, with the earliest recorded usages around 1400: In figurative spin street-thread, etc…to spin a yarn (to tell a story) … a1400 K. Alis. (W.) 7251 He hath y-sponne a threde, That is y-come of eovel rede. To evolve, produce, contrive, or devise, in a manner suggestive of spinning. a1575 N. Harpsfield Treat. Divorce Henry VIII (1878) (modernized text) 227 This interpretation is finely spinned out of the lawyer’s fantastical head.

Other meanings that are recorded from around the same time relate to physical movement: To move rapidly; to run quickly; now esp. to ride or drive at a rapid and even rate. a1400–50 Alexander 3033 He spynnes [v.r. spedes] him out a grete space fra hes peris all. To revolve or gyrate; to whirl round. 1667 Milton Paradise Lost viii. 164 The Earth. With inoffensive pace that spinning sleeps On her soft Axle. 1700 Dryden tr. Ovid Meleager & Atalanta in Fables 112 Quick, and more quick he spins in giddy Gires, Then falls.

Meanings recorded from later texts relate to causing rapid rotation, and here spin is used transitively: trans. To cause to turn or revolve rapidly; to twirl or whirl. Fig. phr. to spin one’s wheels (U.S. colloq.), to mark time, to do nothing productive.


Keywords in the Press 1612 T. Dekker If it be not Good ii. ii. 28 Ile turne the wheeles: and spin the howers vp faster. 1830 J. Galt Lawrie Todd I. ii. i. 90 There be you, spinning your thumbs with a small child that ha’n’t got no mother.

In order to trace the emergent meaning of the politically significant uses of spin in the Blair Corpus, we need some reference points in the conventional meanings of the word-form. We will therefore refer to spin (a) as the meaning relating to the spinning of fibres. In this sense, the Goal (usually the direct object) of the process is already in existence (e.g. she spun the wool) but another participant (Product) can be added to the structure in an adverbial prepositional phrase (e.g. she spun the wool into gold thread). The Product is assumed to exist even if it is not mentioned. So, for example, she spun the wool does not produce a mental image of someone turning a heap of wool around in situ, but of someone creating yarn out of a heap of wool. Spin (b) is clearly related to spin (a) and refers to people or things turning around in the intransitive sense (e.g. Janice spun on the ice), or turning something else around in the transitive sense (e.g. Richard spun the coin on the table). In the latter example, the Goal of the process is already in existence, as for spin (a). A third possibility is where the Product may occur as the grammatical object of the verb (e.g. she spun some thread), and the Affected (e.g. the raw wool/fibres) is not mentioned. This is not really a separate sense, but it is relevant to our purposes here as the political uses of spin draw on both patterns, as we shall see. For convenience, then, we will call this spin (c). Sense (a) underlies the other senses of spin as they all depend on some kind of circular movement. A metaphorical extension of spin (c) is common in the English language generally and occurs often in the form spin a yarn but with the possibility of yarn being replaced by other members of the same semantic field such as story or tale. Notice that the grammatical form usually includes the indefinite article a, whereas the literal meaning of spin (c) usually involves a mass noun (e.g. she spins yarn). In our data, we find the metaphorical usage occurring in relation to political stories in exactly the same way, as we can see in the following examples (emphasis added): −− a journalist on his mobile phone, trying to spin a story about Peter Mandelson −− He also had to spin a thread of argument The Products in these examples (underlined) are noun phrases which have an  indefinite article, encouraging the reader to see them as Products and not

Sultans of Spin


pre-existing (i.e. Affected) as they would if the article was definite. Here, we would argue that although the detail is about politics, the usage is fairly standard. So far, then, all we have seen is that the metaphorical extension of spin (c) is used in political commentaries as well as more generally in the language. We also find occasional uses where both Affected and Product are present, for example: −− very good on how events are spun into news Note that this is not one of the occurrences of our keyword, but a past tense form of the verb. Nevertheless, it is of interest here in our exploration of the ways in which our data reflects the conventional senses of the word. Though this is a passive use (and therefore lacks an Actor), the Affected and Product occur in a conventional structure (much like she spun wool into gold thread) and there are a number of other examples too where the Affected (rather than the Product) is the grammatical object: −− there will be attempts to spin the story Here, because of the lack of Actor, the only participant is in the grammatical object which is a definite noun phrase (the story). The result is that it is interpreted as spin (b), the definiteness suggesting that the story itself, like events in the previous example, already exists. It is not only, therefore, spin (c) which is used in relation to political manipulation, but also spin (b), where the pre-existing facts are turned into a narrative convenient to the point of view of the speaker/ writer, for example: −− he can turn any audience and spin any argument The use of the definite determiner any, like the definite article, suggests the prior existence of the entity being spun; the spin is about changing it or manipulating it. In relation to the normal usage of the conventional sense, these examples seem semantically deviant, because the literal usage appears to include the Product whenever the Affected is also mentioned (she spun wool into yarn rather than she spun wool), though they are not grammatically unacceptable. Although they are often not Products of the process of spinning, in all of these cases the Affected objects being spun are at least all members of the same semantic field as story, the prototypical object of the conventional metaphorical spin (c). Up to here, most of the political examples we have seen were very closely related to the normal metaphorical extensions of spin(c), though they appear to


Keywords in the Press

be applying the metaphor to spin (b) rather than spin (c). However, we also find rather different kinds of Affected participants in the other political examples: −− fearing that attempts to ‘spin’ his exit would backfire −− That is how they will spin Mr Campbell’s departure With these two instances we take a further step away from the more conventional usage since the grammatical objects here, exit and departure, are events preexisting the process of spinning but are nevertheless not members of the conventional (literal or metaphorical) semantic fields of thread/yarn/stories. Notice, though, that even though these examples are deviant, we understand them on analogy with the conventional sense to mean that the ‘story of ’ his exit or ‘the account of ’ Mr Campbell’s departure will be spun. A further example is perhaps still more semantically deviant (emphasis added): −− I have had little to do with Mr Campbell for the past nine years. Curiously enough, he did not think that it would be fruitful to try to spin me. But he did once phone up Here spin is followed by the object me, which is even more clearly deviant because no conventional (literal or metaphorical) uses of spin have animate or human objects unless they are being treated as though they have no free will or are inanimate (e.g. mother put a blindfold on my eyes and began to spin me round). In, say, the context of dancing, or ice skating, the action of spin directly on a person would be understood in a literal way, referring to the person turning rapidly. Instead, partly due to the co-text and domain, we understand the meaning to be something along the lines of ‘manipulate my image/narrative by means of misinformation’, with the referent of me being the equivalent of the wool in spin (a), the raw material out of which a narrative is created. There is another possibility here, that the person being spun is the Recipient rather than the Affected of the narrative, and is thereby deceived, but this takes the grammatical and semantic variation a long way away from the original meaning and is therefore less likely as an interpretation. Our quest to find out whether spin is behaving unusually in the political context of the Blair years so far has shown some minor movement away from the normal metaphorical extensions of spin (c), but there are other stronger indications of its development as a political sense in the verbal uses. These include the idiomatic uses of the word, particularly in semi-fixed constructions

Sultans of Spin


such as spin one’s way + preposition, whereby the verb becomes a (metaphorical) verb of movement, which will be interpreted as some kind of verbalization process, as in the following example (emphasis added): −− the government is now trying to spin its way out of trouble This usage confirms spin as a verbalization process as it is based on other more conventional constructions of a similar sort, where the verbalization is also conceptualized as providing a physical escape, such as talk/lie one’s way out of. Of course, this usage comes about partly because of the already established metaphorical usage related to spin a yarn, so that the extension of a conventional construction based on verbalization process + one’s way + prepositional phrase is simply extended to accommodate what has become a new verbalization process, spin. While these examples are relatively easy to explain in terms of their appeal to familiar paradigms of semi-fixed constructions, they nevertheless demonstrate spin as a verb moving away from its more familiar territory of metaphorical extensions of the circular movement senses and towards a more established sense that would be characterized as verbalization in the transitivity model. This development is also supported by evidence from its use as a phrasal verb (with particles) such as those that are found in the following: −− So how might Brown spin away this perception? Here, spin is being inserted into an established construction (e.g. wash away; clean away; clear away; wipe away) to form a unit of meaning that draws on the political (verbalization) meaning of spin, and on analogy with the other fillers for this construction, produces an interpretation for away that implies ‘got rid of ’ since this is the force of its use in the other phrasal verbs mentioned above. Support for this analysis comes in the form of a present participle, spinning, which is not part of our keyword data but nevertheless demonstrates the phrasal verb clearly: −− This was spinning out a certain message Here, we again have a usage that is analogous to other constructions made up of verbalization processes + out to imply broadcasting or dissemination of the information. These include give out, let out and make out, and some of them share the implication that the story being put about is not exactly true in all its details.

Keywords in the Press


The inclusion of the political meaning of spin as a verb in such constructions is part of the evidence of its establishment as a separate and identifiable political meaning, and it is confirmed still more strongly by its use as an intransitive verb, whether followed by an adverb or not, as the following examples show: −− −− −− −−

Charlie Whelan, who used to spin so aggressively for Gordon Brown A refreshing characteristic of soldiers is that they do not generally spin It is the spokesman’s job to spin Alastair did not always spin or bully

What we appear to have in these examples is evidence that the activity of spinning has become lexicalized in an intransitive verb which nevertheless seems to incorporate its (cognate) object, to the extent that, as with singing (a song) or dancing (a dance), it is not necessary to mention that spinning produces – or twists – a story. Unlike the conventional intransitive use of spin (e.g. the wheels spin in the mud) there is an object, but it is taken for granted. The action is also no longer a simple process (compared to turning rapidly); it encapsulates a whole range of potential acts and different individuals, groups or institutions. The unmodified use of spin as an intransitive verb, then, is more than simply ‘not telling it straight’ and implies a complex process involving a team of communications officers, politicians, the media, meetings, drafting and re-drafting, and so on. The referent of spin itself then becomes rather vague while at the same time retaining a core meaning of (something like) twisting the truth, or recasting facts/truths/events in a way that reflects either positively on those doing the recasting, or negatively on some other party. As we shall see below, the intransitive verb is a good model for the far greater nominal presence of spin in the Blair Corpus.

3.3.2  Spin as a name In the Blair Corpus, by far the largest proportion (93 per cent) of instances of spin are used as nouns. Although the origin of the word is clearly verbal, many processes are nominalized in English, particularly when the process they refer to is well established. It may be one of the signs of the political use of spin establishing itself as a full lexical item in the language that it occurs so frequently as a noun. One of the effects of the nominalized form for the user is that the process becomes secondary to the naming, with the result that participants in the process become less central in the nominal version. In the intransitive

Sultans of Spin


verb form, we no longer know what is being spun (Affected) or what it is being spun into (Product), but with the nouns, we may not even know who is doing the spinning (Actor). There is also a convenient vagueness about the referent of the noun, as it might refer to the process itself (though most obviously in the continuous participle form, spinning, rather than our keyword spin) or to the goal of the process, whether that is produced by the activity of spinning or simply affected by it. Most nominal instances of spin in the data (1,909) are mass (non-count) head nouns. We will examine this most prototypical form of political spin in Section 3.2.4, where the unmodified version is investigated. The remaining examples (1,257) are occurrences when spin is modifying another noun, for example, a spin operation or a spin doctor or when it forms a new derivation such as spinmeister. These and other compound and derived forms will be examined in more detail in Section 3.2.3. As we saw earlier, in a very small minority of cases spin is used in one of the non-political count noun senses, which are mostly (in this data) idiomatic uses based on non-fixed constructions. For example, the cluster a spin (as in a spin around Parliament Square) is associated with a small set of established meanings in English, including the relevant one here, where a spin refers to driving around for pleasure. Another such idiomatic meaning is seen in the phrase in a spin, which denotes disorientation brought about by stress or excitement. It may be that the semantic strength of these (idiomatic) meanings is one reason why this combination (indefinite article + spin) is rarely used in a political sense in our data. There is just one instance in the corpus of a spin in a political sense as a count noun: −− Mr Brown was keen to put a rate-cutting spin on the statement Like the verbal uses relating to spin a yarn, this metaphorical usage is perhaps more conventional than the sociopolitical keyword we are interested in. The semi-fixed construction PUT + a + [modifier] + spin + on is regularly used with the adjective positive in the modifier position (put a positive spin on) and this therefore clearly links to the political usage which starts out referring to the idea of presenting a story in its best light but, as we shall see later, makes the transition to something more sinister in the data examined here. PUT + spin + on occurs only once more in the corpus: −− prevent the Government’s spinmeister putting the spin on us?


Keywords in the Press

This example is a less conventional usage that exploits an existing pattern in English: PUT + the + X + on + Y, which more normally contains one of the following head nouns in place of spin in the X slot: put the (mockers/heat/screws/frighteners/emphasis/pressure/finger/hex/squeeze) on Y

We checked the BNC for examples of this construction and found, as expected, that there were similar negatively loaded phrases such as put the pressure on or put the blame on, but also many more literal constructions which were evaluatively neutral, with put the kettle on being by far the most common! As we can see, then, the majority of these examples have a negative effect. They are concerned with making someone uncomfortable, if not terrified. The idiomatic construction PUT + the + X + on + Y could therefore be said to be semantically negative by virtue of the fact that the empty X slot has a tendency to be filled by evaluatively negative words. The creative usage putting the spin on us therefore has a similar semantic negativity due to its evoking of these more established usages of the pattern and their negative effect. This appears to be akin to, but not quite the same as semantic prosody, but instead of arising from collocational tendencies between words it depends on tendencies relating to certain slots in idiomatic constructions. In the next two sections, we will look at the patterns of usage of the majority of the nominal uses of spin and related forms first as it occurs in compound and derived forms and then as an unmodified bald head noun, which we argue is its most typical use in its political sense.

3.3.3  Compounding and derived forms of spin One of the signs that the political sense of spin has become fully established in this period is the emergence of a number of derived and compound lexical items which include spin in its political sense. By far the commonest of these is the ubiquitous spin-doctor, which occurs in a range of forms (hyphenated and unhyphenated) with and without premodification: −− −− −− −−

the spin doctor the spin-doctors the former spin-doctor the delusional spin doctors

Sultans of Spin

−− −− −− −− −−


the powerful spin-doctor role the true spin-doctors the White House spin doctors the Downing Street spin doctor the all-powerful spin doctors of New Labour

The full figures for this compound form (whether hyphenated or not) are 1,007 in the singular and 583 in the plural, making 1,590 altogether. Though the ubiquity of these items provides some evidence for the establishment of the political meaning of spin, the variation in structure indicates that the form has not settled down during this period. This compound form is not new in the Blair period as we also find it in the Major Corpus, but it does seem to be widespread and increasingly negative in its evaluative force. There is one further indication of the establishment of the meaning, if not the form, of political usage when back-formation produces a verbal form, the spin-doctoring, from the compound noun spin-doctor. Like spin-doctor, many of the other derived and compound forms also focus on the agent of the spinning, as we see from the following examples: −− the former spin operative −− the Labour spin-meisters −− the PM’s spin chief In addition, although not part of our keyword set, the morphologically conventional form, spinner, is also found frequently and supports the political sense of spin as being well-established enough at this point to warrant a derived agentive form, as the following examples show: −− −− −− −− −−

Gordon Brown is such a compulsive spinner that in the manner of double-agents, double-spinners? Try as they may, even the spinners at No 10 would struggle to portray Byers was brought down by his own spinners Before the spinners had time to remove the offending

This use of spinner would perhaps have been difficult to understand in the early days of the political sense of spin, and despite being more conventional in its form, is perhaps dependent on the spin-doctor formulation for its significance in these examples. Nevertheless, its presence as a derivational form in its political sense is more a confirmation that this sense is widely understood in the period under scrutiny.


Keywords in the Press

Apart from these derived and compound forms relating to the Actor doing the spinning, there are other morphologically derived nominal forms which refer to the process itself: −− −− −− −−

Yesterday, the successful spinning from Whitehall perversion of good government into shameless spinning the spinning will have to stop/if the spinning were to stop Anyone who thought that the age of spinning was over

These examples, by contrast with the simple mass noun, spin, seem to name the process rather than focusing on the Product and as nominalizations they do not specify the Actor either. So, we know that something untoward is happening, but we are not told exactly who is doing it, or what is affected/ produced. Four out of six instances in our data deal with the spinning stopping, as though it is a recognizable fashion in politics, which is not expected to last. This notion of a (temporary) culture of spin which may be specific even to the New Labour government is also captured in other combinations which might be considered as compounds, though they mostly lack hyphens: −− −− −− −− −− −−

the ‘spin culture’ the ‘spin’ charges the (No. 10) spin machine the spin approach to politics the spin wars the ‘spin-free’ era

Note that the use of scare quotes here demonstrates the writer’s meta-awareness of the linguistic innovation that matches the new public relations approach to politics. There is widespread use of scare quotes throughout the data (see also the chapter on choice), particularly in contexts where the end of spin is proclaimed, which seems to indicate that political spin is as temporary linguistically as it is thought to be politically. As it happens, the long lead-in time for this book has allowed us some benefit of hindsight as we put the finishing touches to it in early 2017. Anecdotally, spin does indeed seem to be rarely used in its political sense in the present climate, though as 2016 was so turbulent in political terms, with the EU referendum in the UK and Donald Trump winning the US presidency; it is hardly surprising that other candidates for the current sociopolitical keywords are eclipsing spin. We now live in a post-Brexit and post-truth world where populism

Sultans of Spin


is on the rise. These, we think, are the current contenders for sociopolitical keywords. One other (unhyphenated) compound which occurs a number of times in the data is spin machine: −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −−

Spin machine dismantled as Blair looks ahead to election New Labour’s spin machine the spin machine the No 10 spin machine the Downing Street spin machine The Blair government and its spin machine Alastair Campbell’s spin machine unseen and unacknowledged, spin machine New Labour spin machine Tony Blair’s once-feared spin machine

The cold, calculating, futuristic connotations of such a machine are at the root of this usage, and it is noticeably specific in its reference to the government of the time, the Blair government, with only one generic use (the spin machine) in the ten examples. Two more derived forms found in the data are adjectives, and although they are not part of our keyword data, they supply evidence to support the argument that the political use of spin has developed into a separate identifiable sense. The first form, unspun, occurs six times, illustrated below: −− −− −− −−

a prime minister who sounded authentically unspun Brown has striven since his anointing to be open and unspun an unspun analysis from any candid advisers And with no media launch either; just the release of the unspun documents

The immediate context of some of these examples shows that being unspun is a positive thing. Thus, in one case the adjective is modified by an evaluative adverb, authentically, in another case it is coordinated with the positively valued adjective open (synonym of honest) and in another it is placed in apposition with a synonym of truthful (tell-it-like-it-is). Thus, the semantic prosody of unspun seems on this small sample to be positive, whereas we shall see the semantic prosody of spin itself is negative in this data. The final example in this section is the most morphologically complex, with the single occurrence of the adjective spinnable derived from the verb spin by


Keywords in the Press

the addition of a suffix –able and then negated by the addition of the prefix un- (emphasis added): −− As the Blair era draws to a close the real clues to the timing of his political demise will come not from Westminster gossip, but in the prime minister’s own body language. It is in these unspinnable cues that the passing of power will be evident for all to see As with other derived forms, this is further evidence that the central political sense of spin is so well established at this point that derived forms of many types are produced and fully understood. This example also demonstrates its negative semantic prosody, since the honesty of something that is unspinnable (i.e. unable to be spun) is given positive evaluation in this use.

3.3.4  Minimally modified and unmodified spin: The full package We have seen that spin in its political sense is related to both the telling of stories (spin a yarn) and to showing the best side of something (put a spin on). In its most frequent occurrences in our data, there is a lack of information in context on who is spinning, what they are spinning, and what they’re spinning it into; there is a definite article at most, and often not even that. The eleven instances of spin that are minimally modified by the definite article alone include only three where spin is additionally premodified by another noun or an adjective: the media spin; the punitive spin; the official spin. These and the eight remaining occasions where there is no premodifier apart from the definite article existentially presuppose that spin is something that exists: −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −−

putting the spin on us the spin from No 10 the spin from Downing Street the spin and the rebuttals All the spin is that Alan Milburn the spin, and its promoters, and none of the spin either behind the spin and self-congratulation

The most we find out about what spin refers to here is where it comes from (No 10; Downing Street etc.), but we are expected to recognize the referent of the word itself and though different readers may interpret it differently in detail, the

Sultans of Spin


general concept of what it refers to is taken for granted and includes something like the following: there is a lot of misleading information which presents the government and their actions/policies in a better light than their opponents and may even be completely false. The majority of instances (132) of spin as a noun occur without any determiner. Forty-two of these occurrences are where spin is combined with of in a prepositional phrase that is postmodifying a noun. Although some of these (e.g. a bit of spin) are syntactically ambiguous and could be analysed as spin in head noun position with a premodifying quantifier, in other examples spin is clearly in the postmodifying phrase and we see it behaving rather oddly with a less certain referent: −− burgeoning apparatus of spin −− the art of spin In the two examples, the form spin could be seen as deviant since it would be more usual to use the –ing participle, spinning, to refer to the process, which is what appears to be the referent. If we were talking about textiles (or wool) then it would be more usual to talk about the art of spinning or the apparatus of spinning. There is one example of this structure in our data: −− who thought that the age of spinning was over But in the case of political spin, the process aspect of its meaning becomes invisible when the participal ending (i.e. –ing) is lost from its nominal form and is reduced to a single lexical item which also encapsulates the Affected and the Product. Spin is not only the act of spinning and that which is being spun, it is also that which is created by the process of spinning. In this political context it leaves behind its verbal associations and becomes established as a mass noun. The result is that the phenomenon takes on an almost tangible existence separate from the Actors, Affected and Products of the original process. Perhaps the most convincing evidence that spin has become a recognized phenomenon in the Blair years is the large number (the majority) of cases which use the word entirely without modification either before or after the head noun. In very many cases, these occurrences of bald, unmodified spin are to be found within the postmodification of another noun, usually following the preposition of: −− The Blairite era of spin −− dark days/exercise/fanatical application/love of spin


−− −− −− −− −−

Keywords in the Press

an act of spin the sin/spectre/death/end of spin no amount of spin Its love of spin It is all a question of spin

We will see below that the regular collocations of spin imply that it has a negative semantic prosody, but these examples (above) additionally demonstrate that there is an assumption about the referent of the word which will be known by the contemporary readers of the news items. If we look back to the examples that were closer to conventional uses (e.g. spin a story about Peter Mandelson) we can see that the bald use of spin as a noun is a long way from these conventional meanings. Although spin by itself does not acknowledge the Actor in the process, there are many phrasal examples where the bald, unmodified spin is combined with nouns referring obliquely to people whose referents are the Actors in the underlying process of spinning. Aside from the morphologically complex cases we saw in the last section (spin doctors, etc.) the data also contains reference to the sultan of spin, the high priests of spin, the original architect of ‘spin’, the ‘merchants of spin’. Again, the process of spinning is absent from these descriptions, as is that which is being spun. The unusual thing about these referents is that they are neither actual people (i.e. proper nouns) nor relevant roles (such as prime minister, or communications director). There is instead a semantic field of authority figures (sultan, high priests, architect) being repeatedly used in relation to spin and evoking as a result of some kind of ritualistic or religious process with a mysterious nature which only the privileged insiders understand. The only noun which does not quite fit into this semantic field is merchant. This example may differ slightly from the authority figures, as its tendency is to collocate either with the names of products, such as metal or cloth, or with negatively evaluated habits such as speed, booze or drugs. These two images of the spin-doctors – as people in privileged positions to hold (magic) power over the rest of us and as people who sell us the goods we need, or even the drugs that enslave us – are two sides of the same political coin. Where spin is the head of its own noun phrase, rather than postmodifying another noun, it is often conjoined with other unmodified nouns. The use of conjunctions to present two or more concepts as equivalent in some way is a common textual practice and one that allows us an insight into how spin is considered in this data. There were many examples of lists and pairs of items

Sultans of Spin


conjoined by and where we get a sense of how spin is conceptualized in the data. The conjoined items are without exception names of actions or concepts that carry a negative evaluation socially: −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −−

spin and presentation hype and spin PR and spin marketing flim-flam, smiles and spin soundbites and spin spin and soundbite headlines, soundbites, spin and lies spin and dishonesty spin and centralism spin and headline-chasing spin, hype and disappointment spin and the repackaging of old spending plans spin and corruption spin and manipulation spin and rhetoric sleaze and spin this Government’s obsession with spin and record on corruption

Though there are differences of denotation in the conjoined items here, they nevertheless seem to largely share some combination of the semantic features of dishonesty, corruption and bureaucracy. We can also see, from a different set of examples, how spin is constructed as being opposite to some basic positive values of society: −− −− −− −− −− −−

Cameron was all spin while Davis was all substance to separate ‘facts’ from ‘spin’ a project based on ‘spin’ and lacking in firmly held values Spin, we are told, is out and substance in It suggests a man of substance rather than spin So out with spin, hobnobbing with the wealthy and in with a new moralism

Here, as we can see, there are a range of structures all of which are ways of textually constructing opposition. So, spin becomes opposed to a number of positively evaluated qualities such as substance, facts, firmly held values and moralism.


Keywords in the Press

The textual triggers for these constructed opposites are parallel structures and negation. In the following example, there is a request to make a clear distinction where there seems to have been convergence: −− reinsert a firewall between political spin and official policy Our data, then, has shown us that the political use of spin, while in some ways connected to conventional metaphorical uses of the basic meanings of this lexeme, had nevertheless developed by this point to become a rather abstract concept devoid of its original sense of process and emptied of specific meaning to the point where it is a generally bad thing with mysterious properties and some kind of hold over the general population. In the final section of this chapter, we will attempt to bring together the findings of our investigation into spin, to characterize the emergent semantics of (political) spin in the Blair years.

3.4  The semantics of spin in the Blair years Our analysis in sections above started with a corpus analysis of the occurrences of spin present in the data and then examined the detail of the uses of spin in this data using TCFs where relevant to describe what was found, and moving from the more conventional to the more specialized (political) uses of the word. In this final section on the word spin in the Blair Corpus, we use a participant role framework to characterize the nature of this word as it became used in political news reporting in the Blair years. We have been using some of the participant labels from a transitivity model to explain the semantics of spin in our data. Here, we will bring together these observations to describe the semantics of the political sense of spin that we see emerging in the Blair Corpus. Here, we find the Goffman (1981) participation framework useful in constructing a semantic description of how the political sense of spin is working. Goffman’s framework was created to account for the actual face-to-face situations of interaction, and to allow researchers to describe the various roles that people may have in relation to an utterance or exchange. Thus, for example, he codified for the first time the notion of ratified (i.e. addressed) and unratified (i.e. accidental) hearers and made a potential distinction between the person whose words are being spoken and the person speaking them. In the political arena, and in relation to spin-doctors in particular, this framework has great relevance. We are using it somewhat unusually here, however, to capture

Sultans of Spin


the semantics of the political sense of spin by what it implies about the likely context of its referent. First of all, the political sense of spin has become a verbalization process, though the conventional meaning of the lexical item is a concrete physical material action. In its political sense, however, the item assumes not a movement in a circle or around a pivot, but some kind of production of linguistic text, whether spoken or written, which is based on a conventional metaphorical use of the word. This production of spun language in the particular set of circumstances of political debate requires at least the following participants: Animator/Author: ●●





The person directly responsible for spinning; Central to all spinning – there appears to be no spin without this participant; Not ever found merged with Principal in our data – in other words the person spinning is always doing so on behalf of another person or an organization, rather than on their own behalf; No examples where Author is separated from Animator – this means that the person doing the spinning is usually assumed (in this data) to also be the writer of the words themselves; Often the grammatical subject of active clauses with spin (v) and also embodied in the compound noun spin-doctor and its derivations.

Principal: ●●



The person (or organization) responsible for instructing the Animator/ Author to spin; May be the same person/organization as the Animator/Author, though is usually not assumed to be the same in our data – in other words it is assumed that there is an organization or person ‘behind’ the spinning; Not often present in the syntax separately from Animator/Author, except occasionally in the construction HAVE + agent + spin + product/ affected, or in the construction spin + for + animator (e.g. I had him spin my story; he spun the facts for me).

Process: ●●

The verbalization process – present when spin is used as verb and implicit when spin is nominalized, though the process itself may be backgrounded;

Keywords in the Press

64 ●●





Its necessary situational participants are Author/Animator and Affected or Product or both, though they are not always explicit in the context of use; There is an assumption that spin is a public kind of verbalization and there is therefore an ill-defined audience too, though this audience (which may include Goffman’s (1981) bystanders and overhearers as well as ratified addressees) is never part of the textual realization of this process; Nominalized forms of the verb normally denote the Product (or possibly the Affected) but some derived forms (e.g. spinner; spin-doctor) may denote the Animator/Author; The verb spin may occur with Author/Animator alone, but a cognate object is then assumed to exist; The bald unmodified use of the derived noun is vague in its reference and can encompass both the process and the product, though it refers to the general practice of producing ameliorated versions of political stories perhaps more than the stories themselves.

Product: ●●


There is always an implied output of the process in the situation, though it may not be mentioned in the context of the verb and it may be either the created output of the process (i.e. false or fictional) or a version of some kind of a pre-existing story (Affected) which is ameliorated for the benefit of the Principal; The product may be implied when spin (n) is used with no modification at all;

Affected: ●●


The pre-existing input to the process. Some supposed ‘facts’ or ‘events’ that are seen as independent of their recounting; May occur as the grammatical object (the events; the story) but often implied in the context rather than syntactically present.

3.5  Spin: Summary and concluding remarks Unlike our other keywords, which mostly seem to develop positive evaluation in their political usage, spin is an evaluatively negative political keyword, both as verb and as noun. Its ubiquity in the Blair Corpus reflects the very great amount

Sultans of Spin


of attention that was paid to the New Labour communication methods and the distrust of these methods in the hands of communications advisors, who rapidly became known in all contexts as spin doctors. What is perhaps most striking in this examination of the data of the Blair Corpus is the creativity and versatility with which the political sense of spin was taken up by commentators, to produce not only the sultans of spin but also new Labour’s spin army, Memo from spin central and a classic example of the spin cycle. These demonstrate not just a scathing critique of New Labour by the commentariat, but also a playful delight in turning the tables and satirizing the government’s style of language. While the other keywords we examine in Chapters 4–8 are used by both politicians and commentators, spin is probably used more by the latter, and only by the former when they are denying their own involvement in misleading language or criticizing another politician for spin. What the other chapters will show is that despite the differences between spin and the other keywords, they share a tendency to be used in a bald, unmodified form which encapsulates the specific political usage by being both relatively empty or vague in meaning while also being assumed to be transparent and easily understood by the reader. This first analysis chapter sets the methodological scene for the other analyses in this book. It demonstrates how, using the sorting facilities of AntConc, we rigorously and systematically examine all concordance lines for a particular keyword, to collate any lexical and syntactic patterns in the local co-text of the keyword under investigation, and how we use, where relevant, analytical tools of critical stylistics to examine patterns in the data. We find this manual approach essential for producing as complete an account as possible for the keywords and their co-text. The detail of the analyses in other chapters will, of course, differ, with each investigation being led by the keyword in question and the related data. Where we used the POS-tagged versions of the corpora, which were the product of automated analysis, we found that the tagging was incorrect in a number of situations, and so the results had to be checked manually in order to be confident of our findings. A particularly interesting finding during our investigation of spin was that relating to the idiomatic construction put the X on, where the X slot is usually filled by a negative concept (such as hex). When spin filled the slot, in a rather creative usage, it took on the negativity associated with the types of words that usually fill that slot. We noted that this is similar to, but not the same as, semantic prosody, which is not usually discussed in relation to expectations about constructions. It is more related to the work of Stefanowitsch and Gries (2003)


Keywords in the Press

and their notion of collostructions, whereby particular words are attracted to particular slots in a construction. But the meaning effects arising from slot filling tendencies is still a potential area for further investigation. Finally, we found in the case of spin, as a sociopolitical keyword, there was scope for defining its usage and meaning in terms of the Goffman (1981) participant framework. This helped us to map out the various participants who may be involved in the process of spinning in this sense. While this appropriation of a framework developed to describe face-to-face interaction is not appropriate for our other keywords, we conclude that it could be a productive avenue for further lexical semantic investigations of lexis concerning communication events.


Choice is the Word of the Hour

4.1 Introduction While it may be no surprise to those who follow British politics that choice is present in significant numbers in the Blair Corpus, casual observers of the language of politics might have expected that its emergence out of Thatcherite Conservative political ideology would have made it equally common in the Major Corpus. However, as we saw in Chapter 2, it is a statistical keyword in the Blair Corpus, as compared with the Major Corpus, giving rise to its candidacy as a sociopolitical keyword for the Blair years in particular. Our initial work on the keywords in the reporting of these periods of government (see Jeffries and Walker 2012) noted the keyness of choice but did not investigate the detailed usage of the word in context. The current chapter takes up the question of whether its statistical keyness in the Blair Corpus is matched by its sociopolitically significant behaviour in context and focuses in particular on choice when it is used as a mass noun. The analysis presented below is based on a detailed scrutiny of the concordance lines produced from the two corpora (including, when useful, the POS-tagged versions), using AntConc (Anthony 2014) to sort the right-handside and left-hand-side co-text of the keyword into various patterns. There is no general agreed method for scrutinizing concordance lines at this stage in a corpus analysis and it is often the weak link in otherwise rigorous studies of large corpora. We are keen to make as clear as possible the reasons for our statements below and how we arrived at them on the basis of our concordance lines. We are also aware that for our study the numbers of concordance lines, though large, are manageable. This would not be true of all corpora, and the need for further software development to facilitate this stage of corpus research remains high. We start, in the next section, by reflecting on research previously carried out on the word choice, in order to contextualize the work reported here.


Keywords in the Press

4.2  Previous research on choice Part of the context to this chapter is the work that Evans and Jeffries (2015) carried out, investigating the occurrence of choice in political manifestos (of major parties in the UK) from 1900 to the present day. The results of this work, recently updated with the 2015 election manifestos (see Figure 4.1), show that the word choice was extremely rare in the period before the 1939–1945 war, then began to rise in frequency up to 2005, but has since fallen in popularity at the two most recent general elections (in 2010 and 2015). The possible explanations for this pattern of occurrence are at least threefold: 1. The use of choice rises in periods of plenty and falls off in periods of austerity, which is why there is no usage before the war, and why it falls off after the 2008 recession. This could be a simple cause-and-effect relationship because the state cannot afford to provide choice in public services when times are hard. 2. The use of choice in relation to public services is an initial step in persuading the public that the privatization of the NHS, state education and other public services is a good thing, by equating such ‘reforms’ with providing ‘consumers’ with more democratic choice. Once that battle has been largely won (i.e. the voters think that a choice of school or hospital is their democratic right) there is no longer a need to offer it in manifestos. 3. Possibly co-existing with option 2, the excuse for further privatization that right-wing parties are seeking may have shifted. In years of plenty, the argument for privatizing has to be about providing choice (often equated with freedom and democracy) in all services. In years of debt and austerity, the argument is that the state can no longer afford to run public services to the same level of provision. Neither argument openly discusses the ideological drive towards a smaller state which underlies them. The manifesto data (Evans and Jeffries 2015) alerted us to the increasing elevation of the concept of choice to the status of general absolute good, on a par with democracy and freedom. One of the ways in which this tendency manifested itself was in the occurrence of choice as the head noun in otherwise unmodified noun phrases. The consequence of letting the word stand by itself is that the recipient is obliged to conclude that s/he ought to know the reference and sense of this word, including its connotations. As we saw in the case of spin, by the time a political keyword has got to the stage of being regularly unmodified in this way, it has usually acquired a (positive or negative) connotative value too. This observation guided the investigation in the current project which used

Choice is the Word of the Hour


Figure 4.1  Relative frequencies of choice in British political manifestos.

sorted concordance lines to group together similar uses of the word, including the unmodified head noun usages. As we will see below, there are similar developments in the behaviour of the keyword choice in the Blair Corpus to those in the manifesto data. These reflect the possible explanations (numbers 2 and 3 above) by making broad assumptions about what choice is, and how it fits into the political landscape of Britain in the early twenty-first century. On the basis of the work underlying Jeffries and Walker (2012) and Evans and Jeffries (2015), we suspected that there would be some contextual features of choice that could help us understand the sociopolitical usage of the item within this data. We were therefore concerned to see how the word-form behaved within its semantico-syntactic environment, and in the sections that follow we set out how we investigated that using the sorting facilities of AntConc (Anthony 2014), and the results of our investigation.

4.3 Choice and its meanings Like many medium-sized corpus linguistics projects, our study aims to find out what is going on in a corpus of data and how the linguistic features that are discovered there relate to the context of use of that particular body of data. But we have an additional focus on the behaviour of particular lexical items which shares some

Keywords in the Press


concerns with lexicologists and lexicographers. Like ours, their work often involves considering the contexts of many occurrences of particular words and grouping them into similar and different uses with the aim of finding out how many separate or separable senses (or even homonyms) are represented by one word-form. This focus on the lexical item, rather than on, say, semantic domains or thematic patterns, which increasingly occupy the centre of corpus linguistics concerns, arises out of our interest in the power of individual lexical items to carry sociopolitical (or cultural) meaning which resonates for particular communities in relatively constrained periods of time. While the software is increasingly able to describe the semantic content and emphasis of corpora, using semantically tagged data, the significance of individual lexical choices in political data should, in our view, not be underestimated.

4.3.1  Dictionary account(s) of meaning Unlike spin, the lexical item choice is not a very complex English word, semantically or syntactically. It mainly occurs as a noun derived from the verb choose, though there are also a small number of occurrences of choice as an adjective. The lexeme has neither homonymous equivalents nor a large range of polysemous senses. The Oxford Dictionary of English (Stevenson 2015) has the following entry for the form choice: noun an act of choosing between two or more possibilities: the choice between good and evil. ●●



[mass noun] the right or ability to choose: I had to do it, I had no choice. a range of possibilities from which one or more may be chosen: you can have a sofa made in a choice of forty fabrics. a thing or person which is chosen: this disk drive is the perfect choice for your computer.

adjective ●●


1. (especially of food) of very good quality: he picked some choice early plums. 2. (of words or language) rude and abusive: he had a few choice words at his command.

While other dictionaries may decide to label the different sub-uses of choice as separate senses, this dictionary gives a general definition (the act of choosing)

Choice is the Word of the Hour


which is followed by three more specific uses. In our data, we found a very similar range of uses which can be partly identified by their differing behaviour as we shall see below. For now, since we will need to refer to each of these uses throughout this chapter, we will label them as polysemous senses of the lexeme, using the convention of lower-case letters to indicate that they are related senses. The following are the senses that were present in our corpora and the rest of this chapter shows how they arose from our analysis: Choice

a Noun (countable). A set of options (often two, but may be more):

−− the general election will essentially be a choice between two parties and two leaders −− In most parts of the country there is now a choice of private gyms

b. Noun (countable). One of a set of options that is, has been or will be chosen. −− He is a natural rebel; a man of the Left who would not be Tony Blair’s first choice as Mayor of London −− Over Easter, Mr Blair will also mull over his choice of a successor for the Cabinet secretary, Sir Richard Wilson, who is retiring this summer

c. Noun (countable). The process of identifying one (or more) of a set of options – or the right or ability to do so. −− Suppose that the Labour leaders realize the impossible choice that confronts them. −− You have got to make a choice

d. Noun (mass/non-count). The condition of having a set of options to choose from. −− The biggest challenge is choice and access −− The protesters had little choice but to accept

e. Adj. The best (or ironic worst) of a set of options. In our case, this is mainly in relation to language but there are also metaphorical uses of the adjective which relate to the positive meaning. The dictionary chooses to separate these senses as though they are not related, but we see them as the positive and (ironic) negative of each other. −− The Deputy Prime Minister is swatting away tedious questions about Tony Blair’s future with some of his customary choice language −− as everyone knows there is nothing like a goody bag to concentrate the mind of the wavering voter, especially if a few choice trinkets from Prada are included, and maybe a Rolex or tiara

Keywords in the Press


The definitions in the Oxford Dictionary of English and the uses of choice derived from our data are almost identical, and both demonstrate how closely linked the different uses of the word are. It can be difficult to separate out the different uses – or senses – of lexemes as there are some occurrences where either of two related senses could be seen as relevant. This was particularly true of senses (a) and (c) (as we have labelled them). They tend to occur in very similar (textual) environments and so the analysis relies on a semantic, rather than a formal test for deciding which sense it is. Fortunately, it was less difficult to formally identify the particular sense (d) we were interested in, because it is a mass noun, whereas other senses are count nouns.

4.3.2  The senses of choice in the Blair and Major Corpora It is one of the findings of our project that choice is statistically key in the Blair Corpus when compared to the Major Corpus. The detailed investigation of how it behaves in context will show that it is not only statistically significant but also plays a role in a changing political landscape in the Blair period. All of the senses of choice that we introduced above, and which closely match the Oxford Dictionary of English’s definition, are seen in both of our corpora. This illustrates that, despite being used significantly more in the Blair years, the sociopolitical sense (d) already featured in the political vocabulary of the Major years and indeed it may have been around longer than that. In this chapter, we wish to establish the nature of this usage, whether there is a change in the pattern of use between the two periods and to what extent any of the usage takes on a specifically political meaning which separates it from mainstream usage. Let us first of all exemplify the senses of choice in each of our corpora, using examples that are clearly different from each other, though as we noted above, there are sometimes difficulties distinguishing sense (a) from sense (c) (Table 4.1). Table 4.1  Examples of different senses of choice in the Major and Blair Corpora

a b c d e

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus

A choice between two self-confessed federalists His choice of a conservative judge Be faced with an agonizing choice More freedom to offer choice and diversity It also had a few choice words of ridicule

A choice between two fundamentally opposed views The audacity of his choice of location The really hard choice is soon to come A ‘tidal wave’ of support for choice I have a few choice words for this government.

Choice is the Word of the Hour


What we started to notice in reflecting on the contextual features of the keyword was that there are some indicators of the different senses that can be picked up fairly easily in concordance lines, simply by using the sort function in the corpus software. So, although sense (a) can be difficult to distinguish from sense (c) when they lack detailed modification (e.g. She had a choice), in fact sense (a) usually enumerates the range of choices that are in play, most often introduced by the preposition between, or indicates the general topic of the choice being made, introduced by the preposition of (e.g. a choice of schools). We will see other similar contextual indicators of the different senses below. Note that even where the subject matter that choice relates to is that of public services, the sense in question is often a mainstream use of senses (a) to (c), rather than the mass noun, sense (d). The particular developments which we will discuss in relation to sense (d) are simply the end point of a lexical development that has been happening during the last few parliaments. Before we move to discussing the properties of choice in sense (d) from which the political usage seems to derive, let us first demonstrate the contextual indicators of the senses, so that the reader wanting to replicate this study – or use a similar methodology on other data – can see how the senses were identified. By sorting the concordance lines by the words that occur one and two places to the left and then to the right of choice, it was relatively straightforward to work through the whole set of occurrences and assess their senses according to the contextual features discussed below. This method allowed us to consider almost all of the occurrences of choice in the two corpora. The examples not fitting one of the senses listed above were part of fixed expressions such as multiple choice, pro-choice or spoilt for choice. These were not relevant to our study. For sense (a), as we have already seen, there was a relatively limited range of postmodification of the head noun consisting of prepositional phrases introduced by between or of (a choice between X and Y; a choice of Z). These senses were also very commonly premodified by the indefinite article with no intervening adjectives (e.g. a choice between …). Sense (c) was usually distinguishable from sense (a) by the fact that in addition to the indefinite article, it was also often premodified by an adjective from a relatively restricted set of semantically related items referring to the seriousness or difficulty or effects of the process that was being (or was about to be) undertaken (e.g. a difficult choice; the tough choice; an easy choice; a divisive choice), rather than the range of options available (sense a) or the option chosen (sense b). There were very few exceptions to these patterns and since we were mostly interested in sense (d), it was less important to identify them all unambiguously.


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Sense (b) was relatively easy to identify because it occurs largely within one or two places of a possessive determiner (his disastrous choice for Home Secretary) or following an ordinal enumerator (the first choice of school) or both (her last choice of location). Where adjectives occurred in these cases, they were in addition to the possessive or the enumerator and they were also loosely semantically related to each other through their evaluative nature (a disastrous choice; his eccentric choice of …). Apparent exceptions to this pattern were actually closely related to the possessive patterning, where instead of a possessive determiner, there is a possessive noun (the electors’ choice of MP for …) or where the person doing the choosing is referred to indirectly in some other way (e.g. a unanimous choice). Other examples demonstrated the possession more indirectly by showing the writer’s viewpoint, even where the adjectives are not strictly evaluative (e.g. a surprising choice; the likely choice). Of the other two senses, sense (e) (adjectival choice) was very minor (there were only a handful of examples in our data) and of course was identifiable when choice premodified another noun, rather than being the head noun itself. It also very frequently followed a quantifier – usually the same one, few – as in a few choice words. We were also able to use the POS-tagged versions of the corpora to assist with searching. We will have little more to say about choice as an adjective in this chapter, but it may be worth noting that there is no formal way of differentiating what seems to us like a premodifying nominal usage, as in the choice agenda as opposed to this adjectival usage. We found, incidentally, that the POS-tagged version of the corpus was unable to distinguish between these two types of premodification. It is likely that most of the adjectival uses follow a quantifier, but is not essential, as we can see from the hypothetical, but completely grammatical, the choice cuts of meat or the choice words (he spoke). Sense (d) is the sense of choice upon which the specifically political usage is based, though it is clearly closely linked to the other senses. It is a mass noun, whereas the other three nominal senses are countable. It was therefore very easy to identify a large proportion of the mass noun tokens, by looking for the occurrences that were not premodified, even by a determiner, and where they therefore follow a rather limited range of possible word classes. This includes: main verbs (e.g. will expand choice); prepositions (e.g. against choice); coordinating conjunctions (e.g. and choice); and subordinating conjunctions (e.g. that choice is …). Many of these were identified quickly and easily from the POStagged corpus, without having to examine the concordance line (or its sentence context) in any detail. However, where there were potential miscategorizations, we had to examine the context more carefully. For example we had to distinguish

Choice is the Word of the Hour


between the subordinating conjunction or relative pronoun use of that (e.g. he knew that choice was vital; the difference that choice can make to people’s lives) and the demonstrative determiner use of that (e.g. parents are buying that choice in private clinics). Also, when choice followed the definite article, it was usually a count noun (e.g. the choice facing Tony Blair) – sense (c) – whereas the few examples before sense (d) were cases of nominal premodification of other nouns (e.g. the choice agenda). These occurred in large numbers, but they were relatively easy to spot by sorting on words to the right hand of choice. Those occurrences of sense (d) (mass noun) of choice which were premodified took longer to identify and categorize, but as with senses (a) and (c), there was a semantic pattern in the adjectival premodification which made them easier to spot. Most of the adjectives premodifying choice in sense (d) were quantifiers (e.g. greater choice) and they were not preceded by an indefinite article (e.g. a greater choice) which would identify sense (a) rather than sense (d). Thus sense (d) possessed both a particular syntactic structure and a semantic preference within that structure. In our data, these occurrences were mostly, but not exclusively, used with reference to public services like health, education and social housing. However, there were a few patterns of usage that occurred in relatively large numbers which could be regarded as idiomatic, such as little choice but to or no choice but to and there are some individual cases of more choice, less choice, greater choice, etc. which refer not to public services but to the electoral choices of voters. In the next section, we will consider primarily the occurrences of sense (d) of choice and aim to show how the political usage arises from this sense, while being semantically linked to the other senses. We will also show that this usage is particularly prevalent in the Blair Corpus.

4.4  Choice as a mass noun in the Blair and Major Corpora While this study of choice in newspaper coverage of the Blair years is not primarily quantitative, and the initial keyword identification has already shown that choice is statistically more likely in the Blair Corpus than in the Major Corpus, there is nevertheless a question that needs answering before we look in detail at the behaviour of the political uses of sense (d) of choice in our data. This question is to what extent the keyword status of choice in the Blair years is simply an uplift in number of tokens from the Major to the Blair years, but demonstrating the same range of senses and therefore being primarily a change in pure quantity rather than in the quality – in this case meaningful behaviour – of usage?

Keywords in the Press


Table 4.2  Choice and sense (d) choice in the Major and Blair Corpora Major Corpus Total words in corpus Total choice tokens Total sense (d) tokens

14,839,390 2,904 694

Blair Corpus 14,895,545 3,749 1,545

LL 104.45 328.52

To answer this question, we identified all the sense (d) uses of choice in each corpus using the methodology outlined in the last section. Table 4.2 shows the raw numbers and the proportion of total words represented by tokens of choice in each corpus and the raw numbers and total proportion of choice tokens represented by sense (d) of choice: As we already know, the occurrence of choice is significantly higher in the Blair Corpus, compared with the Major Corpus, with an LL of 104.45. However, if we look at the sense (d) (mass noun) uses, we see that the significance is even greater, with an LL of 328.52. This shows that not only is choice more prevalent in the Blair Corpus generally, but that this rise in occurrence is disproportionately due to its increased use as an unmodified head noun. While the sense (d) items are not all used in relation to public services or government policy, we can see that there is a great deal more being reported and discussed in relation to the concept of choice in the Blair years than the Major years. In the remainder of this chapter we will take a closer look at that usage in context.

4.5  Choice in public services The keyword choice in our data, as we have seen, is spread across all the senses identified in dictionaries, but with an increasing proportion of those items being categorized as sense (d) in the Blair years. We will look in detail at sense (d) below, but first we will consider the use of the other mainstream senses of choice when they are referring not to electoral choice (i.e. between candidates) but to choices being offered to voters in the range of public services available to them. Since the different senses of the word choice are clearly polysemous – that is, related to each other – it is no surprise to find that the policy areas where choice is being offered to voters produce examples of more than one of the senses of the word. First of all, then, let us consider the occurrences of choice in sense (a) where the range of options for the chooser is either enumerated or indicated by reference to the scope of the choice to be made. Table 4.3 provides examples from both corpora.

Choice is the Word of the Hour


Table 4.3  Public service policy uses of choice Category

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus


Birmingham’s tenants had a choice of staying with the council or joining housing associations.

Education It is right that we should … provide every child with a choice of state-funded education … To give parents a greater choice of new types of school …

His mission to give every parent a choice of good schools.


Mr Blair’s and the Conservative Party’s policy of giving NHS patients a choice of doctors and hospitals. Patients would have a choice of any hospital GPs will offer patients a choice of four or five hospitals.

Whether parents should have a choice of schooling …

Table 4.4  Examples of sense (b) of choice Category

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus


Parents can get their children into their first choice of school

100,000 extra parents to have their first choice of school


Going to the hospital of their choice to obtain treatment

The doctor of your choice at the time of your choice

It is difficult to find clear examples of sense (a) in the Major Corpus, although the three main public service areas of housing, education and health are subject to the ideology of choice in this period as well, as we shall see below. In the Blair Corpus, alongside the prevalence of sense (d), there are many examples specifying the range of choices being offered to the electorate. As explained earlier, examples of sense (b) are easy to spot because of its tendency to be premodified by a possessive and sometimes also an evaluative adjective. In Table 4.4, we see examples from both corpora. Although we do see sense (b) being used to refer to choice in public services, it is more commonly used in relation to political and personal choices as can be seen in the following from the Blair Corpus: −− Brown’s first choice in this role was Harriet Harman −− Their choice of candidate was one reason


Keywords in the Press

Sense (c) of choice, the sense which focuses on the process of making a choice – or the opportunity for choosing – is less common than senses (a) and (b), and it is also rarely connected to the political drive, towards a more competitive (and therefore private) market in public service provision. One of the few examples in either corpus comes from the Blair Corpus and relates to education: −− Parents to be given free choice of state schools Despite this, as we shall see, the tendency to refer to this general policy of creating an internal market in public services (often a precursor to partial or full privatization) is widely referred to with sense (d) which is the mass noun sense of choice. In the next section we will investigate sense (d) in more detail.

4.5.1  Choice as a specific version of the mass noun – sense (d) As we have shown, the word-form choice is a statistical keyword in the Blair Corpus, and we have also established that the mass noun, sense (d), is twice as frequent in the Blair Corpus as in the Major Corpus. In addition, the vast majority of sense (d) uses of choice in both corpora are referring to the policy of developing a market model of public services. In the remainder of this chapter we will discuss the use of this specialized sociopolitical keyword in our data, examining in detail the co-text of the keyword and considering its textualconceptual functions. What we think of as the most developed form of the sociopolitical keyword (see Jeffries and Walker 2012; Evans and Jeffries 2015) in each case, is what we call the bald, unmodified use of the word, where it has no pre- or postmodification. This kind of usage appears to signify the end point of the process that we are trying to map, of a specialized sense of a lexical item developing that becomes a kind of shorthand for a complex set of ideas, often based on a particular ideological stance. We saw with spin that this process ended with an unmodified use of the keyword to indicate a rather vague idea of maliciously misleading political communication practices. As we also saw in Chapter 3, these unmodified keyword senses often appear to be based on one of the more mainstream senses of the word, so their introduction and gradual elevation to the point where they are generally accepted, as in this case, as an absolute good, is more subtle than the introduction, defining and use of a clearly technical term (such as, for example, quantitative easing in relation to the economic crisis in 2008). By employing an everyday word with a relatively uncontentious meaning, politicians appeal to

Choice is the Word of the Hour


Table 4.5  Proportion of sense (d) choice which are unmodified Major Corpus Total sense (d) tokens Total unmodified sense (d) tokens

694 167

Blair Corpus 1,545  486

LL 328.52 161.51

the electorate’s judgement that they are talking ‘common sense’. The fact that these keywords increasingly become associated with an ideologically based set of policies goes largely unnoticed, except by political commentators, and the ideology becomes naturalized. Table 4.5 shows that the unmodified form of choice occurs in around onequarter of the examples of sense (d) in both corpora, though the raw figures are much higher in the Blair corpus, as we saw in Table 4.2. With an LL ratio of 161.51, the difference between these figures (as compared with the total size of the corpus) remains highly significant, so we can conclude that not only is sense (d) increasing proportionately between the two periods of government, but the number of tokens which are unmodified also rises significantly. This finding confirms our sense that the trajectory of meaning development in this data is towards the unmodified form. The unmodified form has, by definition, no noun phrase structure of its own, so in order to investigate the way in which it operates textually, we can look at its role in the immediate clause or phrase structure around it. A limited number of tokens of unmodified sense (d) are to be found within the postmodification of noun phrases and this subordination at a low level of structure has the effect of making it very difficult to ask what choice refers to, since its reference is being taken for granted. Here are some examples from the Blair Corpus: −− −− −− −−

Part of a major extension of choice to be announced today the government’s preoccupation with choice moving towards the Tory position on choice won the battle of ideas on choice

What is noticeable about these examples is that the concept of choice is assumed irrespective of whether the writer is arguing for or against it. This is part of the naturalization process, whereby people arguing against an ideology are nevertheless drawn into the acceptance of a label for it, thus inevitably contributing to its reification and acceptance at least as a concept.1 The same effect


Keywords in the Press

can be seen where unmodified, sense (d) choice is used not in postmodification of nouns, but in their premodification: −− −− −− −−

Mr Milburn wants to see the ‘choice’ agenda expanded Bevan would have approved of the choice agenda there will be a choice element in our tax proposals the choice rhetoric comes unstuck

There is a relatively small (forty-three) number of such cases in the Blair Corpus, many of which (twenty-eight) are to be found in the phrase the choice agenda and a smaller group in the phrase choice adviser(s). This sometimes makes plain, by scare quotes, that the word choice is being used in a particular way, but the overall impression, even where it is being contested, is that there is a coherent set of principles which can be labelled in this way. The question to what extent the electorate really comprehends this set of principles and their effects is one that might be raised in relation to these keywords in general and we will return to this issue in the conclusions. What is interesting to note in our data is that although this premodifying use of the political sense of choice is relatively rare in the Blair Corpus, it is entirely missing in the Major Corpus, which implies that there has been a shift in its establishment as a recognizable sense of the word between the two periods. The link between our data and the TCFs of critical stylistics is that the syntactic prioritization of information in these cases and others like them cause the concept of choice to be situated at a level of structure where the question of its identity and meaning are least likely to be contested. As well as prioritization, naming – and the resulting process of reifying – is crucial to the development of meaning under investigation here. In both postmodifying and premodifying nouns, the bald use of choice in its political sense is assumed to be understood and accepted by both producer and recipient of the text. Even where the writer wishes to contest the strategic value of choice in public services, his/her acceptance of the package of measures named by the word contributes to its naturalization. The other TCF that is relevant here is transitivity, which tracks the kinds of processes that are being chosen in a text. In the case of unmodified choice, we can see which participant roles it plays in relation to the verbal element and we can see which transitivity categories it co-occurs with. The simple way to achieve this with a large corpus is to sort first on the right-hand side, so that choice will be in grammatical subject position in relation to any verb and then on the left-hand side, to pick up those cases where it is a grammatical object or complement.

Choice is the Word of the Hour


In a large minority of cases (98/486) unmodified choice tokens are found in the Blair Corpus immediately before a verb (or within a few words where there are auxiliaries or intervening adverbs).2 Out of these, the majority (65/98) are variants of the intensive relational (copula) verb BE. The following examples show the range of usage: −− −− −− −− −− −−

Choice is a red herring Choice is the word of the hour unless choice is code for privatization choice is good choice is a myth Choice is meant to improve taxpayers’ healthcare

While some of these examples show that the concept and the ideology behind it are sometimes contested in this period, they also demonstrate that the sociopolitical keyword usage is widespread in its unmodified form as the Carrier of Attributes and yet, despite the choice of intensive relational verbs, these examples do not seem to be defining the meaning (i.e. its reference) of the political keyword. Rather, they are judging the value of it as a political philosophy. This demonstrates that transitivity analysis still falls short of mapping all the nuances of the language, since both intrinsic traits, such as would be included in a definition, and more temporary and external features, such as the value judgements of the speaker/writer, are delivered by means of the same intensive relational structure. The equivalent examples in the Major Corpus, by contrast, are fewer in number (six in total) although the same pattern of value judgements can be seen in, for example, choice is a fine thing, though there are also more examples of partial definitions in evidence: −− Choice is liberty −− choice is by its nature relative So, the unmodified use of choice shows a development towards being assumed, rather than defined, between these two sets of examples, though they are too few in number to conclusively confirm this apparent change. However, if we add this to the earlier demonstration of its tendency to occur more regularly as a modifier in the Blair Corpus, we may conclude that its solidifying as a concept (or perhaps bundle of ideologies) between the two periods is supported. Sorting on the left-hand side of the keyword allowed us to see the extent to which there was any change in transitivity patterning between the periods where unmodified sense (d) choice was in the grammatical object or complement


Keywords in the Press

Table 4.6  Verbs before sense (d) choice in the Blair and Major Corpora Both corpora

Major Corpus only

Blair Corpus only

had; be (all forms); create; exercise; expand; extend; give; improve; increase; introduce; promote; provide; put; spread; stifle; widen; enjoy; get; need; want; advocate; defend; deny; emphasize; offer

lack; abolish; contrast; devolve; eliminate; impede; limit; open up; remove; turn; like; laud; pen; tick

mean; accumulate; back; balance; buy; combine; start coupling; deliver; embrace; encourage; enhance; enrich; face; hamper; hurt; inhibit; inject; make; places; pursue; push; redistribute; reduce; take; assume; believe; regard; see; claim; demand; describe; extol; insist; say

position. While both periods under scrutiny show signs of unmodified choice directly following a verb, there is a wider range of such verbs used in the Blair Corpus than in the Major Corpus. Table 4.6 shows the similarities and differences between the usage in the two corpora. The majority of the verbs used with unmodified sense (d) of choice in these corpora are, in Hallidayan terms, material action (intention) such as promote, provide and embrace. In all these cases, unmodified choice is both the grammatical object and the Goal of the action, with a large number of the verbs relating semantically to the idea of increasing choice (encourage, expand, increase) or to the (negatively evaluated) idea of choice being restricted in some way (inhibit, limit, stifle and even hurt). There is a strong build up in both corpora, then, of the general notion of choice in public services having positive value such that it should be encouraged – and a negative view of the idea of limiting it is inherent in the alternative verbs, with the most surprising, perhaps, being hurt which personifies choice by its expectation of an animate Goal. The main difference between the corpora is the number of different ways that the Blair Corpus refers to the amount of choice that is – or is not – being offered. Let us turn now to those examples of choice which, while still representing the political sense (d), are nevertheless modified in some way. Although we began by discussing the most extreme form of the sociopolitical keyword, the unmodified version, the process of naturalizing its ideological meaning depends on a wide range of naming practices which establish the scope of choice in the political arena so that it becomes accepted as a concept. In the Blair Corpus, the range of postmodifying prepositional phrases demonstrates the scope of the changes

Choice is the Word of the Hour


that politicians are implementing. The following are repeated many times over in the data: choice for the (few/patients/parents/the elderly/students/everyone) choice in (schools/the public sector/health and education/healthcare)

The Major Corpus shows a similar pattern, though with a more restricted range of items in the prepositional phrase. There is an increase not just in numbers of tokens, then, but in the range of public sector areas where choice is seen as applicable. Table 4.7 shows the range and quantity of postmodification of sense (d), mass noun choice in its sociopolitical usage (frequencies greater than one are shown in brackets). Table 4.7  Postmodification of sense (d) choice in the Blair and Major Corpora Category

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus

all; the public; people; every family citizens; individuals (2)

all; all the people; everyone (2); ordinary people the individual citizen; electors; votes consumers (of services) (6); the consumer; users

consumers People offered choice

customer parents (4); schools; parents and pupils

patients and their doctors

them; themselves Total


parents (and their children) (16); middle-class children; every parent; pupils all the better off; the economically advantaged the many; not the few; a few; the minority (nhs) (2); (heart and cancer) patients (13) students; others (2); readers; tenants; an elderly person 58

public services (5); society (reform of) Public services (68); key public services; (the) public sector; tax-funded sector certain privatized industries; private sector (Continued )

Keywords in the Press

84 Table 4.7  Continued Category

Areas of public provision

Major Corpus economic policy; the economic sphere; real or simulated markets education (15); schooling (2); schools (5) education and health (3)

education; health and pensions the new-style nhs

Blair Corpus

education (15); (secondary) schools (14); schooling (2) education and health (2); health and education (20); health (care) (9); schools and hospitals hospitals (2); health; the NHS (13); primary care

social services; domiciliary and day care; welfare policy social rented sector/bbc; policing; energy; anything schools and housing industrial relations; style of provision working hours; the system Total



Table 4.7 groups the postmodifiers into two lists. The first list refers to the people to whom increased choice is being offered. The list is similar in each case, with some general categories (e.g. the public; everyone) and some referring to their role in relation to public services (e.g. parents; patients). There is a wider range of such roles in the Blair Corpus (e.g. students; readers) but there is also a different set of phrases referring to people in relation to their wealth (e.g. the economically advantaged) or their membership of a majority or minority group (e.g. the many; the minority). In the second list, which refers to the areas of public provision in which choice is being offered, there are differences between the corpora, but they both focus mainly on health, education and to some extent also on welfare and social provision. The smaller differences in these lists are of interest (e.g. the use of customers in the Major Corpus but not in the Blair Corpus and the linking of choice to industrial relations and working hours in the Major but not the Blair Corpus) but the figures are so small that no generalizations can be made on this basis. They may, however, indicate areas of future study that could be fruitful.

Choice is the Word of the Hour


Table 4.8  Premodification of sense (d) choice in the Blair and Major Corpora (excluding simple determiner premodification) Major Corpus


consumer choice customer choice educational choice

29 4 5

free choice greater choice

15 15

individual choice less choice

21 9

more choice as much choice as possible

39 2

parental choice patient choice personal choice public choice school choice

89 5 18 4 4

wider choice Total

3 190

Blair Corpus blairite choice (policy/strategy) consumer choice customer choice educational choice enhanced choice extended choice free choice greater choice increased choice individual choice less choice limited choice more choice as much choice as possible too much/ so much choice etc parent choice parental choice patient choice personal choice public choice school choice public sector choice ubiquitous choice wider choice Total

Freq. 2 (2) 77 3 2 3 1 2 62 4 22 2 6 114 12 3 64 43 17 3 7 1 1 15 468

The premodification of sense (d) of choice is more extensive in both corpora than the postmodification and it reflects the increasing range of public services coming under scrutiny as potential areas for the market model of provision. Table 4.8 shows the range and numbers of tokens in each of the corpora. What we see from Table 4.8 is that there are more tokens of premodification in the Blair Corpus than in the Major Corpus (the difference in frequencies significant at the 0.01 per cent level with an LL of 120.18,) as we would expect, given the overall numbers of tokens in each corpus. But there are also more types. The numerical increase in examples relating to health (patient choice) reflects the sequence in which governments focused on choice first in education and then in the NHS. But the new items in the Blair Corpus (e.g. enhanced; extended; increased; limited) are almost all about quantity, and this reflects what we saw in the transitivity analysis, where verbs of increase and limitation were more common in the Blair Corpus than in the Major Corpus. This emphasis on quantity is another


Keywords in the Press

sign that choice has become more established in the Blair corpus as something good which seeks to grow – as evidenced by the fact that limited is normally only used in relation to things which we would rather were not limited. The other evidence that choice is becoming an unexamined absolute good can be seen in the pattern of coordination of choice with other nouns in the data. Table 4.9 demonstrates that choice is associated with well-established political absolutes such as democracy and freedom and with more ideologically loaded Table 4.9  The coordinated collocates of choice in the Blair and Major Corpora (with frequencies) Major Corpus

Freq. Blair Corpus

choice and academic selection


choice and accountability choice and autonomy

1 1

choice and change choice and collective responsibility competition and choice choice and competition

1 1

choice and compulsion


5 6

debate and choice


choice and democracy


decision and choice



choice and access


alternative provision and choice boldness and choice choice and increased capacity

1 1 1

competition and choice choice and competition choice and competitiveness choice and conflict choice and consumer power choice and consumption contestability and choice/choice and contestability control and choice/choice and control debate and choice decentralization and choice and competition/choice and decentralization choice and delivery democracy and choice/choice and democracy

9 18 1 1 2 1 2/3 2/2 1 2 1 1/1

choice and devolution 2 choice and discretion 1 diversity and choice/choice and 6/20 diversity and choice/choice and 21/55 diversity diversity

Choice is the Word of the Hour Major Corpus

Freq. Blair Corpus

education and choice


enterprise and choice


choice and excellence


choice and flexibility


freedom and choice/choice and freedom freshness and choice individualism and choice/ choice and individual responsibility innovation and choice liberty and choice/choice and liberty choice and local democratic responsibility markets and choice opportunity and choice/choice and opportunity ownership and choice/choice and ownership partnership and choice

power and choice/choice and power choice and private provision etc. quality and choice


5/6 1 1/1 1 1/1 1


efficiency and choice choice and empowerment

1 4

equality of access and choice equity and choice/choice and equity

1 3/4

choice and fairness 2 flexibility and choice/choice and 3/5 flexibility freedom and choice/choice and 7/1 freedom choice and individualization/ individualism


choice and liberty


choice and local control


localism and choice/choice and 2/2 localism 1 market(s) and choice/choice 9/2/2 and market discipline/choice and markets 13/25 opportunity and choice/choice 2/1 and opportunity 2/2 1

7/1 3 2

choice and payment by results personalization and choice/ personal service and choice/ choice and personalization/ choice and personalized services pluralism and choice power and choice for patients/ choice and power choice and private provision/ privatization choice and prudence quality and choice

2 2/1/3/1

1 3/1 1/1 1 4

(Continued )

88 Major Corpus

resourcing and choice

Keywords in the Press Freq. Blair Corpus


responsibility and choice/ choice and responsibility say and choice choice and selection


standards and choice/choice and standards


choice and tax relief/lower income tax


variety and choice/choice and variety


choice and wealth creation Total

1 1

1 135


the banner of reform and choice/choice and reform


choice and respect choice and responsibility

1 1

choice and say


choice and self-reliance choice and specialization standards and choice/choice and standards schools policy and choice the decentralized state and choice in public services higher taxes and choice choice and traditional and modern values choice and vision voice and choice/choice and voice political will and choice Total

1 1 1/1 1 1 1 1

1 2/2 1 222

items such as competition and decentralization, which have positive evaluation in some (mostly right-wing) political circles. Table 4.9 shows the range of coordinated items including choice in both corpora.3 As we noted in Chapter 2, collocational patterns can tell us something about the (connotational) meaning of a word, with the concept of semantic prosody (Louw 1993) being related to the (often positive or negative) evaluation a word might acquire through association. In our data, the specific patterning of collocates in coordinated structures is a strong indicator of the evaluative connotations of a word sense as used in any particular set of data. Here, we find that both corpora value choice highly by linking it to other positively valued referents such as democracy, freedom, flexibility, power and control. The differences of emphasis between the two corpora, however, are mainly found in the themes such as enterprise/ownership and wealth creation in the Major Corpus, whereas the Blair Corpus emphasizes consumer power/ decentralization and personalization. There is no complete separation between

Choice is the Word of the Hour


the two periods, as we would expect, but the lexical expressions of some of the ideologies differ as political keywords arise alongside choice so that we even find two of our other keywords, reform and respect, coordinated with choice in the Blair Corpus. If we take the Firthian view that collocational habits are infectious, so that a word is associated with the words it is near to, then those with which it is closely coordinated are likely to be more infectious than most. Though there is no guarantee that the conjunction and produces equivalence rather than opposition, many of the examples in Table 4.9 are clearly creating equivalence in the sense that they are listing highly valued concepts (such as responsibility) in the same phrase as choice. By contrast, there are just two occasions where there is a contextual opposition being set up by the coordinated phrase (choice and conflict/choice and compulsion).

4.6  Choice and scare quotes Before we summarize the findings of this chapter and consider their ideological implications, there is one other noticeable difference between the two corpora that should not go without comment. The tendency for writers to use (either single or double) scare quotes around the word choice is quite striking in the difference of frequency, as we can see in Table 4.10. While the sociopolitical keyword choice that we have been investigating was already in evidence in the Major Corpus, it is nevertheless in the Blair Corpus that we see it becoming a fully fledged political keyword. The occurrence of such a high proportion of tokens in scare quotes in the Major Corpus (the total of 133 is significant with an LL of 79.17 at the 0.01 per cent level) may indicate a distancing of the writers from the concept of choice, and a cynicism towards this political ideal. This habit appears to diminish significantly in the Blair Corpus, however, and this may indicate the naturalization of this concept as an absolute good which is no longer challenged as vigorously as in the Major years. A more detailed study of these examples could perhaps reveal patterns in their usage which go beyond the writer’s awareness of their political keyword status, as the following examples illustrate: −− When he champions ‘choice’ over central control in both health and education, that is Tory territory −− But ‘choice’ can be shorthand for a battery of measures whose appeal is not nearly so obvious

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Table 4.10  Choice in scare quotes Quotation mark type

Major Corpus Blair Corpus

Single scare quotes Double scare quotes

 15 118

12 14




Here, we have two slightly different emphases, the first by a writer signalling his/ her distance from the ideology of choice and the second, though also negative, drawing attention to the word itself and the way in which it had come to mean a set of policies with a particular ideological underpinning.

4.7  Summary and conclusions – choice as a political absolute This chapter has investigated in detail the occurrence of the word-form choice in the two corpora to see whether its statistical keyword status reflects a sociopolitical usage that can be said to characterize the reporting of the Blair years. We found that not only were there significantly more tokens overall in the Blair Corpus, but there were also significantly more examples of the mass noun (sense d) version of choice and also of the unmodified (bald) use of sense (d). These figures suggested that choice had not only increased in usage across all its senses as public services increasingly came under pressure to model themselves on the private (market-driven) sector, but that the mass noun sense of choice had started to take on a specific sociopolitical meaning which in the Blair Corpus apparently no longer required modification to indicate its reference. The transitivity analysis of the context of the unmodified sense of choice showed us that there was more of a tendency to state its value, using intensive relational verbs (copular BE) in the Blair Corpus than in the Major Corpus and that there was a greater variety in the Blair Corpus of verbs preceding choice which emphasized quantity and indirectly demonstrated that choice was being granted a high value. Where choice did have modification, the postmodification in both corpora specified the groups of people to whom choice was/would be offered and the areas of activity, usually public services, in which choice would be offered. There were slight, but not numerically large, differences in the lists of activities and people affected between the corpora. The premodification of choice showed a

Choice is the Word of the Hour


little more difference with the Blair Corpus having a greater range and number of premodifiers with a semantic preference for quantity. This reinforced the impression from the transitivity analysis of ever greater and wider application of choice across all areas of government activity. The coordination of choice with other abstract nouns of absolute value, such as democracy, freedom, power and control was to be seen in both corpora, though there were also differences in the two lists, with the Major Corpus showing examples relating to ownership and wealth creation while the Blair Corpus listed consumer power, decentralization, reform and respect among its coordinated collocates, the latter two being two of our other keywords. We started out this chapter by postulating that there were three possible explanations for the rise of choice in political manifestos through the twentieth century and its apparent reduction in the early twenty-first century. We could ask whether the evidence from reporting of political news as seen in this chapter can help us to understand what the role of choice has been in the period under consideration. We have seen that it came to stand for a broad political philosophy of market-based services which are linked to the desirable ideals of democracy, freedom and (local) control resulting in an assumption that choice is a desirable objective in the activities of government. We also noted that there is a coherent set of political principles, largely relating to the marketization of public services, which is regularly referred to by the use of choice as a mass noun. The question to what extent the electorate is in a position to really comprehend this set of principles and their effects is one that might be raised in relation to these keywords in general, since their use with little or no modification and as a shorthand label for sometimes unexplained policy directions is ubiquitous. As with our analysis of spin, we made use of the POS-tagged versions of our corpora and found that while helpful for identifying adjectival uses of choice, it was not nuanced enough to distinguish between nominal and adjectival premodification in this instance. Thus, manual analysis was still important for accounting for all our data. When considering the concordance lines in detail, we found that using the TCFs, particularly, but not exclusively naming and transitivity, helped to characterize the nature of the word-form in use. An important additional methodological step in this chapter was arranging some of our findings into data-driven groupings in order to determine patterns of usage for choice. While this method is used extensively for the remaining keywords, it is worth noting that any such categorizations have associated difficulties. This is an issue that we take up and discuss in Chapter 6.



The Immense Possibilities of the Word Reform

5.1 Introduction In this chapter we will examine the usage of reform in our data, and draw conclusions about the particular semantics of the word in the political news reporting of the Major and Blair years. We tease out the semantics of reform in the periods represented by our two corpora, by taking the immediate context into account via the technique of sorting concordance lines in various ways that enable us to assess the different senses (and word classes) of the word-form in our data. As with previous chapters, we thus assess the collocates of reform manually, using the concordance lines. The larger number of tokens for this keyword compared with the others, and its dual identity as a verb and a noun, made the task greater than for some of the other keywords, but the method was no less effective as a relatively manageable way to produce an analysis of a large quantity of data. The POS-tagged versions of our corpora made it somewhat easier to differentiate the different grammatical functions of the word-form even though some of the tags were incorrectly applied. Like other keywords of the sociopolitical kind that we are investigating here, while the statistical keyword status of reform is based on a simple difference in word-form frequencies in the data, a more detailed investigation of these occurrences shows that the everyday meanings are far outnumbered by those which reflect the political ideas of the time.

5.2  The basics of reform Before we consider the particular semantic development of this word in our data, we will first of all summarize its frequency and compare it to other sources

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of information on lexical frequency and word class. In Table 5.1, we see the figures for occurrences of reform. These figures show that reform is significantly more frequent in the Blair than the Major Corpus, as the LL ratio is much higher than the cut-off value which even at the highly significant p ≤ 0.0001 level is 15.13. One option for a baseline comparison to see how these frequencies compare to some kind of ‘norm’ is to contrast our results with large corpora of English, such as the BNC. The data available on reform in that corpus can be summarized as shown in Table 5.2. We can see from the figures in the table that reform is slightly more frequent (66.83 per million words) in news texts than the average for the whole BNC (56.92 per million words). However, when we compare the results with our data (see Table 5.3), the frequency of occurrences is very much higher in the latter, rising to 529.08 per million words for reform in the Blair Corpus. But this apparently excessive use of reform (compared with the BNC) is even evident in the Major Corpus where reform occurs 298.7 times per million words. So, at this Table 5.1  Reform tokens in Major and Blair Corpora (with frequency per million words and log-likelihood) Major Corpus Total words in corpus reform tokens

Per million words

14,839,390 4,433

Blair Corpus

Per million words




14,895,545 298.7


Table 5.2  Reform tokens in BNC (with frequency per million words)

reform tokens

BNC (all)

Per million

BNC (news)

Per million





Table 5.3  Comparison of reform per million words in BNC (news) and the Major and Blair Corpora Newspaper corpora BNC (news) 9,412,174 words Major Corpus 14,839,390 words Blair Corpus 14,895,545 words


Per million

629 4,433 7,881

66.83 298.70 529.08

The Immense Possibilities of the Word Reform


stage, we have evidence that reform is a very popular word in the reporting of political stories in our two corpora and is significantly more so (as evidenced by the LL scores) in the Blair Corpus than the Major Corpus. While we may not be surprised to find reform occurring in large numbers in specifically political reporting compared with the more general news data in the BNC sub-corpus, the step up between the BNC (news) and the Major Corpus is high and there is another large increase to the Blair Corpus, the figures appearing to confirm that it is being used increasingly over the two periods under consideration. Another question which we can address initially in broad (statistical) terms is the extent to which the occurrence of reform as a member of different word classes is normal in our two corpora, as against other expectations. This may have implications for the semantics of political reform as compared with the concept in everyday usage. The Oxford Dictionary of English defines reform as follows: verb [with obj.] 1. make changes in (something, especially an institution or practice) in order to improve it: the Bill will reform the tax system. ■ cause (someone) to relinquish an immoral, criminal, or self-destructive lifestyle: the state has a duty to reform criminals | (as adj. reformed) I am considered a reformed character these days. ■ [no obj.] relinquish an immoral, criminal, or self-destructive lifestyle: it was only when his drunken behaviour led to blows that he started to reform. 2. (Chemistry) subject (hydrocarbons) to a catalytic process in which straightchain molecules are converted to branched forms for use as petrol. noun [mass noun] the action or process of reforming an institution or practice: the reform of the divorce laws [count noun]: economic reforms.

The dictionary entry appears to confirm what might constitute an assumption by speakers of English, that the verbal sense of reform is more basic, as the reference of the lexical item is a process. We will see later that the entry also reflects some aspects of the use of reform in our data. In particular, the first verbal sense (1) includes the important semantic feature in order to improve it. This sense is both transitive (the state has a duty to reform criminals) and intransitive (he started to reform).

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Table 5.4  Reform as noun, verb and adjective in Major and Blair Corpora Word class

Major Corpus

reform (n) reform (v) reform (adj)

3,992 396 45

Blair Corpus


6,903 891 87

776.35 193.52 13.44

Table 5.5  Reform as noun in Major and Blair Corpora compared with BNC as proportion of tokens

reform (n)

Major Corpus

% of tokens

Blair Corpus




% of tokens 87.59

BNC 5,079

% of tokens 91.64

Although we may wish to argue decontextually that reform is fundamentally verbal, initial figures for occurrences of reform in our corpora show a much higher total of nominal than verbal uses of the form. This may not be surprising as language in use tends to be more heavily nominal than verbal. Table 5.4 gives the figures for noun, verb and adjectival uses in our data, which we compiled using the POS-tagged versions of the corpora, and shows the LL ratios for each of these classes when comparing them. The LL scores here show that all word classes of reform increase significantly from the Major to the Blair Corpus (at p ≤ 0.001 with LL ≥ 10.83). The figures for adjectives are low, however, so the difference is less reliably significant than those for nouns and verbs where the difference is also significant at the p ≤ 0.0001 level (LL ≥ 15.13). The percentages of reform tokens which are nominal, verbal and adjectival respectively show nominal uses as dominant in both corpora. If we compare this with the nominal usage in the BNC (see Table 5.5), we can see that such proportions are not abnormally high for this word-form. We will see in the rest of this chapter what happens to reform in the political reporting; that is, the focus of our study is that it behaves in specialized ways that support the interpretation that it has become a separate sense of a polysemous lexeme. This effect increases between the Major and the Blair data but in both cases it reflects the importance of the concept of reform as a political shorthand for a range of measures – which can have either of two ideological aims as we shall see below.

The Immense Possibilities of the Word Reform


5.3  Reform in context We have seen that a dictionary definition of reform (e.g. make changes in (something…) in order to improve it) constructs it as an evaluatively positive word, and one of the aims of our investigation of its context in the data was to consider whether, like some of our other keywords (e.g. choice), this positive evaluation is evident from its usage in the data. The other consideration for this stage of the research was to see which areas of public policy and governmental activity were most frequently linked to processes of reform during the two periods under scrutiny, whether these differed between the Major and Blair periods of government, and whether the associations produced by these collocational tendencies are likely to colour the word’s meaning more generally. We adopted the process we have used in previous chapters, and analysed the immediate co-text of reform using sorted concordances. For convenience, the following two sub-sections (5.3.1 and 5.3.2) are divided according to whether the left-hand or right-hand context was being examined in the concordance lines. A final sub-section (5.3.3) considers the case of bald, unmodified reform, which continues a pattern of development towards an assumed meaning-complex which we have seen with the other keywords. The discussion in Section 5.4 will consider issues that cut across these three groupings of results.

5.3.1  Left-hand context of reform (n) The naming of various kinds of political and social reforms is one of the striking aspects of this data. While reform is sometimes itself verbal, as we have seen in Section 5.1, it is much more commonly nominal, and in a majority of cases, it forms the head of a noun phrase (though we will see in the next section that it can also modify other nouns). In Table 5.6, we see the range of themes and topics that are included in the premodification of reform as a noun, with their full list of lexical realizations in each corpus listed against them. The thematic categories in Table 5.6 are data-driven, starting with those individual words and phrases (e.g. public service; welfare) which occurred most frequently and as adding others as needed when newly encountered collocates did not fit the existing list. Note that there is no absolute answer to how to group words by theme and some of these could have equally well been allocated to a different category. For example, the Post Office was still a public service during this period, though it has now been privatized. We have listed it in the former


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Table 5.6  Immediate left-hand nominal and adjectival collocates of reform (n) by theme Theme/topic

Major Corpus


administrative/tion; cabinet; commons; constitutional; council; democratic; domestic; electoral; government(al); institutional; lords; parliamentary; policy; political; regional; civil service; voting; Westminster; whitehall

Education Health Justice/legal

Public services Welfare/benefits Europe/UN Tax/money

Agriculture/land Political party Military/defence Housing Unions Rights Transport

Blair Corpus

administrative/tion; second/ upper chamber; select committee; commons; constitutional; corporation; council; democratic; electoral; government; town hall; institutional; lords; parliamentary; policy; political; poll; vote/ing; Westminster; whitehall curriculum; education(al); curriculum; education; exam; school(s); training; university inspectorate; school(s); university healthcare; hospital; NHS health(care); hospital; NHS shops act; adoption; divorce; adoption; legal aid; court; shopping hours; judicial; law; divorce; hunting; judicial; leasehold; legal; legislative; justice; law; legal; legislative; penal; prison; sunday trading penal; planning; prison; regulatory; sentencing post office; police; public sector; PO; police; public sector; public service public service benefit(s); social; social benefits; social; welfare state; security; welfare welfare CAP; ERM; EU/European; CAP; EU/European treaty; UN bank; budget(ary); currency; economic; financial; FSA; economic; finance/ial/fiscal; (HE) funding; market; market; monetary; pension(s); microeconomic; monetary; NI; tariff; tax pension(s); tariff; tax agrarian/agricultural; land agrarian/agricultural; land conservative; labour; party; conservative; labour; party; tory tory military defence housing housing industrial relations; union NUS; union rights transport

category as its reform in this period concerned precisely the idea of selling it off. Both corpora were treated identically for this exercise and all of the examples are present in the table, so readers may draw their own conclusions as to the efficacy of the process. This note applies to other similar grouping exercises to be found in this chapter and elsewhere.1

The Immense Possibilities of the Word Reform


Table 5.7  Left-hand collocates of reform (n) by theme and statistics Major Corpus Democracy** Education Health** Justice Public services** Welfare/benefits** Europe/UN Tax/money Agriculture/land* Political party* Military/defence Housing Unions Rights Transport

1,134 70 46 173 16 129 96 249 64 97 3 4 43 3 0

Blair Corpus 1,976 111 100 121 520 672 59 262 17 43 3 2 34 0 3

LL 227.66 9.21 20.25 9.44 597.27 401.24 9.06 0.28 29.23 21.58 0.00 0.69 1.09 4.17 4.15

It is perhaps interesting that there are very few types of word (and not many more tokens) in some of the later categories, such as defence, housing or industrial relations, where we might have expected more. It may well be that carrying out a similar study of the Thatcher years before Major or the Cameron years post Blair’s premiership (or even the rather shorter period in office of Gordon Brown) would produce a higher number of word-forms in those categories. In most cases, the frequency of occurrence of words belonging to the categories number in single figures, but between them they add up to a pattern of usage which can be seen more clearly if we compare the differences in numbers of tokens in each category from both corpora, and test the significance of those individual differences using LL ratio. Table 5.7 shows these figures, together with their LL ratio scores. As we can see from the table, only the asterisked themes change significantly (all LL being above 15.13, they are significant at the p ≤ 0.0001 level) between the two periods, with Agriculture/land and political party reform (single asterisk) reducing in the Blair data compared with the Major data, and democracy, health, public services and welfare/benefits (double asterisk) increasing in the Blair data. The details of these naming habits are perhaps not surprisingly linked to the most prominent political concerns of the day, and might lead to different results in the period of writing when the dominant news stories in the UK concern the refugee crisis internationally, and Europe and housing domestically. The increase evidenced here, it should be made clear, is as a proportion of the whole corpus,


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not as a proportion of reform tokens. The latter, expressed as a percentage of the total number of tokens, does not demonstrate a large change in emphasis (e.g. the Democracy figures above constitute 25.6 per cent and 25 per cent of total reform tokens for the Major and Blair Corpora respectively). Thus, what we see is an increase in these categories when matched against the corpus as a whole, and this could be paraphrased as saying that democratic reform is discussed significantly more frequently in the Blair years than in the Major years rather than saying that the word reform is significantly more associated with democracy in either period. We have established the dominance of the naming function of reform and shown how it links to particular themes of the politics of the day through premodification by nominal and adjectival collocates. The other main types of premodification of reform as a head noun are semantically grouped around questions of amount and evaluation. As we saw from the dictionary definition examined earlier, reform is linked to positive evaluation, so we are combining amount and explicit evaluation here, since in most cases, where the amount of reform is concerned, more = better and less = worse. In Table 5.8, the premodifiers are mostly adjectival and refer not to domain of activity as we saw above, but to the differing extent (small/large) or value (good/bad) of the reform as presented by the data. What is noticeable about the lists in Table 5.8 is how the larger/increasing extent collocates and the positive evaluation collocates outnumber the decreasing and negative ones by quite a way. This is true not only of the number of types (i.e. differing word-forms), but also of their frequency as we can see from the bracketed (raw) figures next to the word-forms in the table. It is also noticeable that the negative collocates in both corpora are often evaluatively negative not because reform itself is deemed a bad thing, but because there is not enough of it (e.g. faltering); it is not successful (e.g. botched; failed) or it is by definition not really reform at all (e.g. so-called). Still other collocates seem to hint at the painful medicine metaphor that is often used in relation to reform (e.g. difficult; painful; uncomfortable) and though this indicates that the reform may not be pleasant, it also implies that it is nevertheless necessary, and therefore not entirely bad. The underlined negative collocates in the table are those that seem to be genuinely critical of (particular examples of) reform and they are in the minority both in terms of their types and their frequency (tokens). Another minor pattern that we see in Table 5.8 is in the category we have labelled speed. Although both corpora contain evolutionary and incremental

The Immense Possibilities of the Word Reform


Table 5.8  Left-hand collocates of reform (n) relating to value/amount (complete list) Category

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus


basic; central; fundamental; general; structural (36) big(gest); drastic; explosive; further; grand; great (reform bill/act); major; massive; more; radical; substantial; wider deepening/deeper (138) limited; minor; modest; what little (12)

fundamental; structural (58)

Extent (size)

Extent (scope)

root-and-branch; complete; comprehensive; wideranging; far-reaching; sweeping; thorough(going); wholesale (44) incomplete (1)

Extent (duration)

durable; enduring; sustained; long(er)term (12) flagging; faltering (2) evolutionary; gradual; incremental; slow; timorous (6) accountable; better; coherent; constructive; credible; effective; essential; flagship; important; lasting; necessary; much-needed; overdue; pragmatic; pro-; progressive; proper; quiet; real; sensible; serious; therapeutic; urgent (61)

Speed Positive evaluation

Negative evaluation

anti-; so-called; controversial; difficult; faltering; failed; flawed; foolish; hasty; hated; nasty; painful; populist; reluctant; remedial; turbulent (30)

big(gest); ‘critical’; deeper; dramatic; drastic; enough; extensive; further; great(er) (reform bill); liberal; major; meaningful; more; radical; wideranging; significant; substantial; wider (318) insufficient; less; lighter; limited; too little; minor; modest (11) root-and-branch; comprehensive; all encompassing; endless; full(scale); thorough-going; far-reaching; full (large) scale; sweeping; thorough(going); topdown; wholesale; widescale (68) watered-down; mildest; minimalist; (3) constant; continuing/ous; unrelenting/unremitting; long(er)term (30) ‘evolutionary’; incremental; (ever-) faster; rapid; revolutionary (8) blairite; bold(est); civilized; coherent; compassionate; complex; effective; essential; fair; flagship; genuine; good; imaginative; historic; important; key; logical; necessary; much-needed; overdue; positive; pragmatic; principled; pro-; progressive; proper; real; sensible; serious; stronger; successful; sympathetic; urgent; vital (164) absurd; anti-; botched; so-called; contentious; controversial; difficult; consumer/market/scandal-driven; ideological; inevitable; radioactive; random; reactionary; (neurotic) restless; ruthless; turbulent; uncomfortable (69)

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Table 5.9  Left-hand collocates of reform (n) relating to value/ amount (raw and percentage frequency, and log-likelihood) Category Significance Extent (size) Extent (scope) Extent (duration) Speed Positive eval Negative eval Total

Major Corpus Freq. (%)

Blair Corpus Freq. (%)

36 (10.5) 150 (43.7) 45 (13.1) 14 (4.1) 6 (1.7) 62 (18.1) 30 (8.7)

58 (7.8) 329 (44.2) 71 (9.5) 30 (4) 8 (1.1) 180 (24.2) 69 (9.3)

5.11 67.87 5.78 5.89 0.28 59.62 15.64





to indicate stepwise change, the Blair Corpus has a majority of examples (five out of eight) which refer to high speed or sudden change. Though these are small numbers and cannot be tested for significance in any meaningful way, the complete absence of high speed or sudden change in the Major Corpus does appear to show the two corpora in rather different lights. If we consider the frequency of each of these types of premodifier (see Table 5.9), we can see that although the proportions of each type are roughly the same (see percentages in brackets in the table), the LL scores show that there are three types (asterisked) which are significantly more frequent (at the p ≤ 0.0001 level) across the whole Blair Corpus as compared with the Major Corpus. The figures in Table 5.9 show, therefore, that there is growth in the amount of discussion of reform in relation to extent (size) and positive and negative evaluation between the two periods. This, together with the change of emphasis from slow and incremental to rapid and/or sudden change, seems to characterize the changing nature of reform as seen by the press in the Blair era. It is also noteworthy that most of the premodification is positively evaluated, as the following example from the Major Corpus illustrates (emphasis added): −− Having won, he should have warned his party that it would suffer grievously at the polls if it did not submit to the type of open and accountable reform that the Conservative Government has imposed on almost every other institution in the country. As we can see from this example, the immediate noun phrase which has reform as its head (underlined) indicates that although the reforms were imposed by the Conservative government, they are evaluated positively by the writer in the coordinated premodifying adjectives open and accountable. In the Blair Corpus,

The Immense Possibilities of the Word Reform


we see the same kind of positive evaluation of reform, even where it is being used to criticize the Blair government itself (emphasis added): −− Any government with a serious ambition to create a more just society would see in those statistics the opportunity to make a popular case for progressive reform based on fairness. Instead, New Labour seems determined to go to the polls next year on a renewed pledge to maintain tax rates that favour the wealthy. This example illustrates the kinds of positive premodification to be found throughout the corpora, where justifications for reform of differing political kinds are debated. The difference between the open and accountable reform of the first example above and the progressive reform of the second example is certainly ideological and reflects a difference between the mistrust of public institutions that preceded many Conservative reforms of the Thatcher and Major years and the traditional (though not New) Labour ideology of redistribution of wealth which is usually implied by the adjective progressive in these contexts. What appears to unite the commentary on governments of both periods, however, is the need for (albeit different kinds of) reform. This tendency for the naming of reform (by modification in the noun phrase) to be of a positive kind is also found in both corpora where the superficial modification is about extent or amount, as well as value. The following example demonstrates that using the TCFs of opposition-creation helps us to analyse the juxtaposition of the evaluative meaningless with the adjective of amount, substantial (emphasis added): −− The Tories cannot make up their minds whether or not devolution is a meaningless or a substantial reform, and in their confusion they are left arguing that meaningful change is impossible. This example creates a world in which reforms can be either substantial or meaningless. These words are not conventional opposites, though each of them has a more conventional opposite (minimal and meaningful). The effect of taking one term from two more conventional sense relations is to invoke both pairs, with the result that substantial equates to meaningful and meaningless equates to minimal. We have confirmation of this in the second (coordinated) clause where meaningful is made explicit as the equivalent of substantial. While substantial change in itself is not intrinsically positive in semantic evaluation, its creation in this text as a (local) near synonym of


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meaningful confers the positive connotation of the latter onto the former (see Jeffries 2010b and Davies 2013 for more on textual construction of opposition). The tone of much of the data is of this kind – evaluating reform in whatever field as positive and greater extent or depth of reform as better than minimal or superficial reform. Notice, however, that in the following example reform is used to refer both to the diminution of the state and to the progressive reform of wealth distribution which would have the opposite effect: −− Election victories have been won by Conservative-inclined politicians and parties that have had the courage to produce programmes of radical reform to reduce the tentacles of the corporate state. This example from an editorial is perhaps tongue-in-cheek as the article opens with How to win elections: do less. The apparent contradiction is that the politicians who were winning elections across the world at that time were promising to reduce their own power and interference in citizens’ lives if they were elected. Radical reform in this case, then, refers not to radicalism as it is sometimes intended, to imply a socialist or left-wing approach, but to an extensive stripping away of the state’s powers. With a difference of emphasis, then, between the kinds of reforms that are valued by some writers, there is a general agreement that reform is a good thing, and the more of it the better. However, there are some exceptions and these frequently occur where political commentators discuss the apparent movement of Blair’s Labour party to the right, with reform beginning to be used to refer to the policies of privatization more normally associated with Tory ideology: −− Tony Blair was under attack from left and right last night after unveiling Labour’s election 2001 manifesto in terms that made abundantly clear his determination to link the promised extra billions for Britain’s creaking public services with sweeping reform and more private sector management. We see, then, that although the pattern is mainly showing reform = good in both corpora, the detail of individual examples demonstrates that this may depend on which kind of reform is intended. Nevertheless, if we take the statistics for only the collocates with multiple (i.e. double figure) occurrences in the Blair Corpus and measure the significance of the difference between the corpora, the results

The Immense Possibilities of the Word Reform


Table 5.10  Significant left-hand collocates relating to value/amount Word-form antifurther proradical real

Major Blair Corpus freq. Corpus freq. 8 12 9 70 6

38 49 33 178 30

LL 21.15 23.93 14.49 48.24 17.38

(in Table 5.10) show that each of these quantity and/or value premodifiers increases significantly between the two periods. We have shown that one of the changes between the two periods represented by our corpora is the frequency with which reform is premodified to indicate amount or value. What this does not show are the subtle differences between kinds of reform being referred to, as mentioned above. However, as we shall see below (Section 5.3.3), the evidence of the data shows reform as a lexical item beginning to be shorthand for something that is assumed to be a universal ‘good’, just as we found in the case of choice. Before we consider that, let us first consider the extent to which the right-hand context of the word in our data shows further differences between the two corpora.

5.3.2  Right-hand context of reform Much of the right-hand context of reform in both corpora is made up of items belonging to separate clause elements. These include items such as determiners, which indicate the start of a noun phrase functioning as the object of reform as a verb: −− He was to learn that politicians are far more disposed to reform the institutions of others rather than their own (Major Corpus). −− He demonstrated it was possible to reform our welfare state and to make it relevant to the modern era (Blair Corpus). There are also many examples which are followed by an adverbial of some sort, either introduced by a preposition or an adverbial phrase or clause: −− Smith is also likely to learn … that radical reform within the existing budget is impossible without creating large numbers of highly vociferous losers … (Major Corpus).


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−− hoping the idea will appease critics of the pace of reform, while showing that Mr Blair intends to push an ambitious policy agenda before leaving office (Blair Corpus). In such cases, the punctuation is a strong indication that the keyword is the headword in a noun phrase, and so has no postmodification. In many other cases, reform is itself the subject of a verb, most frequently an intensive relational verb: −− The only question is whether such reform is possible without a much wider set of political reforms (Major Corpus). −− Despite hints that reform is a ‘done deal’ between him and Lord Jenkins, Downing Street is adamant that he is keeping his options open (Blair Corpus). In other cases, reform is simply the end of a clause or sentence: −− The only issue in which there was no gap between them and older voters, Dr Brown discovered, was on trade union reform (Major Corpus). −− Yet the origins of Britain’s strangest elections – and their broader significance – lie buried in the treacherous sands of Lords reform (Blair Corpus). If we take these cases, and others where reform is clearly not postmodified in the right-hand context, we see candidates for what we are calling bald, unmodified instances of the keyword where they are modified to neither right nor left. Like other keywords, reform appears to have taken on a semantic significance in the Blair period whereby it is assumed that readers will know and share a particular meaning for the word-form. These cases will be investigated further in Section 5.2.3. In the small minority of cases where the right-hand context shows that reform is a noun modifier of another head noun, as in reform agenda, it provides further insights into the naming habits of the word in the two corpora. There are a number of similarities between them in the range of items that reform modifies in this way. These include proper names (e.g. Reform Group; Reform Act; Reform Bill; Reform Society) and evaluatively neutral descriptions of the processes, people and structures linked with political reform, as we can see from the alphabetical list of items appearing in both corpora in Table 5.11. Although there are some differences in frequency of occurrence of these items, with the exception of agenda, the numbers are small, not statistically significant

The Immense Possibilities of the Word Reform


and are therefore not included here. Only reform agenda occurs significantly more often in the Blair Corpus than it does in the Major Corpus, at 161 tokens to 17, with an LL score of 56.85. This phrase, more than the others, seems to operate as a single lexical unit, and is resonant of the New Labour language, where such phrases were used as a shorthand for a package of policies linked to Blairite ideology. It is therefore no surprise to find it being used more frequently during the years when New Labour were in power. What is left if we exclude the nouns modified by reform which are common to both corpora is a short list (fifteen items) of largely neutral terms in the Major Corpus, including reform economist and reform objectives, and a longer list (thirty-eight items) in the Blair Corpus, some of which are less obviously neutral. There are a few indications in the Major list that the path of reform is not always smooth, including reform battle and reform deadlock, but the list in the Blair Corpus demonstrates an even greater sense that reform has become contentious and that there is a small but significant thread of commentary which is critical of unquestioning acceptance of reform for reform’s sake. The head nouns modified in this list include implicitly critical references to the people championing reform (e.g. reform brigade; reform crowd; reform devotees) and to their beliefs (e.g. reform doctrine; reform motto) as well as some recognition that the process of reforming large national institutions can be difficult (e.g. reform debacle; reform fatigue; reform shambles). The full list can be seen in Table 5.12. Table 5.11  Neutral right-hand nouns collocates of reform occurring in both corpora agenda campaign campaigners commission committee

debate efforts initiative issues legislation

measures message motto package plan(s)

policies process programme project promises

proposal(s) question referendum row strategy

timetable treaty/ies

Table 5.12  Right-hand noun collocates of reform occurring solely in Blair Corpus allies ambitions approach balance bargain baton brigade case

chairman challenge conference crowd crusade debacle decisions delay

devotees doctrine drive fatigue formula forum founders ideas

ministers model momentum opponents pamphleteers paper philosophy pledge

poll pressure prospectus rhetoric roadshow shambles

Keywords in the Press


What is noticeable about these less positive references to reform is that they are presuming that reform is of the right-wing kind (i.e. stripping away of the state) rather than the radical left-wing (i.e. redistribution of wealth) kind. So, the beginnings of a revolt against the Blairite project, which is starting to be seen as a version of Tory ideology, can be seen here in the disparaging use of reform where it premodifies more clearly negative head nouns (shambles, debacle, etc.) While much of our data, then, confirms the dictionary view that reform refers to change that is good by definition, some developments in the Blair Corpus show that this word may be taking on a less positive connotation in this period. Given the large numbers of concordance lines containing reform, we focused our attention on the patterning that was evident from the immediately sorted left-hand and right-hand contexts. This enabled us to consider, for example, the common pattern whereby reform was immediately followed by the preposition of, and this in turn allowed us to summarize the kinds of reform that were being discussed in the data. In Table 5.13, we present the categories of policy areas that were the topics of all occurrences of reform of in the data. This is a close equivalent to the premodification examples we saw earlier, and like them it shows significant increases (at the p ≤ 0.0001 level) in reform concerning democracy, health, public services and welfare/benefits. There is no change with regard to education, justice or Europe but a significant reduction (at the p ≤ 0.0001 level) is seen in examples concerned with tax and finances more generally. While these figures demonstrate changes in emphasis over which policy areas were the focus of reform during the two periods concerned, they show a level of continuity between the two periods in that the list is consistent overall, confirming that the Blair years were focusing on the same kinds of reforms

Table 5.13  Topics to be found on the right hand of reform of Category Democracy Education Health Justice Public services Welfare/benefits Europe Tax/money

Major Blair Corpus Corpus 166 26 7 64 21 27 77 48

337 50 38 48 211 80 64 13

LL 58.66 7.62 23.37 2.35 179.97 27.25 1.25 21.49

The Immense Possibilities of the Word Reform


as the Major years (except in relation to financial issues) and in many cases were increasingly concerned with the reform of the welfare state and public services, which in most cases means the reduction of spending in these areas. The increasing interest in democratic reform occurs across a range of areas of governmental, regional and European activity, and does not imply that, for example, there is any increase in support for proportional representation or other radical changes to the Westminster electoral system. Here are some concordance lines which are collected under the general heading of democracy (emphasis added): −− MPs to call for wide-ranging reform of Parliament to increase the accountability −− he needs to make the reform of party financing one of his −− The Government’s proposals for reform of the House of Lords are −− Secondly, it’s the reform of government that empowers people −− in favour of enlargement and reform of EU structures to increase flexibility What is more striking than this evidence of the political trend towards rolling back of the state through reform is the linguistic effect on the meaning of the word reform itself. In the next section, we examine the bald, unmodified occurrences of the keyword to see how they start to set in stone the absolute value of reform as applied to the political sphere.

5.3.3  Bald unmodified reform Though we have found reform occurring in both corpora and in relation to similar policy areas, albeit with different frequencies, there is one linguistic development in the usage of this word between the two periods under consideration, which is similar to that seen for our other keywords. This is the tendency for some words to take on a meaning which is left undefined in the context and is therefore assumed to be agreed upon by the producer and recipient of the text. In some cases, such as with choice, there is an assumption that the referent of this unmodified noun is an absolute good, like democracy or freedom. In other cases, like reform, there is also a sense that it is a highly valued concept, but it is more contested, as we saw from the discussion of the right-hand context in the previous section. As we can see in Table 5.14, the occurrence of bald, unmodified tokens of reform increase significantly between the two corpora:

Keywords in the Press


Table 5.14  Bald, unmodified reform in the Major and Blair Corpora Major Corpus

Blair Corpus





We have seen from the discussion of the left-hand context in Section 5.2.1 that reform as a modified head noun is frequently valued positively and particularly when the amount of reform is seen as large or increasing. If we consider the lefthand context of the bald, unmodified tokens, we find that in between 16 per cent and 18 per cent of the cases of the bald unmodified noun, it directly follows a verb form. These clauses, where the concept of reform is not elaborated by any premodification, demonstrate that, while not perhaps revered as a virtue in quite the same absolute way as choice, it is constructed as something desirable. Table 5.15 shows the range of verbs occurring in this position, and categorizes them according to shared semantic components as well as some indication of transitivity category. The majority of these occurrences appear to be from the transitivity category known as Material Action Intentional (MAI) and in each case the processes named by the verb either implement reform or obstruct it. The interesting semantics of these two categories show that in large part, implementing is seen as positive and obstructing as negative. Here are some examples, from both corpora, to demonstrate this pattern: ●●




David Starkey, spokesman for Torch, the Conservative campaign for homosexual equality, said that constituency associations in the inner cities generally supported reform (Major Corpus). That extra funding is necessary … to create a better NHS was acknowledged by the Prime Minister last week, in a speech extolling reform and made, appropriately, in Scotland (Blair Corpus). It could limit reform to sweeping away the more unpopular creations of 1974 (Major Corpus). But the MPs’ power to block reform should not be underestimated (Blair Corpus).

What appears to be the case with many of these verbs is that they presuppose the desirability of the reform under consideration. However, the narrow focus of concordance lines obscures a difference in character between the two corpora

The Immense Possibilities of the Word Reform


Table 5.15  Left-hand verb collocates of un-premodified reform Category

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus

Implement (MAI)

aid; bring; continue; deliver; fertilize; get; implement; initiate; make; mount; put; secure; spearhead; speed up; start; step up; undertake; require

Obstruct (MAI)

block; delay; derail; destabilize; limit; omit; prevent; reject; resist; sabotage; set; back; undermine

Support (V/MR)

accept; advocate; announce; back; call; demand; embrace; favour; offer; pledge; preach; prefer; promote; prompt; propose; recommend; seek; suggest; support; urge condemn; ridicule

accelerate; achieve; attempt; build; carry out; deliver; drive; enable; ensure; extend; force; generate; get; give; guide; hasten; implement; impose; include; initiate; instigate; intensify; lead; make; produce; pursue; push; put; require; spearhead; steer; step; up; stimulate; tackle; take; use abandon; attacks; avoid; block; delay; derail; dilute; funk; handicap; hold up; impede; inhibit; obstruct; prevent; resist; reverse; rig; scupper; set back; shelve; shirk; slow down; stall; stop; stymie; threatens; torpedo; veto accept; back; call; defend; demand; embrace; endorse; extol; favour; hail; highlighted; justify; map out; offer; pledge; prefer; promise; propose; seek; sell; support; want

Oppose (V/MR) Neutral (V/MR) Misc.

Total (tokens)


approach; believe; consider; approach; believe; contemplate; contemplate; discuss; countenance; debate; discuss; implied; examine; list; mean; see; treat insist; list; mean; mention; say; see; set out; talk; understand; view; afford; be; conjoin; have; be; constitutes; contrasting; face; merit; have; hope; left; let; link; move; negotiating; pretend; privatize; slip; solve; superseded; 122 (16.9% of un-premodified tokens)

319 (18.7% of un-premodified tokens)

where the implementing and blocking of reform in the Major Corpus refers almost entirely to reform of European institutions and foreign reforms, for example in Russia and South Africa. In the Blair Corpus, by comparison, the implementing and preventing of reform in this kind of structure refers mostly to domestic political issues such as welfare and electoral reform. There is a much greater range of verbs in these categories in the Blair Corpus than in the Major


Keywords in the Press

Corpus. Even out of context these verbs mostly appear to connote positive evaluation. There are a small number of exceptions, such as believe, where there is no automatic presupposition that reform is necessarily a good thing. However, in context, the positive evaluation is normally present: −− Words such as ‘market mechanisms’, ‘privatisation’, and ‘choice’ merely engender hostility, especially among those who believe reform is best secured through public investment (Blair Corpus). This is a particularly interesting case because its focus is on the use of words, but it fails to see that the unquestioning use of reform with positive connotations is similar in nature to the very linguistic usage that is being criticized. What is at issue, then, is not whether reform itself is desirable, but how it is packaged for consumption. We see in these examples and others in the data that in the case of un-premodified reform there is a tendency to presuppose that it is desirable and, if not an absolute good like democracy or freedom, at least to be welcomed and possibly to be packaged in an acceptable way. The other left-hand context verbs in Table 5.14 are labelled for transitivity as either V or MR to show that although many of them are clearly verbalization processes (V) (e.g. discuss), others may indicate either verbalization or mental processes (MR) (e.g. prefer; embrace). Note that the verbs supporting reform far outnumber the few which oppose it. Of course, the detailed context of these occurrences can show a more complex picture, with the positive nature of reform attributed more to one of the participants than to the writer, but the presupposed desirability of reform on someone’s part is unmistakable: −− Suddenly the editorial columns of newspapers are announcing that it is not enough to abolish hereditary peers: we shall have to think what to put in their place. But that was clear the moment Labour promised reform, long before the election (Blair Corpus). Here, for example, there is some indeterminacy as to what the writer actually thinks of the value of reform of the upper house (the House of Lords), but nevertheless, there is no doubt that the use of the verb promise with reform as its Goal makes it clear that the Labour party (i.e. the Speaker being reported) valued this concept. We do not, normally, promise things unless we believe they are positive and to be welcomed by the recipient. The fact that parents, and others in authority or power, may promise punishments and other bad outcomes is a perverse use of the verb and is stylistically foregrounded for that very reason.

The Immense Possibilities of the Word Reform


5.4  Reform – summary and conclusions The detailed study of a single word-form (reform) reported in this chapter has demonstrated some similarities with the other sociopolitical keywords studied in this project and some unique properties. Though it could be seen as fundamentally process-oriented as a concept, reform is more commonly nominal than verbal both in our data and in everyday usage (as evidenced by the BNC searches). Unlike change, which is more evenly split between verbal and nominal uses in the BNC, reform is largely treated as ‘thing-like’, and though it can and often is specific and countable (these reforms/more reforms) it is in the non-countable unmodified form that we see the tendency towards reform as a desirable outcome of political power. While contested in some examples, the vast majority of the occurrences in our data demonstrate that reform is desirable and the more the better. Despite this uniformity of approval, the kinds of reforms referenced differ – with smaller government being a Tory/New Labour aim and wealth distribution, etc. (i.e. larger government) being more the aim of traditional Labour. The two corpora do not, however, split neatly along these lines, because in the Major Corpus reform concerns supranational structures, such as European institutions and also because New Labour is dominant in the Blair years and similarly tends to interpret reform as indicating a smaller state. There is significantly more discussion of reform in the Blair than Major years, though it is high in both (compared with the BNC). Methodologically, this chapter demonstrated that it is possible to investigate fairly large number of concordance lines (almost 8,000 in one corpus here) using largely manual techniques. The advantages of doing this, as we hope to have shown in this chapter, is that it allows for the syntactic context to be taken into consideration, and enables a full account of the word-form in question. The disadvantage is that assessing and making sense of the data, including counting frequencies of collocates and creating data-driven categories, is fiddly and usually requires exporting results to spreadsheets, all of which can take a considerable amount of time to achieve.



The Impact of Living in a More Global World

6.1 Introduction This chapter investigates the word global in relation to our data and presents an analysis of the co-textual environment of every instance of the keyword in the Blair and Major Corpora. As we have done with the other keywords so far discussed in this book, we investigate whether the statistical significance of global relates to sociopolitical significance. We do this by exploring (i) co-textual semantic patterns and (ii) collocational/syntactic tendencies of global. With (i) we analyse our data in a similar way to L’Hôte (2010, 2014) and Fairclough (2005) and create a data-driven semantic classification for global based on its co-text. Here, we discuss at length some of the methodological issues when establishing data-driven categories, and the importance of spelling out how any such categories are arrived at. This is something we have mentioned in other chapters, but here we provided an extended discussion about dealing with corpus data in this way. With (ii), we analyse and discuss collocational and syntactic tendencies that indicate changes in usage, and assess how these relate to potential emergent meanings. Being the only sociopolitical adjective we discuss in this book, global is different from the other keywords of the Blair era, and unlike the previous keywords, it is not characterized by its development into a bald, unmodified mass noun. However, as we will show, like our other keywords it develops semantically towards an assumed set of notions. We begin this chapter with an overview of the meaning of global, and some of the existing commentaries concerning this word and concept, before going on to revisit the frequencies of the word-form in the two corpora. We then report on a semantic analysis of the local textual co-text. Here we attempt to build on previous research concerning New Labour’s use of language and the concept of globalization carried out by L’Hôte (2010, 2014) and Fairclough (2005) by


Keywords in the Press

assigning occurrences of global to semantic groups. We then move on to an analysis that is to some extent guided by these semantic groups, and assess whether or not a sociopolitical sense emerges for global in our data by virtue of its collocates and the syntactic structures it participates in.

6.2  The meaning and political importance of global As one might expect, the word global is almost exclusively an adjective in our data. It modifies nouns either within noun phrases, or as the subject complement in a clause. There are just two situations where global does not function adjectively: in the slogan think local, act global, where it appears to function adverbially; and when it is itself the head noun of a noun phrase, preceded by the definite article (the global), which occurs just once. The OED Online (OUP 2014) suggests a number of senses for global with sense 2 (quoted below) being the most relevant to the usage encountered in print news stories (as opposed to mathematical, computing or astronomical texts): 2. (a) Relating to or encompassing the whole of anything or any group of things, categories, etc.; comprehensive, universal, total, overall. (b) Of, relating to, or involving the whole world, worldwide

While the dictionary definition above seems straightforward, there is suggestive evidence from the use of global in the Blair and Major Corpora, which we discuss in the following sections, that it has an emerging meaning relating primarily to economic activity, arising from its collocational tendencies. This aligns, to some extent, with the work already carried out by Fairclough (2000a, 2005, 2006) and others in the area of critical discourse analysis (see, for example, L’Hôte 2010, 2014; Lischinsky 2011), and with the Keywords Project,1 who have also identified global as an addition to Williams’ keywords list. Global, then, is recognized by others as a sociopolitical keyword that reflects the backdrop against which the politics of the time took place. Indeed, Watson and Hay (2003) assert that ‘Labour invested a considerable amount of energy prior to its election in constructing a strategic discourse of globalisation capable of securing a lasting place in the public consciousness’ (Watson and Hay 2003: 11). Fairclough also notes that New Labour made ‘major changes of policy … including the revision of “Clause 4” of the Party’s constitution, amounting to acceptance of capitalism in its new “global”, “neo-liberal”, form’ (Fairclough 2000b: 166) and created a political discourse that was ‘built upon certain assumptions about the nature

The Impact of Living in a More Global World


of the contemporary economy’ (Fairclough 2000a: 23). These assumptions concerned economic activity on a worldwide scale, with Blair, for example, making references in his speeches to the ‘the new global economy’ (Fairclough 2000a: 23), and Mandelson and Liddle (1996: 6) talking of ‘the new international economy’ and ‘the modern global economy’ (1996: 89). The notion of a global economy relates to ‘global flows of trade, production and finance’ (Buller 2004: 195), and references to such global phenomena help to presuppose and construct the existence of globalization. According to Watson and Hay (2003), New Labour’s idea was to present globalization as already existing in order to suggest that there were certain economic constraints within which a policy had to be made; they had no choice (for fuller discussion of this, see Watson and Hay 2003; also Fairclough 2000a, Ch 1, in particular pp. 23–31). The conceptual importance of globalization is something noted by Bennett et al. (2001), who include globalization in their New Keywords, where they comment that: Globalization, then, is the claim that there already exists or is necessarily coming an integrated global economic market encompassing all domains of social life. Local economic growth, the dominant definition of economic progress, depends on the reduction of all barriers to all international trade. (Bennett et al. 2001: 48, original emphasis)

The quotation above suggests that the global economy or the global economic market includes not just commerce and finance but also social domains and in the sections that follow, we will see that this is reflected in the co-text of global.

6.3  Statistics of global in the Blair and Major Corpora As Table 6.1 global in the Blair and Major Corpora shows, the statistical keyword global occurs 1,462 times in the Blair Corpus compared with 669 times in the Major Corpus. This difference in frequencies is statistically significant with an LL value of 299.33. Table 6.1 The frequencies and log-likelihood scores for global in the Blair and Major Corpora Word-form global

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus






Keywords in the Press

That New Labour apparently constructed a view of economic and commercial circumstances in the world, and that, according to Watson and Hay (2003: 24), the press reproduced it, ‘uncritically’, provides a possible explanation for the over-representation of global in the Blair Corpus (in comparison with the Major Corpus). Although, as we have noted with other keywords, even where a press commentary is critical of a word (or the concept it is intended to reference), the very act of using it adds to its credibility as a conceptual package and helps to reify it. In the sections that follow, we explore global in the context of print news data in both the Blair and Major Corpora.

6.4  Semantic analysis of the co-text of global The first strand of the investigation was a complete analysis of the different semantic domains that global is textually associated with in the corpora, which involved considering the co-textual environment of every instance of global in the corpora (1,462 instances in the Blair Corpus and 669 in the Major Corpus). By co-textual environment we mean the lexico-grammatical relationships between global and other co-occurring word-forms. This was partly achieved by looking at the nouns that global modifies, but, as we will show, it also involved consideration of other elements within the noun phrase or clause in which global occurred. We mainly achieved this within the constraints of the concordance lines, but this was not always possible, and sometimes more co-text was required. In the next section, we discuss this and other issues associated with creating data-driven categories, with reference to previous work on global.

6.4.1  Potential problems with data-driven semantic categories Part of the analysis we carried out on global echoes, to some extent, the work of Fairclough (2005), who classifies globalization processes in New Labour texts as being: (1) economic, (2) political or (3) to do with security. Our analysis also attempts to build on the work of L’Hôte (2010), who, in a similar way to Fairclough, analyses what she calls ‘the semantic environment’ of global by looking at ‘the concepts occurring in relation to the adjective global’ (L’Hôte 2010: 362) in a corpus of New Labour texts. L’Hôte suggests ten different concepts associated with the word-forms global and globalization, including (in order of

The Impact of Living in a More Global World


frequency): economy, green issues, security, diplomacy, ethics, social justice and technology. As we will show below, we largely agree with the categories proposed by Fairclough and L’Hôte. However, it is not altogether clear how they achieved the categorization in practice. For example, L’Hôte is interested in what she calls the ‘semantic environment’, and analyses ‘concepts occurring in relation to’ global. The problem with trying to carry out a similar analysis on our corpora is deciding what this means in practice (i.e. what is ‘semantic environment’, what are ‘concepts’ and what does ‘in relation to’ mean?). While we notionally agree that ‘semantic environment’ is important, it is not clear what, specifically, one should look for in the data. This, of course, has implications for replicating such analyses and for comparing results. We will illustrate this by discussing an example from our data. The adjective global premodifies action five times in the Blair Corpus. Concordance lines are the usual starting point for looking at the immediate co-text of a word, and the concordances for global when followed immediately by action are set out in Figure 6.1. From the limited context of the concordance lines in Figure 6.1, it is probably a safe bet that instances 1, 2, 3 and 5 occur in news stories about the environment. We can work that out by the presence of various signals in the concordance lines: in concordance line (1) ‘environmental issues’, ‘traffic’ and ‘coal-fired power plants’; ‘Greenpeace’ at the start of (2); ‘Gore’ at the end of concordance (3); and the mention in (5) of greenhouse gasses. In (1), the signal that the global action relates to environmental issues is fairly explicit. A fuller context is given below that demonstrates more conclusively that global is being used in an article about the environment. −− Tony Blair has a mixed record on environmental issues. He has been a strong advocate for global action, but traffic increases and coal-fired power plants have seen carbon dioxide emissions actually increase under Labour. And, if we look at the title for the article ‘Environmental Policies: The Green Audit: Six Campaigners Give Their Verdict’, we can see further evidence that 1

environmental issues. He has been a strong advocate for



at Greenpeace. “But the delivery has been very poor.


action isn’t going to happen if the UK


with a sound basis for international leadership on the


action required. It is wonderful that leaders like Gore

action, but traffic increases and coal-fired power plants


Or indeed, failure to really push through the necessary


action, such as imposing some order on today’s


praised Tony Blair’s successes in pushing for coordinated


action to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and made much

Figure 6.1  Concordances for global when it is immediately followed by action.


Keywords in the Press

this is an article about the environment or environmental policies or green issues. For (2) and (3) the signal that global action relates to green issues is less clear, and we need to use our world knowledge to make an assumption about the theme or topic of the articles: Greenpeace is an organization concerned with environmental issues; Al Gore is a famous climate change activist (and a former US vice president). Notice that in all four cases we need to step back from the immediate co-text of global in order to decide what context global is being used in. Notice also that in these cases, we are equating context with what we judge to be the topic or theme of the text global is situated in; it is an article about the environment, therefore global is being used in an environmental context. This to us seems unsatisfactory not only because it is not clear what counts as a topic, or theme or concept, but also because it is not certain whether such phenomena are part of the ‘semantic environment’. We suggest that, in order to be consistent, the analysis needs to be constrained to the immediate co-text, and this should be specified grammatically, rather than through an arbitrary number of words on each side of the keyword. A further problem can be illustrated by concordance (4) in Figure 6.1. Here, there is no apparent signal for the type of context global is being used in. Even looking at the whole paragraph in which global occurs does not offer any clues. −− Action is required at international, national and local levels. It is important not to allow governments to use eloquent calls for international action to mask domestic inactivity. Or indeed, failure to really push through the necessary global action, such as imposing some order on today’s global speculators – if only to save them from dragging the rest of us down with them in an orgy of debt default. Furthermore, looking at the article’s title (‘Labour Can't Really Claim It Has Lost to the Speculators’) does not offer a conclusive signal, although one might speculate that it is about financial markets, due to possible intuitions about contexts in which speculators occurs. It is only by reading (perhaps) the whole article that one can say with some certainty that global is indeed being used in a discussion about financial markets, market speculators and government policies. In any study that attempts to analyse a large dataset (typical of corpus studies), this sort of analysis is completely impractical. This discussion of global action is intended to highlight some of the inevitable issues when forming data-driven categories and why it is crucial for researchers

The Impact of Living in a More Global World


to report precisely how they deal with any such categorizations. This is important not just for replicability, but also for rigour, which includes the importance of stating clearly your analytical process so that others can see what you did. It is also particularly important where figures are reported and used to support claims and arguments because if the categories are under-/not specified, then any figures have less (or no) evidential weight. It is also a problem for subsequent studies to use any such figures as a basis for comparison. In the next section, we offer a detailed explanation of how we analysed our data and assigned instances of global to categories.

6.4.2  Procedure adopted for the semantic analysis of global For global, our analysis proceeded from the immediate grammatical context in which global occurs. We first looked at noun phrases in which global premodifies a noun. We did this by using the collocation facility of AntConc to calculate all collocates one place to the right of global (thus a span of one to the right of the node) with a minimum frequency of one. Doing this listed all the different word-forms (types) that immediately follow global, of which there were 442. In many instances, these word-forms were enough to straightforwardly suggest categories. For example, it seemed reasonable to us that when global was immediately followed by economy, markets and trade, it fit into a semantic category to do with economics. Here then, the semantic meaning of the head noun of the noun phrase led our categorization decision. There were other instances where the immediate right-hand word-form was part of a noun phrase that had a meaning that went beyond the individual components. The most frequent (and best) example of this in our data is global warming, where neither the adjective nor the noun takes on their own point to a categorization of environment/climate change/green issues to which the bi-gram, nevertheless, clearly belongs. In situations where global was followed by another adjective, it was sometimes the other adjective that suggested the category for global. For example, economic (as in the noun phrases global economic crisis, global economic forces and global economic backdrop) specifies the type of crisis, forces and backdrop being discussed and signals that, again, global belongs in a category to do with economics. Clearly, there are choices to be made with any categorization, and here, where we were interested in ‘semantic environment’, it seemed to us that the second adjective gave the best indication of the context global was being used


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in, while remaining grammatically constrained to the noun phrase in which global occurs. However, it is worth noting that although the second adjective gives a clue about the context and allows us to categorize these examples, the head nouns, forces and backdrop, are extremely vague, and crisis is not much clearer. This adds to the impression that there is no clear referent being evoked in these phrases, which is a point we discuss further below in relation to other collocates. Not all categorizations were as straightforward as those described above, because not all word-forms immediately following global suggested an obvious category. In such situations, as with previous keywords, we used sorted concordance lines to investigate the grammatical environment further. An example of this is deal, which occurred three times, and each time we found that deal was the head noun of a noun phrase that contained a qualifier. For example, in a new global deal to curb carbon emissions, the head noun (deal) is complemented by a clause that contains a verb phrase and a noun phrase. The noun phrase contains an adjective (carbon) and a noun (emissions). It is this qualifier that suggests a classification of global as associated with climate change and environmental issues. Here, then, our analysis is still constrained grammatically within the noun phrase. If one considers the whole sentence to which the instance of deal belongs (see below), then things become less clear because both climate change and economic slump are mentioned, suggesting thematic categories to do with both the environment and the economy (see L’Hôte (2010) for the issues this causes). −− The UK is to use the warnings of irreversible climate change and the biggest economic slump since the 1930s, outlined in yesterday’s Stern review, to press for a new global deal to curb carbon emissions. It is our view that using a categorization method that restricts the analysis grammatically offers a more principled way to proceed. However, if we consider the syntactic levels at which such classifications take place, we can see that the highest level of structure within this noun phrase is the head noun, deal, which is referentially vague though it has connotations of improper practice (cf. dodgy deal). It is only when we consider the lower embedded phrase that we see it refers to carbon emissions. However, in order to complete this (and any) categorization, a decision still had to be made. That is to say, we chose to use the qualifier (and our understanding of it) of the head noun in the noun phrase as our guide to categorizing global. It is worth noting that the two other instances

The Impact of Living in a More Global World


of deal in the Blair Corpus participated in similar syntactic structures, so we followed the same procedure for their categorization (emphasis added): −− Mr Blair said that he hopes to secure a global deal to curb greenhouse gas emissions at a G8 −− a foreign policy objective. They added, however, that a global deal to tackle climate change and a £10bn campaign Each of these instances involves a different qualifier but nevertheless each indicates the same categorization for the usage of global. Thus, in this situation all instances of global deal fit into our category to do with environmental issues. Where global was itself the grammatical complement in clauses containing intensive relational processes, we referred to the subject of the clause to suggest categories. These mainly involve clauses where the verb is a form of BE, but other verbs are also possible, as illustrated in the examples below: −− −− −− −− −− −−

Politics is global. Capitalism is truly global. The boom and bust of telecoms and high-tech stocks was global. Capitalism has gone global. A handful of industries had become global. Terrorism was rampant – we had a lull and now it is back again and it is global.

In the first example the subject of the clause suggests a political categorization for global, while in the next four, an economic categorization is appropriate. In some intensive relational clauses the subject was a pronoun whose antecedent needed to be retrieved (by looking at the wider co-text) before a categorization could be made. For the last example above, it refers to terrorism, and therefore global relates to a semantic grouping relating to terrorism. In this way we were able to group occurrences of global in to semantic categories for poverty (e.g. global poverty), media, information and entertainment (e.g. global news), justice, ethics and law (e.g. global ethics), politics, government and diplomacy (e.g. global politics). There was other co-text that suggested categories that were either more abstract or less specific than the categories already mentioned, all of which presented less obvious categorization choices for our analysis. Here, we found Lancaster University’s existing semantic framework, University Centre for Computer Research on Language Semantic Analysis System (USAS),2 a useful reference point for suggesting three further categories: General and abstract


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terms for word-forms such as challenges, issues and problems; Psychological states, actions and processes including emotions, for word-forms such as ambitions, opinion, love and impulse; and Social actions, states and processes, which includes concepts such as power, responsibilities and group membership, for word-forms including community, hierarchy and influence. Finally, we created an Other grouping that contained instances of global that occurred with co-text that fell into categories different to those already mentioned, but with a frequency of less than twenty instances. These included proper nouns, and metaphors that used, for example, geographical phenomena (e.g. global tsunami). It also included the single occurrence where global does not modify anything, but instead is the head of a noun phrase, which effectively assumes the existence of things in general that are global. The extended discussion of data-driven categories over this and the previous section first raised issues with the terms ‘semantic environment’, ‘concepts’ and ‘in relation to’ used in the work of L’Hôte (2010), and the methodology used by L’Hôte (2010) and Fairclough (2005). We then went on to show how we addressed these issues by explaining our process of analysis and that our definition of the local textual environment relates to grammatical structures. Part of the difficulty with this method of categorization, which tries to indicate the semantic domain that global is involved in, is in deciding how to constrain the analysis, and what linguistic factors to use to form categories. We have shown that our categorization is driven by the nouns that global modifies or complements, and other adjectives or qualifiers that pre- or postmodify the noun phrase to which global belongs. In the next section, we present the results of our analysis.

6.5  Semantic categorization results Our analysis of the semantic co-text of global resulted in twelve categories, which are shown in Table 6.2. Some of these semantic groupings are similar to those proposed by Fairclough (2005) and L’Hôte (2010), but we required more categories to account fully for all our data during the categorization process. Unfortunately, the sorts of abstract words we found in the co-text of global in our data are not discussed in previous studies, so it is not clear if these findings are new and/or unusual. These findings in particular suggest an emergent meaning for global, as we will discuss in the following sections.

The Impact of Living in a More Global World


Table 6.2  Semantic categorizations for global based on data in the Blair and Major Corpora Category


Economy, finance, and business (Econ)

global economy; global market; global capitalism global climate; global warming global security; global terrorism; global war global affairs; global issues; global change global power; global forces; global coalition global politics; global governance global poverty; global poor global impulse; global dreams; global anger global media; global audience

Environment and climate (Env) War, defence and terrorism (WarDef) General and abstract terms (GenAbs) Social actions, states and processes (Soc) Politics, government and diplomacy (Pol) Poverty and a lack of money (Pov) Psychological states, processes, actions, perceptions, and emotions (Psychs) Information technology, media, entertainment (Inftec) Law, crime, justice ethics (Law) Other (including proper nouns; measurement; communicative acts, buildings, etc.; geography, weather, natural world)

global code; global ethics global UK; global scale; global dialogue; global architecture; global tsunami; global Britain.

Column one of Table 6.2 contains the full category description for each of the semantic groupings, followed by an abbreviation, which we use in our graphs and subsequent discussion below. Figure 6.2 shows the raw totals for the number of instances of global that fit into our data-driven categories for both the Blair and Major Corpora. Since the corpora are close to being equal in size, the raw frequencies provide an adequate comparison. The general trends shown in the graph for the Blair Corpus echo those described by Fairclough (2005) and L’Hôte (2010). Although our findings are not directly comparable, because our systems of categorization are different, this indicates some parallels across very different datasets. Figure 6.2 presents all instances of global from both corpora, broken down into semantic categories. The chart shows that, apart from Pov, which does not occur in the Major Corpus, all the data-driven semantic categories are shared by both corpora, and that there are more instances of global within all semantic categories in the Blair Corpus. Therefore, the general picture painted by Figure 6.2 is that, while there are more instances of global in the


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Figure 6.2  Raw frequencies for global relating to data-driven categories in the Blair and Major Corpora.

Blair Corpus than in the Major Corpus, the co-textual surroundings are semantically similar. In both corpora, the largest numbers of instances of global are used with co-text that falls into the Econ category. The graph also shows that, in the Blair Corpus, global is used noticeably more to describe concepts relating to environment and climate (Env) and war, defence and terrorism (WarDef). These differences are due in no small part to increases in frequency of three bi-grams in the Blair Corpus: global warming (226 vs. thirty-eight); global terrorism (thirty-six vs. zero); and global security (fourteen vs. two). These findings indicate that, while there was more talk generally of global phenomena in the news during the Blair years, and that some of that talk concerned economic activities, it is clear that global phenomena were also discussed during the Major years, some of which also concerned the economy. This suggests that while Blair and his colleagues worked hard to textually create a world where global economics exist, as asserted by Watson and Hay (2003) and Fairclough (2000a), there were already discussions of such global phenomena in the press prior to the Blair government. Thus the significant increase in global in the Blair data is also due to increased usage with co-text relating to other semantic domains. In the next section, where we explore the emergent meaning of global, we use the semantic preferences highlighted by the results shown in Figure 6.2 to help explain how global carries meaning beyond its dictionary definitions, especially when collocating with nouns whose referents are rather non-specific.

The Impact of Living in a More Global World


6.6  Discussion of semantic categories So far in this book we have shown how our keywords have developed special political senses in addition to their everyday senses, often as described in dictionaries. At the start of this chapter, we noted that, according to the OED Online, global related to the whole of anything, or the whole world/worldwide. In this section, we explore whether that meaning satisfactorily defines global, or whether this keyword, like our other keywords, develops an emergent meaning in the data under consideration. As we noted at the start of this chapter, global is unlike the other keywords since it does not develop a bald, unmodified mass noun usage, because it is more or less always an adjective, so here we continue with our assessment of what it modifies and what it complements, and the syntactic structures it is involved in, in order to answer the question of whether there is an emergent meaning and, if so, what that meaning is.

6.6.1  Global prosodies There is evidence in the data that, between the two corpora, global increasingly became textually associated with negative concepts, thus attracting negative connotations. The rise of certain semantic domains in the Blair Corpus, including those to do with poverty and war, connects global with some unpleasant concepts. So, for example, when global premodifies nouns such as terrorism, war and poverty, it becomes connected to those negatively viewed concepts. However, we can also see an increase in negative prosody with co-text that is related to economy, business and finance, which is a domain that is not intrinsically negative. To start with, Table 6.3 shows the word-forms from both corpora that are involved in the tri-gram global + economic +X, where X is a slot filled by a variety of word-forms. The word-forms that are common to both the Blair and Major Corpora are underlined in the table. The table shows that the number and variety of head nouns premodified by global economic increases in the Blair data. Of these, a greater proportion have negative connotations, which begins to suggest some degree of negativity relating to global economy, business and finance. These are shown below (frequencies greater than one in brackets): −− Blair Corpus: global economic (challenge (2)/clouds/crisis (5)/meltdown/ pressures/problems/storm/turbulence (2)/uncertainties/weakening). −− Major Corpus: global economic (difficulties/insecurity).

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Table 6.3  Nouns following global+economic in the Blair and Major Corpora Corpus




economic (46)


economic (29)

backdrop; challenge (2); change (3); clouds; competition; conditions; crisis (5); cycle (2); downturn (2); environment; event; forces (3); forum; leadership; management; meltdown; options; policy; pressures; problems; recovery; restructuring; slowdown (3); storm; superpower; system; trends; turbulence (2); uncertainties; upturn; weakening change (2); changes; competition; difficulties; downturn (3); environment; establishment; forces; growth; insecurity; leadership; options; order; planning; player; power; pre-eminence; reach (2); reality; recovery (3); rule-book; slowdown

While the figures here are small, more evidence can be found within this semantic category by considering the noun phrases that are postmodified or qualified by prepositional phrases that involve global. For example: −− −− −− −− −− −− −−

the challenges in a global economy the huge, enduring power of a global economy the influence of global market forces the outlook for the global economy shifting trends in global trade a modernizing force in the global economy the pressures of the global market place

These syntactic patterns can be summarized as follows: −− [the/a/an]+[adj]+noun+[in/of/for]+[the/a/an]+[adj]+global+[adj]+noun In the pattern, the items in square brackets are not compulsory, and adj denotes word-forms acting adjectivally. These sorts of syntactic patterns are important because they package up propositions into noun phrases and presuppose the existence of things, thus playing a key role in how news stories textually create a particular world view. Table 6.4 shows the negatively evaluated head nouns that are postmodified by a prepositional phrase containing global in both the Blair and Major Corpora (nouns that are shared by both corpora are underlined, and frequencies greater than one are shown in brackets).

The Impact of Living in a More Global World


Table 6.4  Negative head nouns postmodified by prepositional phrases containing global in the Blair and Major Corpora Blair Corpus

Major Corpus

challenge; challenges (10); dangers (2); evils; insecurities; hegemony; issues; pressure cooker; pressures (3); problems (3); risk; squalls; upheavals; anti-communal values

anarchy; exigencies; pressures (3)

The table shows a clear difference between the Blair and Major Corpora and the postmodified nouns that have a negative prosody, or denote negative things. These entities, which are packaged up in noun phrases, are all brought into existence through being presupposed by the texts they come from. For example, the challenges of the global economy presupposes the existence of an economy that is global, and that the global economy possesses or presents a series of specific, yet unspecified, challenges. The packaging of each of these states of affairs in a noun phrase makes the existence of their referent less contestable, and it could be argued that the final positioning of global economy as a postmodifier makes it the least contestable. By repeatedly participating in these structures, it can be argued that global begins to acquire negative connotations. This minor trend towards a negative prosody for ‘global things’ can also be seen in the general and abstract terms (GenAbs) category. Table 6.5 shows the word-forms assigned to the GenAbs category for the Blair and Major Corpora. The table also divides the word-forms on the basis of whether they are negative, positive or neutral, and shows that there are far more word-forms that are semantically negative in the Blair Corpus than there are in the Major Corpus, both in total and proportionally (53 per cent vs. 17per cent). Collocates that are common to both corpora are underlined in the table. The table shows an increase of negative word-forms such as challenges, issues, problems and uncertainties that are premodified by global in the Blair Corpus. This continues to suggest a rising preoccupation with negative aspects and consequences of global phenomena, and an increasing potential for global to have a negative prosody.

6.6.2  Global causation As well as a rise in global being attached to negative phenomena either as a premodifying adjective, or as part of a postmodifying prepositional phrase, there is also an increase in the Blair Corpus of global phenomena being used to

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Table 6.5  General and abstract word-forms modified by global Category

Blair Corpus

Major Corpus


challenge (6); challenges (5); crises (2) crisis (7); damage; difficulties; disaster (2); disturbances; emergency; exclusion; insecurity; instability; issue (2); issues (8); problem; problems (4); struggle (4); uncertainties (2); upheavals

challenges (3); issues; problem; problems (2); repercussions; risks

19 types; 49 tokens; 48% of category

6 types; 9 tokens; 17% of category

good (4); opportunities (3)

accord; solution (2); solutions (2)

2 types; 7 tokens; 7% of category

3 types; 5 tokens; 9% of category

adventures; action; affairs; change (3); changes; conditions; consensus; consequences (2); context (2); efforts; event (2); events (4); example; exploits; factors (2); forces (8); impact; links (2); multilateralism (2); phenomenon; practice; priorities; reform; significance; situation (2); standard (2); trends (2).

affairs; alternative; bulk; change (4); changes (5); conditions (2); context (4); culture (3); dimension; effect; factors (2); forces (3); point; process; processes (2); reality; significance (3); standards; trends; terms.

27 types; 46 tokens; 45% of category

20 types; 39 tokens; 74% of category



justify or to provide reasons for actions and events. We found eleven such causal relationships triggered by because, three by [a/the] result of, and twenty-two by verb-form + by. For example (emphasis added): −− These principles [of the centre-left] are: first, ‘stable management and economic prudence because of the global economy’; −− That [government preventing firms from competing abroad] is not an intelligent response in the end and it won’t work, because the global market is upon us. −− have been widening as a result of global competitive pressures that have destroyed demand. −− it would lose office if it ducked the hard choices required by the global economy.

The Impact of Living in a More Global World


−− left-wing enemies can become allies, over the social breakdowns caused by the global free market. −− power of national governments is constrained by global economic forces. The examples above create a connection between events/actions and global phenomena, with many of the occurrences making global economic entities causative agents. They also show once again that things like the global economy are brought into existence by being presupposed by the texts, and given animate, sentient qualities such as the capacity to require things. Notice in the final example that while the writer appears to be questioning the term globalization by placing it in scare quotes, s/he is at the same time assuming without question the existence of global economic forces. Another textual situation that suggested global phenomena were causally fundamental was signalled by the need/s and the demands, of which there were eleven occurrences, for example: −− and understand the need, in a global economy, to find common solutions for common problems In the example, the noun phrase the need to find common solutions for common problems packages up a mental process that would usually require an animate actor: X need/s to find common solutions for common problems. The noun phrase reifies the process, and makes it no longer necessary to specify the actor. The adverbial in a global economy creates a set of circumstances where the need is warranted. The global economy therefore becomes responsible for the need, thus allowing human agents to claim that certain policy decisions are out of their control. While the number of occurrences in the Blair Corpus is small, in the Major Corpus there are far fewer such relationships. Indeed, we found only seven occurrences, four of which are shown below to demonstrate the different causal triggers (emphasis added): −− a combination of Thatcher-Lawson errors and the global economic downturn caused Britain’s problems. −− seen as merely the result of global market forces about which we can −− security have been undermined by global competition, which has led big companies. −− According to Mr Major, his government is a largely blameless victim of global forces.


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In all the occurrences shown above, global phenomena are presupposed, not questioned and blamed for things happening/not happening. This chimes with Watson and Hay’s (2003) argument that New Labour used the notion of economies etc. being global to provide justification for certain actions, and that this state of affairs was adopted by some of the media. Our data suggests that this had also happened in the Major years, but there was an increase during the Blair years. We would argue that part of the meaning of global is tied up in these causal relationships and that global acquires as part of its sociopolitical sense the idea of something that is not controllable and has its own specific requirements.

6.6.3  Global vagueness In this section we look in more detail at the items that are in the GenAbs category, shown in Table 6.5. These collocates of global are not qualified any further within their immediate co-text, leaving their referents unclear, and are left for the reader to imagine what such global issues, etc. might be. The general lack of specificity of the word-forms being modified can leave gaps for the reader to fill relating to what a global ‘X’ might involve. If we go back to the dictionary definition of global that we quoted in Section 6.2, the premodification of these word-forms by global would seem to mean that they (a) encompass everything and/or (b) involve the whole world. These dictionary-compliant senses can be seen in the examples below, which are numbered for ease of reference (emphasis added): −− step up the pace of public sector reform to equip this country for global challenges and respond with maturity −− the UK has been able, in a period of global instability, to have inflation low, interest rates low −− John Prescott was running an obese environment department covering everything from global issues to local government, planning and transport. −− to ensure its engagement with global problems rather than isolation −− If world events alone dictated domestic politics, global forces would always be irresistible. With each of these examples, we want to know what global, as an adjective, is adding in terms of meaning to the noun it is modifying, and whether these meanings extend beyond that which is denoted in the dictionary definition. In the first two examples, global helps to differentiate between challenges and instability that extend beyond this country and the UK, and challenges and

The Impact of Living in a More Global World


instability that are within this country and the UK. In the third example, the from X to Y structure triggers a contrast between global issues and local government, planning and transport, utilizing the conventional global versus local opposition. This suggests that there are a set of issues, albeit unspecified, that are global and, while contrasting with local government, planning and transport are nevertheless within the remit of the environment department. In the fourth example, rather creates a less conventional and ideologically loaded opposition, this time between engagement with global problems and isolation. This textually constructed binary view of the world uses global to signal that isolation means isolation from the rest of the world, rather than from, say, Europe, the United States or the electorate. The final example juxtaposes domestic politics with global forces, and utilizes a conventional set of opposites to create a contrast between the two. The point here is that in all examples, global helps to disambiguate between challenges, instability, issues, problems and forces that are worldwide and those that are not. So, the dictionary sense of global is coming into play in our understanding of the nouns being modified. However, the nouns being modified by global are underspecified and rather vague, and as a result global in these situations also helps to suggest a potential list of things that these word-forms refer to. For example, for the reform of the public sector to be sufficient to meet global challenges – some notion is needed of what the challenges include in order to know what reforms to make. Global brings with it a set of connotations, brought about by the (usual) semantic company it keeps, that narrow down the possibilities that are different to, for example, local or national challenges or just challenges. So one might argue that any set of global challenges include things to do with, for example, economy, finance and business, as well as war in other countries, terrorism and the environment (including natural disasters). Of course, there might be other clues in the wider text that narrow down the possible referents of issues, challenges, instability and problems, or as in the following examples, uncertainties (emphasis added): −− Because of global uncertainties, there is no guarantee Mr Brown will hit his growth targets. −− he [Mr Brown] might have to revise his plans because of global factors obviously outside his control. From the surrounding co-text in the first example (growth targets are likely to relate to the economy; Mr Brown was chancellor of the UK) it seems likely that global uncertainties are to do with trade and economics, but this is not


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explicit. However, the premodification of uncertainties by global seems to make the possible referents more specific. If the sentence were just to mention uncertainties, it would more readily beg the question – what uncertainties? If the uncertainties mentioned are to do with trade and finance and economics, and prefixing uncertainties with global means that they can be omitted, then global is taking on a financial/trade/economic meaning, and becoming a shorthand for that. Global, then, brings with it an assumed meaning that, while being connected to the dictionary definition (i.e. relating to the whole world), goes beyond it, but at the same time remains unspecified. A similar situation is true in the second example with factors. However, since this word-form is neutral, the sorts of things that it might refer to might not be intrinsically negative (such as war or natural disasters), but nevertheless might be powerful enough to force Mr Brown to revise his plans. Without further adjectival content within the grammatical constraints we used for our analysis, these noun phrases that include global remain rather vague. Nevertheless, in all these cases the use of global as a label means that the notion of ‘globalness’ is taken for granted as is the semantic baggage it brings with it. This is perhaps seen most clearly when global is used creatively in metaphors. An example is shown below: −− As yet, he [Robin Cook] makes no contribution to the big picture: nothing to compare with his engagement on global fire-fighting, alongside secretary-of-state, Albright. In the example, the metaphor relates to fixing problems as they emerge, which assumes that, using the basic meaning of global, both the existence of problems and their fixing encompass the whole world. The nature of these problems is left unspecified, and the reader is left to guess the types of problems global firefighting would relate to. It also assumes that such problems can be fixed (by politicians). Thus, the fact that global states of affairs exist is assumed to be agreed upon by all. Global brings with it connotational meanings, associated with the semantic categories we found in our data, that suggest that particular problems are related to the fire-fighting. In the co-textual situations discussed above, global may still bear the semantic denotation arising from the dictionary meaning of ‘whole world’ or ‘worldwide’, but it brings with it semantic extras that relate to its semantic preferences highlighted in Section 6.5, and the negative prosodies discussed at the start of this section. In order to argue further for an emergent sense, we turn our attention to the word-forms in the Other category.

The Impact of Living in a More Global World


6.6.4  Global times in a global world The dictionary definition of global that we quoted at the start of this chapter had two related senses: (a) all encompassing; and (b) relating to or involving the whole world/worldwide. We have shown how global has connotations relating in particular to economy, business and finance, but also to the other frequent collocates relating to the environment and terrorism. So, when there is mention of global uncertainties or global issues, and so forth, these sorts of semantic domains (terrorism, the environment) are connoted. This section discusses other uses of global in the data that, although low in frequency, suggests a meaning that is further removed from the dictionary definition. These occurrences come with the apparent assumption that we will all know what that meaning is. The examples we use here are from the Other group, which contains the instances of global that did not fit into the other semantic categories, and were too infrequent to form a category of their own. This category contains some creative, metaphorical uses of global, and as we have seen with other keywords (notably spin) it is the creative uses that help to show that a word-form has developed a different sense. The first set of examples from the Other category is a small group where the immediate co-text of global related semantically to time (emphasis added): −− Local leadership for global times −− New Labour is still in power in Britain – and, in these global dark times, for some that is enough. −− conference on ‘Britain and Europe in the global age’, was chaired by the European Trade −− example as the first country of the global age where prosperity and justice advance together. −− many will not applaud a Bush-Blair victory, fearful for the global future. Such usages of global could be paraphrased as something like, for example, we live in an all-encompassing age/in an age or times that relate to, or involve the whole world. In other words, the sense of global in these examples could be interpreted as that of the dictionary definition at the start of this chapter. However, that does not adequately convey what is meant, since all times and ages have involved the whole world, because the whole world has been present through all times and ages, going back to whenever and however the world began. The involvement of the whole world that is packaged up in the wordform global must relate to something more specific. This could be to do with the


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economy, finance and business, but of course trade (such as in spices, fur, tea, coffee, sugar and people) has encompassed large parts of the globe for hundreds of years, starting long before Blair’s premiership. This suggests that global times relates to something more than economic phenomena, and perhaps incorporates all the domains we found in our data, including: the environment along with a growing awareness that the actions of one country has consequences for the rest of the world; media and the almost instant news updates from anywhere in the world; communications technology; and so on. Global brings with it these connotations. We acknowledge that we are dealing with very small numbers here, but there were no similar examples in the Major Corpus. It is possible to level the same sort of argument at other examples from the Other category, such as the following (emphasis added): −− From a rigorous analysis of the challenges global Britain will face, we are working now on detailed and comprehensive New Labour policies. The noun phrase (underlined) in the example textually creates a view of the world by packaging up numerous propositions that make claims about the world. Aside from the proposition (and presupposition) that challenges exist, is the assumption that Britain is global as opposed to non-global, or that there are different versions of Britain and one of them is global. Again, global Britain could be restated as Britain that relates to, or involves the whole world, but this is inadequate and, in the same way to times and age, requires further qualification in order for it to make complete sense. Global Britain, then, could be said to incorporate the same sorts of connotations listed above for global times. Notice also that this example is another instance where global presuppositions are used to justify, in this case, policies. The further two occurrences of global in the Blair Corpus that were placed in the Other category (and no similar examples were found in the Major Corpus) suggest more firmly that global has a sense that goes beyond that which is stated in the dictionary (emphasis added): −− Given the impact of living in a more global world, we have to find a new balance between civil liberties and security. −− Though there was an economic message about intellectual capital – read skilled people – being vital to success in the competitive global world to come. The notion of a global world could be restated as a world that relates to, or involves the whole world, but this would be tautological, and would carry little useful meaning. The writers of these articles therefore appear to be using global

The Impact of Living in a More Global World


in a sense that goes beyond the dictionary definition, but they do not specify what that meaning is. There is an assumption, then, that what global denotes in these instances is known by the reader and requires no further explanation. Notice also in the first of the examples above that more global world implies that global is gradable, that the world can be more or less global. This and a further seven examples of more global in the Blair data (there is one example in the Major Corpus) suggest additional complexities to the meaning of global in this emerging sense. We finish with the only nominal usage of global in either corpora, which comes from the Blair years: −− They [anti-globalisation protesters] articulate a line of thinking that says: ‘Governments are all bastards. The political system sucks.’ That’s right as far as it goes. But it retreats from the global to the local. It doesn’t really have an internationalism. This final example presents global in its baldest form in the data, and presupposes the existence of unspecified entities that possess the quality of being global. We can compare this usage to similar nominal uses of word-forms that are typically adjectival, such as: the rich; the poor; the famous. However, while in these examples, the referents are fairly obvious (i.e. rich people, poor people, famous people), the possible referent(s) for the global is/are less apparent and more open to different possibilities, depending on the reader. This lack of specificity probably suits the writer of the article, who is arguing against anti-globalization protesters. The writer also opposes global to local, which although conventional, the transitional syntactic construction, from X to Y, creates complementary opposition that suggests local and global are mutually exclusive. This textually creates a world where things are either global or local. Such binaries, along with word-forms whose meanings are assumed to be shared by all, but remain vague and underspecified, are useful tools for argumentation and persuasion.

6.7  Global – summary and conclusions In this chapter we provided an overview of global that took into account all the instances of the word in the data. We discussed the issues associated with forming data-driven categories and discussed the importance of explaining how any such analysis is constrained so that it is replicable.


Keywords in the Press

Global is different from the other keywords because it is an adjective, so it did not have a tendency to be bald and unmodifed in the same way as we have shown with other keywords. Instead, it modified other nouns, either in noun phrases or in qualifying clauses, or as the subject complement. If we take a Firthian view of meaning, then the consistent and persistent company a word keeps can give it connotative meaning. Our data suggests that there is an economic meaning attached to global, due to frequently co-occurring with words semantically associated with economic affairs. However, we also found that global modifies head nouns from other different semantic categories, giving global semantic links with a number of domains. These links become important when global modifies conceptually abstract nouns. Global appears to carry with it an assumed set of meanings that go beyond its dictionary meaning, and at the same time these meanings remain vague and unspecified. Our analysis of the corpora also found some evidence to suggest that: global has a negative semantic prosody due to increasing co-occurrence with negative words; and that it is inevitable, due to the causal relations found in the corpora, of which there were more in the Blair Corpus. One could argue that the statistical over-presence of global in the Blair Corpus linguistically suggests the existence of globalization as a process, thus presenting globalization as already existing, which Watson and Hay (2003) suggest was New Labour’s intention. Where global premodifies other word-forms, and thus entities, these entities could be seen as a product of the globalization process, as well as presupposing it. That is, global things come about through globalization. As Andrade notes (writing for the Keywords Project): It is almost impossible to hear adjectival global without an echo of globalization, a process undergone or action taken internationally whose agency and causation, because of the geographical and organisational complexity, can sometimes remain obscure.3

Globalization is the nominalization of a derived verb, globalize, which in turn derives from the original adjective global in its dictionary (i.e. worldwide) sense. However, what Andrade points out, and our data supports, is that the sociopolitical sense of global has now come to incorporate the process of globalization in a kind of semantic equivalent to back-formation and thus the adjective includes – and reifies – the process. Global thereby becomes a more powerful sociopolitical keyword as it makes globalization, which could be a contested concept if it were foregrounded, invisible, and whatever processes it involves, self-evident and assumed.

The Impact of Living in a More Global World


From the evidence from our data we can see a meaning emerging for global that goes beyond the basic dictionary definition to include the connotations brought about by its co-occurrence with words from the semantic domains of economy, business and finance, the environment and climate, war and terrorism, and the other less frequent categories we found in our data including media and information technology. At its most extreme, it seems that global, despite being an adjective and not a noun, shares with the other keywords encountered so far, the ability to sum up an assumed set of semantic features which are paradoxically difficult to capture or enumerate.



A Breeding Ground for Terror

7.1 Introduction In this chapter we will investigate the use of terror, which became a prevalent word-form during the Blair years as reflected in our data. This is due to the events of 11 September 2001 in the United States, and 7 July 2005 in the United Kingdom, and the various activities, actions and discussions that these events prompted. A key action was America’s declaration of war on terror, which eventually justified an unprovoked invasion of Iraq. The United Kingdom, under Blair, was allied to the United States in both the war on terror and the invasion of Iraq, which was reported and debated at length in the press. Of course, terrorism is not a phenomenon unique to the Blair years with what were reported as terrorist activities being covered in the UK press over the previous decades, including activities associated with: the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and into the 1980s, both in Northern Ireland and on the British mainland; Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) within Spain; the Rote Armee Fraktion (Red Army Faction; aka Baader-Meinhof group) in West Germany mostly during the 1970s; and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) which was seen as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United Statesv until 1991. One might conjecture whether a comparison with a corpus composed of news reporting from the 1970s (Munich Massacre/Baader-Meinhoff/IRA heightened activity) would still reveal these terror-based word-forms as being statistically key in the Blair data. However, the events of 11 September 2001 and of 7 July 2005, along with President Bush’s ‘war on terror’, focused political and media attention on terrorism and, in particular, on terror. We suspect, therefore, that a comparison with 1970s news would still see terror as a significant keyword during the Blair years, since this particular word-form has become increasingly important in the discussion, and has acquired sociopolitical importance. Our data suggests that it has become increasingly used by journalists and yet, as we will show, its meaning is often difficult to pinpoint.


Keywords in the Press

In this chapter, as in previous chapters, we will discuss the meaning of terror, with reference to the OED Online, before exploring the senses of terror in the Blair and Major Corpora. We then go on to analyse terror and its co-text in terms of the syntactic constructions it is involved in and how these relate to the developing meaning of the word-form.

7.2  Terror and its meanings According to the OED Online (OUP 2016), terror is a noun and has 2 main senses: 1. The state of being terrified or greatly frightened; intense fear, fright or dread 2. 2a. The action or quality of causing dread’, for example ‘novel (or tale) of terror 2b. A person (occas., a thing) fancied to excite terror; esp. a troublesome child, for example describing someone as ‘a terror’ These senses have at their centre the emotional state of fear at an individual or personal level and it is these senses that are the oldest, with sense (1) dating back to at least 1375. These senses remain central to the other meanings of terror that evolved over time. The OED Online also notes another sense, in the phrasal unit reign of terror that captures a wider fear when there is ‘a state of things in which the general community live in dread of death or outrage’ (OUP 2016) from those in authority. The OED dates this usage back to the first French Revolution (1793–94), when people ‘regarded as obnoxious’ were killed indiscriminately by ‘the ruling faction’ (OUP 2016). This ‘reign of terror’ is often shortened to ‘the Terror’ or ‘the Red Terror’ and, as the OED Online goes on to say, this usage (article + terror, often with initial uppercase letters) extends to ‘other periods of remorseless repression in various countries’ (OUP 2016). It is from this usage that the OED Online suggests that terror without a preceding article emerges: ‘hence, [terror] without article or pl., the use of organised intimidation, terrorism.’ It is this latter sense of terror that is the focus of this chapter and, as we will show, that is most prevalent in the Blair Corpus. It was also during the revolutionary period in eighteenth-century France that the words terrorist and terrorism emerged, denoting (respectively) those in power (the Jacobins) who carried out the reign of terror, and the use of fear and terror to govern. Terrorist and terrorism have developed broader meanings

A Breeding Ground for Terror


since then, but nevertheless remain fairly specific to certain people and actions, with the former denoting any person (usually a member of an organization) attempting ‘… to further his [sic] views by a system of coercive intimidation … aiming to coerce an established government by acts of violence against it or its subjects’ (OUP 2016), and the latter any ‘system of terror’ or a ‘policy intended to strike with terror those against whom it is adopted’ (OUP 2016). However, as Lansford, Watson and Covarrubias (2009:3) point out, ‘There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism.’ They go on to say that the reason for this is partly because ‘… there are so many varieties of terror incidents, such as assassinations, bombings, hijackings, kidnappings, … and even cyber attacks  …’. Here then, terrorism is partly defined by an inventory of what they call ‘terror incidents’, where terror is used uncritically and with further definition. They go on to say: There are many types and forms of terror, from camouflaged guerrilla combatants in the jungles of Colombia and Peru, to the Irish Republican Army (IRA) in the streets of Northern Ireland, to right-wing militia groups in rural parts of the United States … . It should also be said that the ugly history of slavery and the actions of white supremacists in the American South in the years before and after abolition, and during the Civil Rights Movement, mark a long history of acts that meet the definition of terrorism. (Lansford, Watson and Covarrubias 2009: 3)

Again, terror is used in order to define terrorism, but this time, instead of specific actions, it is equated to ‘forms of terror’: first to individuals, organizations and groups, and then to the United States as a whole. Lansford, Watson and Covarrubias seem to be suggesting, therefore, that their understanding of terror includes not only actions, either by the state against a minority or by a minority against the state, but also the agents and the recipients of the actions. Thus, the meaning of terror lacks specificity. Curiously, though, the word-form terror is used in the quotation without comment, which seems to suggest that its meaning is uncontested and widely understood, perhaps via its connections between terrorism and terrorist, which seem to be important. The Keywords Project includes terror as a keyword, and on the project website1 MacCabe gives a historical account of the ‘political meanings’ of the word-form, which he suggests stems from revolutionary France (1793–1794) and the ‘reign of terror’ (MacCabe, last accessed July 2016). The political meaning of terror, then, concerns one group inflicting violence upon or oppressing another group. MacCabe’s account discusses particular activities (e.g. violence by/against the


Keywords in the Press

state), developments (e.g. the invention of dynamite), events (e.g. the first French Revolution), and movements (e.g. National Liberation Front of Algeria), and concludes by saying: The linguistic effects of Bush’s war are difficult to gauge. But it could be argued that … a word initially used to describe emotional states experienced at the very margins of the social is now limited entirely to describing emotional states experienced at the very heart of social and political life.

While we agree that at the heart of terror is the connection to an emotional state, we believe that in the modern political usage that relates to terrorism against the state this connection is also about prompting fear. The word-form therefore does more than describe emotional states, whether experienced on the edges of society or otherwise. If the quotation above were to suggest that the emotional state is felt not at an individual level but at a societal level, then we would agree that this is the case, but this has been a long-standing meaning, beginning with the use which dates back to the first French Revolution. The important shift in meaning suggested by the quotation seems to be from inflicting terror on an oppressed populus (the majority) by the state (a minority), to a minority inflicting terror on the state (which usually includes the general populus). MacCabe suggests that over history the ‘focus for defining terror passes from the act of terrorism itself to the status of the terrorist, and whether he or she is authorized by an alternative and unrecognised legal authority’, so terror is also defined by who is doing the act and against whom. So, packaged up in what MacCabe is calling the political meaning of terror is the meaning to do with inflicting violence, and the legitimation of the violence. The origins of terror, then, start with an emotional state of being frightened (1300s), extend to causing fright (1500s), before becoming associated with organized (state) repression, and finally end with organized intimidation (not usually state). We draw on these meanings discussed here in the next section, when we consider the senses of terror in our data.

7.3  Statistics of terror In this section we summarize the usage of terror in our corpora in order to show how the word is used in both datasets. We start with a reminder of the raw frequencies and the LL score that resulted from their comparison, and then look in more detail at the different word-forms associated with terror and their

A Breeding Ground for Terror


grammatical function. We go on to evaluate the senses associated with the word within the two corpora.

7.3.1  Corpus frequencies Table 7.1 shows the frequencies for terror in the Blair and Major Corpora, and the associated LL score. The figures for terror shown in the table suggest that terror as a concept is important within the Blair Corpus, and highlights the (continuing) Western preoccupation with terrorism. The figures also include instances where the word-form is connected via a hyphen to another word-form, with the most frequent being anti-terror. The complete lists of word-forms that are included in the figures are set out in Table 7.2, which also includes frequencies for each of the forms (with percentage frequencies in brackets) and an indication of the grammatical function of the form as used in the data. We found the information in the POS-tagged versions of the corpora useful when assembling this table. As one would expect, in our data the form terror is a mass noun. When it is involved in hyphenated compounds it is an adjective, aside from one instance in the Major Corpus where it combines with bombed to form a compound verbform terror-bombed. We include these hyphenated forms in our discussion below, because they are an important part of the way in which terror is used in our data. In particular, the table shows that part of the rise in frequency of terror Table 7.1  Terror frequencies in the Blair and Major Corpora Word-form terror

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus





Table 7.2  Forms and functions of terror with frequencies in the Blair and Major Corpora (percentage frequencies in brackets) Forms in the Major Corpus

Forms in the Blair Freq. (%) Corpus

Freq. (%)

terror (n) anti-terror (adj.) terror-bombed (v)

124 (97.0) terror (n) 3 (2.3) anti-terror (adj) 1 (0.7) counter-terror (adj) pro-terror (adj) terror-torn (adj)

680 (83.2) 135 (16.5) 1 (0.1) 1 (0.1) 1 (0.1)


128 (100)

818 (100)



Keywords in the Press

in the Blair Corpus is associated with the form anti-terror, which suggests that (discussion of) the political reaction to terror, and how that is labelled, is also important during the Blair years.

7.3.2  The senses of terror in the Blair and Major Corpora We analysed the meaning senses of all instances of terror in both our corpora in order to assess any differences of usage across our two corpora and hence across the two time periods. We found a number of meaning distinctions for terror, which matched or related to the senses discussed in the previous section. The resulting list of senses into which we were able to group all our data is as follows: a. an emotional state (the original sense); b. actions, qualities, persons causing the emotional state of terror (sense 2a/b, from the OED Online, mentioned above); c. an authoritative/repressive sense that either references state terror in the sense that started with the French Revolution, or echoes it in a way which excludes acts of violence; and d. the use of organized intimidation/acts of violence against the state/ terrorism. Assigning each occurrence of terror to a sense was a manual endeavour which was assisted by the concordance facilities of AntConc in a similar way to our analyses of other keywords. By using sorted concordance lines we were able to discern patterns in the data that related to different senses, which enable us to make the categorization fairly rapidly. As in previous chapters, we use lower-case letter to identify the different senses of the same lexeme. There were a number of instances where the meaning of terror was related to sense (a), the emotional state, for example: −− −− −− −−

Minister seemed rigid with terror Kenneth Bigley stares in blank terror from a wire cage a phrase that would strike terror into a whip’s heart contributed to the exceptional terror of being associated in any way

Such instances, as shown by the examples above, tended to be where terror was preceded by prepositions in or with, or the verb-form strike, or followed by the preposition of. Thus, many of the sense (a) instances of terror fit into the patterns: in terror of, STRIKE terror into or the terror of.

A Breeding Ground for Terror


There were just two instances that matched sense (b), which is concatenation of senses 2a and b in the OED Online cited above (i.e. a thing or person causing terror). These were: −− what is now left is the politics of terror −− in the past 25 years from national terror to national treasure Sense (c) relates to the meaning of terror that emerged from French Revolution (discussed in the previous section), and either specifically references that or other documented periods of state terror directly (e.g. Stalin’s terror), or uses the sense hyperbolically in a way that lacks any threat of death or violence from the state, for example: −− John Ormerod, will be spared the terror of the Treasury Committee −− But even under the Thatcher Terror, Scotland was heavily over-represented We also labelled these, often tongue-in-cheek, uses of terror as authoritative/ repressive, since they stem from or reference back to the French revolutionary sense. They were often preceded by the definite article and/or modified by a proper noun (as in the Thatcher Terror), or were part of the phrase reign of terror. As one might expect, the overwhelming sense attached to the word-from terror was the modern political usage that relates to sense (d), which relates to terrorism against the state. Occurrences of this sense formed groups of patterns, including where terror was preceded by against, on, an adjective, or another noun. Many were also instances of bald, unmodified terror, which followed punctuation marks, verb-forms and conjunctions (especially and), for example: −− The prime minister now accepts that terror and immigration are more important −− World trade, global warming, terror and Palestine can never be solved −− On Europe and the fight against terror, Labour retains a lead The frequencies for each sense from both corpora are presented in Table 7.3. The figures in the table show a sharp contrast between the functions of terror between our two corpora. In the Blair Corpus, almost 94 per cent of the instances of terror are used in the fourth meaning sense (i.e. terrorism), compared with 37.5 per cent in the Major Corpus. The majority of the instances of terror in the Major Corpus are used in its original sense (emotion). This indicates that the rise in terror in the Blair data is not just a matter of an increase in frequency of form, but also an increase in the frequency of one particular sense. Our discussion in the rest of this chapter mainly focuses on the use of terror in its fourth meaning sense (d).


Keywords in the Press

Table 7.3  Comparison of the meaning functions of terror in the Blair and Major Corpora Meaning sense

Example from the data

(a) Emotional state

Ministers live in daily terror of news left now is the politics of terror Alistair Campbell’s reign of terror those outside who prefer terror to talking.

(b) Causing an emotional state (c) Authoritative/ repressive (d) Terrorism Total

Major Corpus Freq. (%)

Blair Corpus Freq. (%)

61 (47.7)

41 (5.0)

0 (0)

2 (0.2)

19 (14.8)

7 (0.9)

48 (37.5)

768 (93.9)

128 (100.0)

818 (100.0)

Terror is involved in numerous syntactic constructions, some of which were mentioned above, and in the following sections we map these out in both our datasets and discuss how different co-text relates to meaning.

7.4  Terror as a premodifier We start by discussing terror when it premodifies other nouns. Here we include the hyphenated forms anti-terror (135), counter-terror (1) and pro-terror (1), as well as the noun + past participle combination terror-torn (1). The full set of nouns modified by terror is set out in Table 7.4. These show all the nouns that occur one place to the right of terror to form what might be characterized as terror bi-grams, or two-word noun phrases that contain terror plus another noun (depending how hyphenated word combinations are counted – we count them as one lexical item here). In the table, frequencies greater than one are shown in brackets. The table shows that in the Blair Corpus, 402 instances of terror (49 per cent) premodify other nouns, and there are forty-seven different nouns (types) modified by terror, and a further twenty-two nouns modified by anti-terror. There is some overlap between the noun types that are modified by terror and anti-terror, and any nouns that appear in both lists are underlined. The hyphenated forms counter-terror, pro-terror and terror-torn are used just once each, and each modifies a different noun. We carried out a similar analysis on the Major Corpus and found far fewer terror bi-grams, with terror (including anti-terror) premodifying nouns just sixteen times, amounting to just over 12 per cent of the total instances of terror

A Breeding Ground for Terror


Table 7.4  Terror as a premodifier of nouns in the Blair Corpus Terror-form

Head noun


acts; advisor; alert (3); alerts (2); arrests (2); attack (2); attacks (23); bases; bill (35); bills; bombs; campaign; cases (2); cells; charges; claims; concessions; crisis (2); crime; defeat (2); emergency (2); groups (3); law; laws (22); leaks (2); legislation (12); movements; network (2); networks (3); organizations (2); plan; plot (12); plots (2); policy; raid; raids; scare (2); status (2); strategy; summit; suspect (6); suspects (73); threat (13); threats (4); trials (2); vote (5); watchdog (3). (47 types in total). arrests; barrister; beat; bill (12); bills (2); campaign; coalition (2); control; crackdown; efforts; law (2); laws (50); legislation (40); measures (8); package; plan; policy; powers; proposals (5); stance; supremo; travesties (22 types in total). brief regimes communities


counter-terror pro-terror terror-torn

Tokens (%)


264 (32.3)

135 (16.5)

1 (0.1) 1 (0.1) 1 (0.1) 402 (49.1)

Table 7.5   Terror as a premodifier of nouns in the Major Corpus Terror-form

Head noun


campaign (8); alert; attacks; group; organizations; vote (6 types in total) squad; team; forum (3 types in total)

anti-terror Total

Tokens (%) 13 (10.2) 3 (2.3) 16 (12.5)

in the corpus. This indicates that part of the increase in frequency of terror in the Blair data is also an increase in one particular way in which terror is used grammatically. The full set of nouns modified in the Major Corpus is shown in Table 7.5 (frequencies greater than one are shown in brackets). The table shows that there are just six different nouns premodified by terror, and three others modified by anti-terror (there is no overlap in types modified by terror and anti-terror). Thus many more noun types are modified in the Blair data than in the Major data. There are, nevertheless, some noun combinations unique to the Major Corpus: anti-terror squad/team/forum; and terror group (although terror groups occurs in the Blair data).


Keywords in the Press

In the Blair data, by far, the most frequent nouns modified by [anti-/counter/pro-] terror, are suspects (73), laws (72), legislation (52) and bill (47), all of which relate to the discussion of changes to the law proposed by New Labour after the events of 9/11 in the United States, and of 7/7 in London. Indeed, these nouns account for just over 60 per cent of the terror bi-grams, thus indicating that much of the discussion surrounding terror concerned the legal status and rights of people suspected to be involved in terrorism in some way or the other. This is what Milizia and Spinzi (2008: 345) suggest is a ‘meta-narrative of defending civilization by the use of legal measures’, which aims to ‘maintain the sense of belonging to an exclusive political community’. Other noun types modified by terror that relate to discussion of law and the legal processes are: bills, law, suspect, crime, charges, arrests, cases trials, as well as concessions, vote and defeat (relating to a government amendment to the Terrorism Act to extend detention to 90 days being defeated in Parliament – Blair’s first ever defeat). In all the cases set out in the tables, the meaning of terror (including anti-/pro-/counter-terror and terror-torn) relates to sense (d) (i.e. terrorism), indicating that when terror is used as a premodifier there is a consistent and persistent meaning across both time periods (as represented by our corpora). In many cases, newspaper columnists have apparently chosen to use terror in preference to terrorism or terrorist. This is perhaps most evident with the bi-grams terror bill(s), terror law(s) and anti-terror legislation, since the wording in the relevant bills and acts uses terrorism and terrorist rather than terror. In the case of terrorism this is probably due to it getting an official definition in the 2000 Terrorism Act. Terror, though, provides journalists (and politicians) with shorthand for naming various bills and amendments to acts (as well as other entities) that foregrounds sense (a), the emotional state, while at the same time remaining rather unspecific and vague. Terror also has the potential for ambiguity. Looking at the usage of anti-terror versus terror, there is some overlap in the nouns that are modified, as indicated in Table 7.3, and shown again below (frequencies greater than one are shown in brackets): terror [arrests (2)/bill (35)/bills/law/laws (22)/legislation (12)/plan/policy] anti-terror [arrests/bill (12)/bills (2)/law (2)/laws (50)/legislation (40)/plan/policy]

Each of these nouns relates to changes to (or new) legalization concerning the prevention of terrorism proposed by the Blair government, which started after the events in the United States on 11 September 2001, and continued

A Breeding Ground for Terror


more earnestly after the London bombings on 7 July 2015. In each of the cases above, the noun phrases prefixed by anti-terror denote exactly the same as those that are prefixed by terror, rather than the opposite. The anti-terror instances are more explicit in meaning, while the terror instances require us to be attuned to certain cultural phenomenon, such as any discussion of a terror policy or terror plan in the UK parliament (or within any democracy) would not be about how to commit terror, but how to stop it. Of course, part of the issue with Blair’s changes to the law was that they potentially breached the rights of anyone suspected of terrorism. Such worries about human rights were discussed and critiqued at length in the press, which accounts for many of the nouns that co-occur with [anti-]terror, including bill(s), law(s), legislation, suspects, policy and travesties. While certain actions, such as stopping and searching or detaining suspects without charge for long periods of time, could be seen as necessary for the prevention of terrorism (as they were by Blair), they could also be seen as being open to abuse or as racist and dangerous steps towards a police state. With such a viewpoint, the meaning of terror potentially shifts closer to that of the authoritative/repressive sense which started during the French Revolution, where people feared the state and the state was able to intimidate the people, while acting within the laws it created. This potential ambiguity of terror in relation to bi-grams concerned with legislation is rather ironic given New Labour’s emphasis on social justice. It also demonstrates that our understanding of (textual) meaning relies to some extent on our cultural/background knowledge, and that our understanding of the meaning of terror might depend on where we find ourselves within society.

7.5  Terror as a postmodifier As well as acting adjectively to premodify nouns, terror is also involved in prepositional phrases containing either on, of or against that either postmodify nouns as part of larger noun phrases, or (in just six cases) postmodify adjectives. These constructions can be summarized as follows: 1. noun on terror 2. noun of [adjective] terror 3. noun against terror 4. adjective on terror


Keywords in the Press

It is only with construction (ii) that there are instances of an intervening adjective between the preposition and terror (the square brackets indicate that an adjective may or may not occur). These four constructions account for nearly 30 per cent of the total instances of terror in the Blair Corpus. Further details of the contents of these constructions are shown in Table 7.6 (frequencies greater than one are shown in brackets). Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most frequent noun + preposition + terror phrase is war on terror, which occurs 147 times in the Blair data. It does not occur at all in the Major Corpus which, given that the phrase emerged from the Bush administration, is as expected. Generally, though, in the Major Corpus, noun/adjective + preposition + terror constructions are rare, making up just 13.3 per cent of the total instances of terror, with only noun of [adjective] terror constructions occurring. As with the Blair data, this structure allows an optional adjective in between the preposition and terror. Further details of the occurrences in the Major Corpus are shown in Table 7.7 (frequencies greater than one are shown in brackets). The most common noun of terror construction in the Major data is campaign of terror, but with only five instances the figures here are very low. Table 7.6  Patterns of postmodifying terror in the Blair Corpus Pattern

Frequency (%)

noun [bills/consensus/impact/laws/legislation/retreat/stance/ treaty/truth/war (147)] on terror noun [acts (3)/apparatus/arsenals/balance/campaign (4)/ causes/challenge/decades/efficacy/escalation/export/face (2)/ fear/form/free/frying pan/glorification (2)/machinery/moment/ originators/politics/reign (4)/state/states/tackling/threat (11)/ tide/wave/ways] of [Islamic/pitiless/Islamist/state/international] terror noun [battle/campaign (2)/coalition (3)/conflict/fence/fight (4)/ war (19)] against terror adjective [soft (5)/tough(1)] on terror

156 (19.1)


242 (29.6)

49 (6.0)

31 (3.8) 6 (0.7)

Table 7.7  Patterns of postmodifying terror in the Major Corpus Pattern NOUN [acts (2)/campaign (5)/process/reign (4)/tactics/resurgence/ decades/enjoyment/years/instant] of [Hamas/Ulster] terror

Frequency (%) 18 (14.1)

A Breeding Ground for Terror


7.5.1  noun + of + terror constructions By and large, the meaning of terror in the different constructions shown in Table 7.7 is sense (d) (i.e. terrorism), with just eight instances (just over 3 per cent) relating to terror as either an emotional state, sense (a) (e.g. the state of catatonic terror induced by those around Mr Blair), or what we have characterized as authoritative/repressive, sense (c), which has its roots in the state terror of the French Revolution, but does not include violence, imprisonment or murder. It is the noun of terror construction, which (incidentally) has the most variation in the noun slot of the construction, where certain phrases occur that relate to NON-terrorism terror. The most frequent of these is reign of terror, which is a phrase originally used to describe intimidation by the state, but here describes intimidation (without threat of violence and death) by individuals against other individuals, or in one case by one political group against another. These instances are shown below: −− without Blair you could have a reign of terror over that front bench with a balloon on a stick. −− Mr Blair will finally have to face up to the end of Alastair Campbell’s reign of terror. −− the new Scottish parliament, it warned, had ‘plans for a reign of terror’. −− Woodhead’s reorganization of Ofsted …was described by Tim Brighouse … as a ‘reign of terror’. The phrase reign of terror, then, while originally being associated with fear of (state) violence or death and the starting point for terror in the sense of terrorism, is used in our data in a way that is tongue-in-cheek and/or hyperbolic. Certainly, it is used in a way that excludes death and violence, or even the threat of it, but nevertheless retains an element of intimidation (perhaps via verbal aggression) usually carried out by one person. In the Major data, there are also just seven instances of non-terrorism terror, but this amounts to 39 per cent of the noun of terror constructions, so substantially more proportionally than in the Blair data. Similarly, the phrase reign of terror accounts for four of these instances, being used in the same authoritative/repressive sense. Apart from reign of, politics of, moment of, wave of and state of, the other noun of terror constructions in the Blair Corpus relate to terror in sense (d). This prepositional construction has the largest variety of noun types and, on five occasions, includes an intervening adjective between the preposition and terror.


Keywords in the Press

In the Blair Corpus, these are Islamic, pitiless, Islamist, state and international, while in the Major Corpus they are Hamas and Ulster. All adjectives occur just once, indicating no persistent or consistent patterns in the data. Of some interest is that Hamas occurs ninety-three times in the Blair Corpus, but never co-occurs with terror, perhaps reflecting a change in the reporting stance towards this political group (thus connection to MacCabe’s observations reported at the start of this chapter). The noun types used in the construction are spread across different semantic domains. Some of the phrases, such as [acts/campaign/threat] of terror, are more straightforwardly connectable to definitions of terrorism. Nevertheless, the choice made by the writers (either subliminal or otherwise) to use terror in preference to terrorism in these cases connects these instances more firmly to one of the desired consequences of terrorism (i.e. the state of extreme fear), and to the wider political context connected to Bush’s ‘war on terror’ (which we discuss further below). Other phrases use terror in ways that contrive to further mystify meaning. For example: −− Out of the frying pan of terror – but Blair will end up facing Labour’s fire This rather creative example relies on the British English idiom ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’, which means moving ‘from a bad situation to one that is worse’ (Speake 1999: 144). Here, then, the frying pan of terror is the situation that Blair found himself in due to the changes he proposed to the Terrorism Bill which would have allowed suspects to be detained for ninety days without charge. The meaning of terror here is less straightforward since it relates more to the furore caused by proposed changes to laws concerning terrorism than it does to terrorism directly. Nevertheless, there is a connection to terrorism and, more particularly, the ‘war on terror’, which was part of the political justification for Blair’s attempts to erode civil liberties. A further example demonstrates another facet of the meaning of terror when used in sense (d): −− The Prime Minister will acknowledge the need for the US, Britain and its allies to ‘finish the job’ in Iraq and Afghanistan so ‘States of terror are transformed into nations of prosperity’. It seems from this example that states of terror are: countries where terrorists live and train and plot; countries where terrorists commit acts of extreme violence; Afghanistan and Iraq; countries that are occupied by allied armies. They are not countries that commit state terror. What we also have here is the construction

A Breeding Ground for Terror


of a transitional opposite, whereby states becomes nations, and terror becomes prosperity. The interesting thing about these two phrases is that it is as if the word state, which is often evaluatively neutral, becomes infected by its association with terror and therefore the writer chooses to change to using nation in the second, more optimistic phrase. The two also differ slightly in their focus, with state being more associated with the institutions and government, and nation referring to the people.

7.5.2  War on terror As Table 7.6 shows, the majority of noun + preposition + terror constructions relate to Bush’s ‘war on terror’. These results show that while near-synonyms of war are possible with against terror (battle/campaign/conflict/fight/war), the same is not true for on terror, suggesting that war on terror is more fixed as a phrase and thus more idiomatic. For this reason, Milizia and Spinzi (2008: 341) suggest that war on terror ‘is processed as a single lexical phrase’ that has meaning that goes beyond its individual components. The phrase is not adopted uncritically by the press, as represented in our data. For example, thirty-seven instances of the phrase are enclosed in quotation marks, and/or are preceded by so-called, while a further seven are preceded by Bush’s, Blair’s or his (referring to either Bush or Blair), thus suggesting a reluctance by some to fully accept this phrase as an existential reality, or as a true description of the actual reality. For example: −− The Chancellor signalled a shift of emphasis in the so-called ‘war on terror’. −− But the Labour party continued its march under Blair, guided by a shared sense of mission and vision with President Bush in his war on terror, laced with rhetoric about ‘legal and moral obligations towards Iraqi people’. However, such examples are in the minority in our data. Furthermore, the vast majority of instances of war on terror are preceded by the definite article, which creates an existential presupposition that such a thing exists, regardless of whether the actual meaning of the phrase is contested or not, excepting those few instances where the presupposition might be cancelled by, for example, so-called. The phrase war on terror subsumes a whole series of activities, both military (literal war) and, for example, legislative (metaphorical war). Legislatively, activities include creating new and amending existing laws (e.g. Bush’s Anti-terrorism Act, 2001; the US Immigration and Nationality Act). In such cases, while terrorism might be defined in terms of carrying out or supporting (e.g. financially) terrorist

Keywords in the Press


activities, terror appears to have no legal status. The lack of definition thus leaves the meaning of terror (and possibly war) fairly vague, but one that includes terrorism, terrorists and support of terrorism/terrorists. If terror is underspecified, then a literal war on it allows for flexibility in the choice of actions that can be taken. Any large military action traditionally associated with a war, such as an invasion of another country, is made up of many thousands of smaller actions, such as blowing up a bridge or an electricity sub-station. Such individual actions neither engage with terrorists nor curtail their activities. The notion of what terror refers to specifically therefore becomes even more unclear. Thus war on terror can only be viewed as some vague, general political concept, which nevertheless foregrounds the sense of fear, which is central to the meaning of terror.

7.6  Modified and unmodified terror The remaining 174 instances (21.3 per cent) can be characterized as those where terror is: −− −− −− −− −−

preceded by an article; and/or preceded by a possessive pronoun/possessive form of a noun; and/or premodified by an adjective or a noun; and/or postmodified by a prepositional phrase; or bald, unmodified.

These constructions can be summarized as follows (where all components in the square brackets may or may not happen): [article] [possessive [prepositional phrase]




The following examples illustrate the summary of possible constructions: article terror −− then when you see the terror brought to Iraq you say: there, we told you possessive noun terror −− At the height of Stalin’s terror, no profession was safe. adjective terror −− Before, Islamist terror was focused on faraway countries

A Breeding Ground for Terror


adjective terror prepositional phrase −− Ministers live in daily terror of news from the front. article terror prepositional phrase −− if we do not fight the terror of al-Qaida abroad we will end up having to fight it at home article adjective terror prepositional phrase −− contributed to the exceptional terror of being associated in any way with a Livingstone mayorship. Bald, unmodified terror −− Global poverty breeds terror. A summary of the constructions with details of the word-forms involved in them is shown in Table 7.8, in the order of frequency (frequencies greater than one are shown in brackets). A similar analysis was carried out on the Major Corpus and we found that all apart from one of the remaining ninety-four instances (73.5 per cent) could be characterized in a similar way, that is, [article] [possessive pronoun/noun’s] [adjective/noun] terror [prepositional phrase]. The only instance that could not was the hyphenated verb-form terror-bombed. A summary of the findings from the Major Corpus can be found in Table 7.9, which shows that it is also unmodified terror that is the most frequent of the remaining instances in the corpus (frequencies greater than one are shown in brackets). Table 7.8  Modified/unmodified patterns of terror in the Blair Corpus Pattern

Frequency (%)

Bald, unmodified terror (e.g. We should never respond to terror with terror.) article [subliminal/added/state/delicious/Great/Stalinist/ Thatcher] terror adjective [global (2)/international (2)/Islamic/Islamist (2)/ Jihadist/Palestinian/state (2)/national/smouldering/blank/ apparent/obvious/Tory] terror possessive terror (e.g. Mr Blair’s terror at the prediction of another landslide.) terror pp (e.g. Almost every old person lives in terror of ending up in one …)

118 (14.4)


174 (21.3)

28 (3.4) 16 (2.0) 7 (0.9) 5 (0.6)


Keywords in the Press

Table 7.9  Modified/unmodified patterns of terror in the Major Corpus Pattern unmodified terror (e.g. That was not a vote for terror but a vote for peace.) article[Great/random/Stalin/Thatcher/Bottomley/Longbridge/ perpetual/expulsion/respectful/headline] terror adjective [organized/PKK/Iraq/random/sheer/underlying/ expulsion/respectful/ministerial/paranoid (2)/political (2)/headline/ red] terror possessive terror (e.g. Mrs Thatcher’s terror of middle-class revenge) terror [PP] (e.g. in terror of criticism) Hyphenated verb-form (terror-bombed) Total

Frequency (%) 40 (31.3) 24 (18.8) 10 (7.8) 10 (7.8) 9 (7.0) 1 (0.8) 94 (73.5)

It is these remaining instances of terror that have the most variation in meaning, in that not all relate to sense (d), terrorism. There are particular phrasal units that emerge from the data that are associated with the emotional and political meanings of terror. These are: the/a terror of; [in] terror [of]; verb (e.g. paralysed; shaking) with terror; possessive terror; strike (strike/striking/strikes/struck) terror [in/into].

In the Blair Corpus, 138 (79 per cent) out of the 174 remaining instances of terror are used in sense (d), with the rest being used in the sense of an emotional state, causing an emotional state, or in a political sense. In the Major Corpus the trend is reversed with seventy-three of the remaining ninety-four instances (78 per cent) being used in a non-terrorism way. As Table 7.8 shows, unmodified terror is the most frequent pattern of the remaining instances of the word-form in the Blair Corpus. It has been our contention throughout this chapter that the meaning of terror is unspecified and vague. When it is unmodified, it is at its most nebulous, with only the surrounding co-text, along with knowledge of the text-external political context, to offer any clues. For example, in the following extract from the Blair Corpus it only becomes clear that terror relates to terrorism, rather than the emotional state of fear, when the whole sentence (or maybe the whole article) is read: −− It is perfectly consistent to say that Iraq has become a breeding ground for terror and given militants a new excuse, and that the world has grown

A Breeding Ground for Terror


more dangerous since the invasion, without going on to say that therefore immature men from Leeds or Aylesbury should strap explosives to themselves and murder a cross-section of Londoners. Given the situation in Iraq following the allied invasion during Blair’s premiership, the country being a breeding ground for terror could easily mean that the emotional state of terror is spreading across the people in the country. Indeed, it is possible to substitute terror with fear in the example, and for the sentence to still make sense. However, it becomes clear across the breadth of the article that the author is discussing a potential link between the invasion and occupation of Iraq by allied forces and an increase in terrorism, and terrorist activity, generally. Even when used to relate to terrorism, terror still has a connection to the central meaning of a heightened emotional state of fear, and that terrorism is meant to cause terror. The use of terror, particularly when unmodified, foregrounds that emotional reaction to extreme danger and violence. The potential ambiguity in the example strengthens that link between sense (a) and sense (d) of terror. It could also be argued that the example tries to create fear through the use of the phrasal pattern a breeding ground for X, where the X slot can be filled with items such as germs, bacteria or disease. Of course, these evaluatively negative word-forms are not the only items that will fit into the pattern, but intuitively there is an association between the phrasal unit and such words, as well as other associations, such as birds, fish or other animals. Regardless of the types of words that might fill the X slot, breeding ground suggests a rapid increase in population, which could be seen as rather hyperbolic. One might argue that the use of terror in the example is just a convenient shorthand notation that saves the writer the need to spell out various, perhaps unnecessary, details because the point of the article is to argue that changes to the law that remove our civil liberties will not prevent terrorism. However, the writer seems not to appreciate that it is this lack of precise details that makes terror a vague notion, which, along with its potential to create fear, affords terror the sort of rhetorical power that can persuade people that invading a country is justified. The discussion of the example above aims to demonstrate how bald, unmodified terror is a shorthand for something that is persistently non-specified, and left to the reader to decode or imagine: mysterious, potentially deadly, activities being carried out by unknown persons in unspecified locations. This sort of repeated use, identified in the data, makes the word-form ever more indeterminate; the news becomes a breeding ground for indeterminacy. A possible consequence of this is that terror becomes transparent in that it blends into the crowd and its


Keywords in the Press

meaning in relation to terrorism slips by unquestioned. As we noted at the start of this chapter, that seemed to be what was happening in Lansford, Watson and Covarrubias (2009); their use of terror without question or definition seemed to assume a shared understanding of the word. Although we have focused on just one example, the same is true with other bald, unmodified instances of terror. The transparency of the word-form is accentuated in particular when it forms part of a list, which it does on eighteen occasions in the Blair Corpus: −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −−

blood and terror terror and bloodshed terror and crime migration and terror immigration and terror terror and immigration terror and other threats an Israel free from terror and a viable Palestinian state fear, terror and war oil, terror and the Arab world crime, terror and immigration war, terror and global financial ruin terror, the reform of public services and welfare World trade, global warming, terror and Palestine Terror, climate change, pensions and crime the replacement of Trident, energy supplies, terror and the constitution the economy, terror, Iraq and healthcare ricin, guns, crack, bombs, whores and terror

In some of these two-, three- and four-part lists, terror is juxtaposed with other key political issues, such as pensions, climate change and crime, giving it the same existential status; it is reified and becomes a ‘thing’, in the same way that healthcare is a ‘thing’. This leaves it less open to being questioned, even though its meaning is as difficult to explain as some of the other items it finds itself near, such as the economy, or the reform of public services. The three- and four-part lists appear to be complete, either symbolically or explicitly, and the items in them are presented as complete, determinate entities, including terror. Four of the lists include terror and (im)migration, thus making a textual connection between these two phenomena that suggest a link in the real world. The final list, which contains six parts and therefore seems to be an example of

A Breeding Ground for Terror


enumeration, rather than exemplification (i.e. a complete list) makes a more explicit link between the items in the list and asylum seekers, as the following extended context shows: −− It’s not the ricin, guns, crack, bombs, whores and terror that should scare us witless about asylum seekers, it’s the filthy diseases they harbour – Aids, TB and hepatitis B, ‘Blair’s epidemics’. Aside from this text connecting various undesirable entities with people seeking asylum in the UK, the list juxtaposes the abstract noun terror with concrete nouns, which not only makes terror ‘a thing’ by association, but also suggests that terror, like other items in the list, denotes a straightforward referent. However, as we have already noted, the meaning of sense (d) terror remains underspecified and difficult to pin down. We conclude this discussion of terror with two examples that return us to the political meaning of terror that emerged during the French Revolution, where it related to intimidation by those in power, and see that by contrast with the current dominance of the unmodified form, state terror is now the marked form: −− Palestinians, who live under the state terror of the Israeli armed forces −− State terror takes more lives than the other kind As the first example indicates, state terror refers to (unsanctioned) actions carried out by the armed forces of legitimate governments. The phrase itself is a kind of oxymoron in the sense that terror is usually applied to maverick and anarchic groups perpetrating violent acts outside any constraints of law or agreement about rules of engagement. Governments, by contrast, are generally seen as not only creating, but also enacting the law. State terror, then, is at the very least an anomaly, and implicitly also a monstrous undermining of civilization. This impression, that state terror is worse than terror more generally is emphasized by the constructed opposite in the final example above, which relies on the reader’s knowledge of what the other kind is.

7.7  Terror – summary and conclusions In this chapter we have discussed the sociopolitical keyword terror. We started by exploring the development of the word’s meaning through history with reference to the OED Online, before arriving at four possible senses. All senses are identified in our data but sense (d) (connected to terrorism and terrorist


Keywords in the Press

activities) is most common (in the Blair Corpus). That is to say, in our data, terror is used more in connection with acts of coercion and intimidation (i.e. terrorism) than it is in connection with discussion of people’s emotional states. We discussed terror in our data by breaking down the occurrences into categories based on the syntactic constructions it was involved in. We returned to our methodology of manually examining sorted concordances to help establish these categories, accounting for every occurrence of the word-form in both datasets. The word-form terror acts as a form of shorthand that includes all sorts of activities, some of them at a remove from acts of violence that might cause terror. As a consequence, terror becomes ever more encompassing and indeterminate. The possible consequence of this is that the use of terror as a term goes unnoticed and unchallenged. This makes terror powerful rhetorically since it can be used to justify political decisions without explanation, because of an apparent shared understanding of its meaning. Using terror focuses on the emotional consequences or effects of terrorism rather than the act. That is, acts of terrorism cause terror, and terror is thus an emotively strong word. The media are complicit in this construction of an unquestioned and vague concept that undermines public confidence and causes fear by its unspecific but amorphous threat to civil society. In the final analysis chapter we examine the word-form respect in the two corpora. This word happens to occur in a variety of idiomatic phrases and this presents a new set of problems, requiring us to make greater use of the ­POS-tagged versions of our data.


A Sugary Coating of Respect

8.1 Introduction The final keyword involved in the reporting of the Blair years that we are investigating here is one that was consciously used by the New Labour project to define one of the cornerstones of their approach to governing. It is therefore no particular surprise that it makes the cut and ends up in our list. Blair’s government not only created and referred to concepts like the respect agenda, it also appointed ministers to a post relating to their policies on respect and by its unpopular actions on the international stage, most notably the invasion of Iraq, it also gave rise to the (ironically named?) Respect Party, as a challenge to the supposed hypocrisy of New Labour being the party of respect. Though we are investigating the reporting of these years of government, rather than the government’s own usage, these issues are strongly reflected in the data we have investigated here. Each of the keywords we have analysed in this book has presented its own difficulties in organizing the data to best capture how that particular word-form was being used in the two corpora. Repeatedly re-sorting the data using different combinations of right-hand and left-hand priorities in the sorting process does help to identify certain frequent patterns, and this is what was done, for example, in the case of choice and reform. But for this keyword we found that the simplest procedure was best suited to making certain that all the concordance lines had been accounted for – and none had been double-counted. So, in the case of respect, we transferred the concordance lines produced by AntConc into an Excel spreadsheet, and gradually transferred them to other spreadsheets on the basis of their co-text. These sub-categories were neither pre-ordained nor entirely watertight, but both corpora were treated identically, giving us a basis of comparison that we could trust. The sub-categories largely arose from the data inductively, though it was clear from the outset that we would want to

Keywords in the Press


separate out verbal from nominal uses, for example. We used the POS-tagged corpora for this purpose, as a way of getting a broad picture of the two main categories of use. The POS tags are not always reliable, though, so for the detailed analysis we scrutinized the untagged versions of the concordance lines. The range of idiomatic phrases in which respect featured was a surprise, though we had anticipated that there would be some. It was interesting, if irrelevant to our purpose, to see what flexibility these phrases could have. Construction grammarians might not find this surprising, and would find interesting cases of fixed versus variable expressions in this part of our data, that we have discounted.

8.2  The statistics of respect The raw figures of occurrence of the word-form respect in the corpora are shown in Table 8.1, and demonstrate a significant increase in occurrence between the two corpora. We used the POS-tagged versions of the corpora to try to separate relevant from irrelevant examples of the word-form by identifying the idiomatic uses (e.g. with respect to) by the tag, which identifies the preceding preposition.1 We also tried to identify the nominal and verbal uses of respect to see whether there were significant shifts in the distribution of the word classes between the two corpora. The resulting figures are shown in Table 8.2. Table 8.1  Total tokens of respect in the Major and Blair Corpora Major Corpus

Blair Corpus






Table 8.2  Distribution between word classes in the Major and Blair Corpora according to tagged corpus Major Corpus respect (total tokens) respect (preposition) respect (noun) respect (adjective) respect (verb)

1,157 75 887 0 195

Blair Corpus


1,569 85 1,216 9 259

60.96 0.59 50.45 12.44 8.81

Note that respect (prep) = in respect of/with respect to/in some respects

A Sugary Coating of Respect


What the figures in the table demonstrate is that the significant rise in usage is largely down to the nominal uses where the LL level is almost as high as the overall level (50.45). Verbal uses stay relatively stable and the very small number of adjectival uses, which are so classified because of their position before a noun, (e.g. agenda) are marginal. We noticed, however, even at this stage that eight of the nine tokens are in scare quotes, indicating the meta-awareness of the word in the minds of journalists and commentators. If we consider the relevant tokens – that is, total tokens minus respect (prep) – as a whole in the two corpora, and recalculate the LL, we can see from the figures in Table 8.3 that it makes a marginal difference to the significance levels, but leaves the picture generally unchanged. However, when we started to look at the concordance lines more closely, we realized that the tagged corpus did not pick up all the cases which were idiomatic and phrasal, making the numbers of relevant items larger than they should be. Similarly, there were clearly many more than nine adjectival (i.e. nominal but premodifying) uses of respect in the Blair Corpus which had not been identified by the tagging. As the numbers were manageable, we were able to manually categorize the individual concordance lines according to their word class, as well as other co-textual features which will be discussed later, resulting in the broad categories shown in Table 8.4. What is noticeable in the table is that although the significance level of the difference between the corpora has reduced considerably (from LL 60.96 to 31.11), it is nevertheless still high (and well above our cut-off of 15.13) and is still largely influenced by the rise in nominal uses (LL= 22.12), rather than Table 8.3  Total relevant tokens and their difference as identified by tagged corpora Major Corpus respect (non-idiomatic tokens)

Blair Corpus





Table 8.4  Respect tokens by word-class as identified by manual analysis

respect (total tokens) Relevant examples respect (noun) respect (verb)

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus


1,157 860 667 193

1,569 1,111 853 258

60.96 31.11 22.12 9.16

Keywords in the Press


Table 8.5  Nominal tokens split between head noun and premodifying noun cases

Relevant examples respect (head noun) respect (premodifying nouns) respect (verb)

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus


860 667 0 193

1,111 798 55 258

31.11 11.24 76.04 9.16

Table 8.6  Occurrences of idiomatic phrases including respect and the compound self-respect Major Corpus Blair Corpus LL Idiomatic phrases self-respect

253   42

288   25

2.14 4.43

across both nouns and verbs. This is in line with our expectations that the conscious use of respect as a defining principle of New Labour was the prime cause of respect becoming so widespread in the Blair Corpus. Although we have analysed the premodifying uses of respect as nominal, rather than adjectival, in grammatical terms, they are nevertheless identifiable as a separate category, largely occurring in labels for initiatives or policy areas such as respect agenda and respect taskforce. If we recalculate the significance of this group, and the nominal group minus these tokens, we can confirm that it is the increase in these cases that overwhelmingly accounts for the overall rise in usage in this data. The figures are shown in Table 8.5. The very high LL result for the premodifying uses (76.04) may be skewed by the relatively small number of cases under consideration here, but the reduction of the head noun cases to below our chosen significance level seems to support the idea that it is the fifty-five cases of premodification that are most indicative of the rise in the take-up of the Blairite concern with respect in news reporting. Before we move from a largely statistical consideration of the data to a more nuanced discussion of some of the detail, it is worth completing the picture by considering whether there is a general rise in the use of phrasal and idiomatic (i.e. for our purposes irrelevant) occurrences of respect. Table 8.6 shows the results for all idiomatic phrases, including both those picked up by the tagging and those which were not. These include, for example, in this respect, in that respect, in one respect, in every (other) respect and so on. The corpus search also included examples of the compound noun self-respect and these are also

A Sugary Coating of Respect


Table 8.7  Significance of the introduction of Respect as a proper noun Major Corpus Blair Corpus Respect (the party)



LL 199.08

shown for completeness (though interestingly a search specifically for this form produces slightly fewer cases – thirty-seven and twenty-three for Major and Blair Corpora respectively). These figures show that there is no significant rise in the other uses of respect, which is an expected result for a set of relatively mainstream idiomatic phrases in Standard English. There could have been politically relevant changes in the usage of the compound form, self-respect, but as it turns out, there is no evidence of such a change. However, there is in addition a set of occurrences that we have excluded from our general figures because they occurred as a proper name. This is the Respect party, which arose during the latter part of the New Labour era (established 2004) as a response to the Iraq war. We will discuss the relevance of this party in relation to the importance of respect later in this chapter, but the repetition of its name in the reporting of this time seemed likely to skew the results if it was included in the occurrences being counted as relevant. The figures in Table 8.7 demonstrate how significant a proportion of the overall occurrences are represented by references to this political party. As we explained above, these occurrences were not included in the relevant examples, though the contextual relevance of a whole political party named after one of the main planks of the Blairite project should be kept in mind. The extremely high LL score here also helps to explain the difference between the original LL score for our initial results (60.96) and the more modest, but still highly significant LL score once we had excluded irrelevant examples (31.11).

8.3  Respect in context As we have mentioned before, the differing grammar, polysemy and number of occurrences of the keywords produced different challenges in their analysis, which could not be reduced to a single, simple process. In the case of respect, some of the challenges related to the ambiguity of grammatical words such as to (infinitive verb vs. preposition) or that (subordinator vs. demonstrative) in English. While the tagged corpus might have helped with this kind of


Keywords in the Press

disambiguation to some extent, there was no straightforward way to distinguish such uses apart from reading each example. There was also superficial identity between some idiomatic uses and some relevant uses. For example, the discourse marker with respect, or phrasal idioms such as with respect to can seem identical to the same two words occurring in other, non-idiomatic contexts such as speaks of his successors with respect. Only a human analyst or a much more sophisticated tagged corpus than we had available could distinguish these cases by reference to their co-text. All such cases were easy to disambiguate once the co-text had been consulted, and there were very few examples where the decision needed more co-text than that provided by the concordance. This larger textual context, however, was available where needed.

8.3.1  Respect as a verb While not a tiny number, verbal uses of respect nevertheless form a smaller proportion of the occurrences in our data than the nominal uses. We also saw above that there is no significant rise in the number overall in the Blair Corpus as compared to the Major Corpus. So we investigated these occurrences and their context not because they are greater in number, but with a view to seeing whether the influence of the Blairite respect agenda may be seen in the kinds of use being made of the verb, for example, in the kinds of things that are respected, the people (Actors) doing the respecting, or the kinds of other processes that respect is conjoined with. There were no noticeable differences in the Actors, which were simply a range of individuals identified by pronouns or proper nouns, and there were no obvious patterns of tense, aspect or modality that distinguished the corpora either. This leaves only a slight difference in the Goals of respect, which we will examine below, and some differences of emphasis in the other verbs that respect was conjoined with, which are examined in Section 8.3.2. If we consider the kinds of things that are respected in this data, they fall fairly neatly into three main groups as follows: −− Government, democracy, authority, agreement, legitimate decision etc. −− People and groups of people −− Abstract ideals and principles If we consider some examples of each of these categories, we can see that, particularly in the first category, respect can be used to mean little more than

A Sugary Coating of Respect


acceptance, and appear to be more superficial behaviour than deep-seated emotion, whereas the other two categories would appear to assume something a little more sincere. Both corpora include examples of each of these categories, as we see in these lists: Government, democracy, authority, agreement, legitimate decision, etc. −− −− −− −− −− −−

He must respect the wishes of the people (Major Corpus) their desire to respect the ceasefire (Major Corpus) his failure to respect royalty (Major Corpus) Major and Co were forced to respect the Commons (Blair Corpus) Government is warned to respect UN authority (Blair Corpus) while he would respect a ‘no’ vote (Blair Corpus)

People and groups of people −− −− −− −− −− −−

if people don’t respect those who lead them (Major Corpus) will the public trust and respect the benefits clerk (Major Corpus) insisted that the young respect their tribal chiefs (Major Corpus) his personal plea to respect the police (Blair Corpus) the main principle should be to respect the voters (Blair Corpus) willing to respect those who hold a different viewpoint (Blair Corpus)

Abstract ideals and principles −− −− −− −− −− −−

we respect their confidentiality (Major Corpus) we must respect the natural world (Major Corpus) would encourage and respect diversity (Major Corpus) would respect the lives of human beings (Blair Corpus) the need to respect the right of privacy (Blair Corpus) respect the way science creates knowledge (Blair Corpus)

The two corpora are difficult to distinguish purely on the basis of those things that occur in the role of Goal, and yet there are slight differences of emphasis that can be seen in the examples above. The first list sees the Major Corpus talking about respect for democracy and establishment institutions such as the monarchy, as well as diplomatic arrangements such as ceasefires. The Blair Corpus appears to emphasize more the need to respect the institutions of democracy, such as the House of Commons and the United Nations, though general references to democracy (e.g. a ‘no’ vote) are also evident. The second list has a range of types of people and groups of people and the third list includes


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the expected absolutes such as privacy and diversity, but in neither case is there much difference between the two corpora. We shall see later in relation to the nominal uses that the Goals of respect in the two corpora do not, in fact, differ very much there either. Though the behaviour of the verbal uses of respect turned out to be relatively insignificant in distinguishing our two corpora, nevertheless, we did see a slight difference in the set of verbs that are conjoined with respect (v) in each corpus, with the conjunction and between them. Here is the complete list in each case, with frequency numbers above one in brackets after the word concerned: Major Corpus: accept (4); honour; despise; respond; trust; look up to; support; like (2); know (2); encourage Blair Corpus: admire (4); connect; love; protect; reform; value; disregard; disrespect; modernise; understand (6); value; trust; contribute to (2); remember; like (7); admire; accommodate; recognise

These are small numbers, but it is noticeable that there are only two verbs that occur in both lists: trust and like. The other members vary between the lists as the Major words tend towards traditional values whereas the Blair examples range more widely in their meaning. They are more numerous (in both type and token) and vary between verbs of emotion such as love, admire and protect and other actions which are presumably to be taken alongside the action of respecting, such as reform or modernize. We will return to pairings of concepts in the section on nominal uses below.

8.3.2  Respect as a premodifier We saw earlier that the significant increase in occurrence of the wordform respect between the two corpora can partly be attributed to its use as a premodifying noun in phrases referring to various New Labour policies, actions and aspirations. The numbers, shown again in Table 8.8, demonstrate that although a small number at fifty-five, these occurrences are completely new in the Blair Corpus: Table 8.8  Premodifying uses of respect in the Major and Blair Corpora Major Corpus Relevant examples respect premodifying nouns

860 0

Blair Corpus 1,111 55

LL 31.11 76.04

A Sugary Coating of Respect


In order to see how these occurrences are used in the Blair Corpus, here is the complete list of variants, with frequencies above one in brackets: −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −− −−

‘Respect’ action plan (4) Respect agenda (43) ‘Respect’ programme ‘Respect’ portfolio ‘Respect’ initiative Respect Plan ‘Respect’ policies Respect taskforce (2) Respect thing

With the exception of the most frequent combination, respect agenda, it is noticeable how many of these include scare quotes around the word respect, indicating that the writer is aware of the contested nature of the concept or is distancing him/herself from the usage. The lack of scare quotes for the most common combination may reflect its ubiquity in the debates of the day. As we saw more recently with the creation of a blended word, Brexit, referring to the UK leaving the EU, once a word is being used without comment by everyone, including major broadcasters such as the BBC, it no longer seems to attract scare quotes in written texts. Most of the combinations with respect as a premodifying noun in our data refer to the legislative aspirations and policies of the Blair government. Its positioning as a premodifier means that it has almost inevitably unmodified itself and this unmodified usage implies that the reader is expected to understand without elaboration what is implied by respect as a noun. We will see later that this unmodified noun status of respect also extends to the occasions when it is head noun in a phrase, and not just when it is premodifying another noun. However, the use of scare quotes in these examples may be the writer’s way of commenting indirectly – and negatively – on the assumption that we all know what respect means by drawing attention to it as a lexical item. The cynicism about the New Labour project was clearly present throughout the corpus, not just in the premodifying nouns. When we searched for other examples, using just the opening quotation mark (single or double) to catch phrases as well as individual words, we found a significant number in the Blair Corpus, and only a handful in the Major Corpus. Table 8.9 shows the figures. As we will see below, the Blair Corpus shows evidence of an emergent sense of respect which has positive evaluation and is treated as a familiar concept

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Table 8.9  Total occurrences of respect in scare quotes ‘Respect’ and ‘respect’ Major Corpus Blair Corpus Total



LL 60.79

alongside other absolute virtues or values. However, the evidence of the scare quotes is that there was a parallel awareness of the emptiness of this concept and many writers distanced themselves from it by the use of scare quotes.

8.3.3  Respect as a modified head noun In Section 8.3.4 we will investigate in more detail the uses of respect in our data where it is unmodified and functioning as a head noun, rather than as a premodifier which we saw earlier. Before we look at this most typical of keyword contexts, it is useful to consider those cases where respect is the head noun, but has either some minimal or more extensive modification of its own. As we saw earlier, the Goals of the verbal uses of respect tended to group under three headings as follows: −− Government, democracy, authority, agreement, legitimate decision etc. −− People and groups of people −− Abstract ideals and principles When we looked at the modified head noun respect, there was a common postmodifying prepositional phrase in both corpora, introduced by for, such as: respect for others, respect for parliament. These were equally frequent in both corpora (145 and 144 occurrences in Major and Blair respectively with an LL of 0.01) and their complementation, though marginally different in detail because of the different personalities involved in political life at the time, was nevertheless similarly easy to identify as belonging largely to the same three groups as before: Government, democracy, authority, agreement, legitimate decision, etc. −− −− −− −− −− −−

is entitled, in turn, to respect for its democratic mandate (Major Corpus) the electorate may have lost respect for local government (Major Corpus) self-discipline and respect for the law (Major Corpus) is keen to demonstrate respect for the Commons (Blair Corpus) to have no spin, no briefings, respect for Parliament (Blair Corpus) through it all shone a respect for the parliamentary process (Blair Corpus)

A Sugary Coating of Respect


People and groups of people −− a dignified silence out of respect for the families of Dunblane (Major Corpus) −− and his social conservatism, respect for priests, the church (Major Corpus) −− showed respect for the Chancellor, Norman Lamont (Major Corpus) −− and lack of respect for Muslim constituents (Blair Corpus) −− with a sugary coating of respect for the people it affects most (Blair Corpus) −− was not about respect for millionaires (Blair Corpus) Abstract ideals and principles −− provide nine standards of service: respect for privacy, dignity … (Major Corpus) −− because respect for strong authority is ingrained (Major Corpus) −− though it did talk about respect for the family (Major Corpus) −− ideas of tolerance, social justice and respect for human rights (Blair Corpus) −− respect for justice and fairness and respect for humanity (Blair Corpus) −− where trust begins and respect for politics is engendered (Blair Corpus) Although some of the names (e.g. Lamont) and the topics (Muslim constituents) may perhaps mark out the two different political eras, there is no clear difference between them in the kinds of things that are being represented as deserving – or sometimes lacking – respect. The only striking difference we noticed was the relatively frequent references to respect for the law (21) in the Major Corpus, with only six such references in the Blair Corpus, though the LL score of 8.88 means that this is not clearly significant in fact. We will see in Section 8.6 that, like other keywords in our study, respect has acquired a political sense during the Blair period that appears not to need further qualification and is used on its own to define the particular policy area and social value or ideology that the New Labour project promoted on the domestic front. The postmodified examples examined in this section share with the unmodified cases the lack of any determiners or premodifying adjectives and to that extent seem to share some of the semantics of the most typical political sense. They are mass nouns and non-specific as a result of having no determiners and to this extent they map out the values of each of the eras under investigation. As with the postmodified examples seen above, premodified respect also appears to mainly consist of simple determiners, often indicating either amount or possession, or adjectives. Table 8.10 shows the range of premodifying determiners for each corpus.

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Table 8.10  Determiners before head noun respect Determiners

Major Corpus

a his, its, my, our, their Possessives (e.g. Tony Blair’s) that the this what Total

11 2 3 1 2 19

Blair Corpus 2 9 8 4 5 1 29

Although the determiners in themselves do not differ a great deal between corpora, it is perhaps a sign of the Blair Corpus that its possessive determiners tend more towards naming individuals and groups of people, rather than being mostly pronominal. This tendency not only illustrates a concern with personality in the politics of the period (and since) but also shows a growing habit of referring to the public as a group, as in the following examples, which though not numerous (five cases) nevertheless have no parallel in the Major Corpus: −− to win back the voters’ respect and trust −− to recover the electorate’s respect −− an eye for the world’s respect Perhaps more noticeable in the data is the tendency in both corpora to quantify respect. As we saw in the case of reform, the premodification can indicate a large or small quantity, but in both cases, it is clear that it is the larger amount that is desired, as we see from the following cases from the Blair Corpus: −− politicians might win more respect if… −− he has earned huge respect across the party… −− MPs are just not shown enough respect. Table 8.11 shows the full range of pre-determiners (quantifiers) and adjectives of quantity that occur in the corpora and the number of tokens in each case. Although there is little difference in the overall number of premodified occurrences (LL = 2.24) between the corpora, there is a wider range of types (14:21) in the Blair Corpus and in particular a high number of uses of more. This

A Sugary Coating of Respect


Table 8.11  Adjectives of quantity and quantifying pre-determiners before head noun respect Determiners all any deep enough full high(est) huge great greater greatest of inadequate increasing less little massive more much no scant some sufficient tremendous unremitting utmost Total

Major Corpus Blair Corpus 2 1 1 1 5 4 1 1 1 2 6 4 6 1


1 3 1 1 1 1 3 1 2 1 4 1 13 4 4 1 4 1 1 1 1 50

concern with increasing levels of respect and government’s role in helping to achieve high levels of respect are perhaps reflected in this usage. As far as other premodifying adjectives are concerned, the corpora are surprisingly different in their usage, with only eight that are common to both. Table 8.12 demonstrates this general lack of similarity by grouping the common adjectives first and then listing the Major adjectives, followed by those in the Blair Corpus. It is difficult to generalize from such small numbers and with a broad range of adjectives in both lists, from the emotive (pitying; passionate) to the geographical (nationwide; worldwide). If one were to make any observations, however, it might be to point to the lack of official adjectives (e.g. constitutional) and the perhaps slightly higher level of emotive ones (e.g. hushed; patient; warm) in the Blair Corpus.

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Table 8.12  Premodifying adjectives of respect as head noun Adjective

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus

Grudging International Mutual National Necessary/needed Political Proper Public American Backbench Basic A certain Constitutional Cross-party Elaborate Nationwide Natural New Pitying Popular Professional Punctilious Social Special Surface Undeserved Unusual Wary Widespread Dutiful Equal Exaggerated Fresh General Genuine Hushed Intellectual Overdue Parental Passionate Patient Traditional Warm Watchful Worldwide

3 1 14 1 1 3 2 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 4 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 3 3

5 1 24 1 1 1 2 2




2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

A Sugary Coating of Respect


8.3.4  Respect as bald, unmodified head noun We have seen in earlier chapters that many of our keywords appear to have gone through a change of semantics between the Major and the Blair Corpora, in each case towards a sense which the reader is assumed to be familiar with, but which is nevertheless emptier of meaning than other senses. This sociopolitical shorthand for a complex of ideas is most typically reflected in its bald, unmodified usage with no premodification or postmodification of any kind. There is a simultaneous lack of co-text (i.e. no modification) helping to define the core of the word’s meaning and an understanding that the concept (or bundle of concepts) that is the referent of this lexical item has been elevated to the level of an absolute good (or bad) which will be recognized as such by the reader. In the case of respect, the first thing to note is that there is a significant increase in the occurrence of bald, unmodified cases from the Major to the Blair Corpus. Table 8.13 provides the figures for all occurrences and the unmodified category. With an LL score above that for the whole set of relevant examples, this bald, unmodified usage is clearly even more significant in the Blair Corpus than the general usage of the word across the data. This corresponds to our findings for other keywords, many of which also seem to be at their most politically symbolic  – and paradoxically most empty – when they stand alone in their respective noun phrases. As there is no immediate syntactic context to investigate with these examples, we looked instead at their coordination with other unmodified head nouns, many of which also represented a principle or abstract ideal and some of which were also in our own keyword list. Table 8.14 shows the range for each corpus and the extent of overlap. The overlapping words in this table are mostly also abstract virtues (decency, loyalty, trust, etc.) and the others are either partial synonyms for respect such as admiration and affection or other government policy aspirations such as reform. The presence of the partial synonyms somewhat confirms the feeling mentioned earlier that what is intended by respect in this data is often certain kinds of Table 8.13  Comparison of all relevant occurrences of respect with the unmodified category

Relevant examples Unmodified respect

Major Corpus

Blair Corpus


860 188

1,111 323

31.11 35.58

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Table 8.14  Head nouns coordinated with bald, unmodified respect Coordinated word-form admiration affection decency loyalty popularity reform responsibility tolerance trust; discipline distance consent control deference desire to learn authority collaboration esteem growing interest image influence power proper place sensitivity serious consideration support survival temperate discourse understanding anti-social behaviour curiosity yobbish behaviour confidence dignity enemies fair wages fear indifference jobs peace rapture restraint sanity strength

Major Corpus 1 5 2 2 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 2

Blair Corpus 1 1 4 1 1 2 4 2 5

2 1 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1

A Sugary Coating of Respect


conforming behaviour, and not necessarily positive emotions towards the Goal of the respect. Thus, admiration and affection are there to add positive emotional sincerity, which is missing in respect. The other striking impression from these collocates is that the majority of cases are not common to the two corpora. While it is hard to generalize from these two lists of words, it is noticeable that the Blair Corpus is more inclined to coordinate evaluatively negative words such as indifference, fear and yobbish behaviour than the Major Corpus, which has only the relatively mild distance as a constructed opposite of respect. What we learn from these examples of textual opposition is that in the Blair Corpus there is an explicit statement of what the absence of respect looks like. It is perhaps these coordinated structures more than any other contexts of the unmodified word that give the sense of respect semantic content, but it is defined by absence. Not having to put up with yobbish behaviour, indifference or fear is how it feels to be respected in these text worlds. In the case of those collocates which are not opposed to respect, they include more of the abstract virtue kind of words (e.g. strength and peace) and other areas of policy (e.g. jobs and fair wages). This pattern of collocating respect with policy areas is much more prevalent in the Blair than in the Major Corpus where a single example of reform and respect is found. This conjunction of respect with practical and tangible areas of policy such as wages demonstrates the extent to which the concept of respect had become reified in the Blair years, almost to the extent of being tangible, and perhaps partly explains why it was thought not to need further explanation. We have identified this category of unmodified head nouns as most typical of our keywords throughout this study, and respect is no exception. If we consider how this single word noun phrase behaves in the wider syntactic context, we see that it is rarely the Actor in the clause that contains it. Table 8.15 contains every example of respect as the grammatical subject of an active verb. Table 8.15  Respect as grammatical subject of active verbs Major Corpus Copula BE break down grow become translate into

3 4 1

Blair Corpus 5 1 1

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Table 8.16  Verbs followed by unmodified respect as Goal Verb form

Major Corpus

command earn lose win accord assume breed declare erode leave owe pay regain require restore retain send teach be bring confuse conjure demand deserve forfeit gain get have increase produce re-establish show

17 1 2 14 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1

Blair Corpus 1 4 1 9

1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 2 2 1 1 1 5

These very few examples demonstrate only that respect is not often thematic in the clauses it inhabits, but where it is, the transitivity categories are relational (BE, become, translate into) or material events (break down, grow). Respect is much more commonly a Goal, and Table 8.16 shows the range of verbs it follows in that role. As with other similar lists above, there is a remarkable lack of overlap in the two corpora, though the very common command and win of the Major Corpus do also occur in the Blair Corpus, albeit less frequently. The four shared verbs at the top of this table illustrate that there are two competing metaphors at work

A Sugary Coating of Respect


in relation to respect in this data. On the one hand, respect is the legitimate reward for work or perceived value (earn, command) and, on the other hand, it is a chance windfall or accidental loss (win, lose). Though some of the same metaphorical ideas are also found in the different lists for the two corpora, the directionality seems a little different. In the Major Corpus, for example, there are more verbs where the Actor seems to be giving respect to someone or something else (owe, pay, accord) whereas the verbs in the Blair Corpus seem to be more focused on the Actor (or grammatical subject at least) being the recipient of the respect (deserve, gain, get). Whether this difference is more than an accident is hard to tell with so few examples, but it does appear on the surface at least to demonstrate a more inward-looking set of data where the focus is on how much respect can be produced, gained or increased, as opposed to the more outwardlooking focus of verb-forms like pay or accord. The other small set of verb-forms that are noticeable in the Major Corpus are restore, regain and retain, iterative verbs which presuppose some prior level of respect that needs to be protected or acquired anew, with the threat of diminishing respect captured by the metaphor of natural loss in the verb form erode. The Blair Corpus has only one similar verb form, re-establish, and is otherwise not so clearly trying to return to an earlier level of respect. The final co-text of unmodified respect that we will examine here is where it occurs as a member of a list. There are only four such lists in the Major data, two of which are three-part lists and thus likely to be interpreted as symbolic of completeness: −− respect, courtesy, obedience to the law −− tolerance, respect, care for other things than power Although these are not numerous enough to perceive a pattern, it is common for the more syntactically complex item to be the final item, as is usual in English. Most of the items included in lists with respect are single nouns referring to the assumed shared values of society, such as courtesy and tolerance. Where there are longer lists, this tendency is confirmed, and respect is clearly included as one of the social virtues in the two four-part lists in the Major data: −− respect, courtesy, self-discipline and obedience to the law −− dignity, security, independence and respect Whereas three-part lists are often said to be symbolically complete, a list with four or more items has the textual effect of being seen as a genuine list, so the


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inclusion of respect in a four-part list of virtues means that it is valued highly, albeit in only two texts in the Major Corpus. In the Blair Corpus, this kind of list is much more common, with five four-part and eleven three-part lists in total. A number of these are similar in nature to those in the Major Corpus and seem to allow respect the same kind of value as other well-established absolutes: −− −− −− −−

facts, respect and clarity affection, respect and humour individual freedom, respect and opportunity compassion, duty and respect

Here, it seems, is the kind of language which puts respect on the same kind of pedestal as freedom, truth and justice – and underpins its adoption as one of the foundations of New Labour philosophy and policy. However, even in the straightforward three-part lists, we find some odd bedfellows, as in: −− respect, Asbos2 and boys in hoodies −− boys in hoodies, respect and Asbos Both examples reflect the same story, referring to Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech in 2005 that set out his policy agenda after the election. The full context for the second example confirms the sense of cynicism of the writer which is anyway evident from the strange juxtaposition of the three items in the list: −− The first thing Tony Blair did when he came back from the election was thunder on about boys in hoodies, respect and Asbos. Many other examples from the Blair Corpus use a different sign of cynicism with the writer distancing themselves by means of scare quotes: −− ‘dignity, respect and fairness for all’ −− ‘solidarity, tolerance and respect’ In these examples, the whole list is enclosed in scare quotes, and in theory this could be a straightforward representation of the speech or writing of another person being faithfully quoted. However, where it is only a phrase and not the whole utterance that is quoted, this can produce not the effect of faithful quotation, but of distancing by the writer who highlights just one snippet of the speech or writing of another. This is even clearer where the elements of the list are separately enclosed, as in the following two examples: −− ‘truly sustainable’, ‘community’ and ‘respect’ −− ‘duty’ and ‘respect’ and ‘climbing mountains’

A Sugary Coating of Respect


In these cases, there is the implication that each of the terms is independently drawn from the language of the person or group being quoted and the reader is being reminded in each case that the writer is distancing themselves from it. The latter case is particularly interesting, as it appears to have a third element which is not of the same kind as the first two, and this incongruity produces the effect of ridicule. We can see this even more clearly if we look at the full context of this list, which comes from a Guardian report on a speech by the then chancellor of the exchequer, Gordon Brown: −− It was an exemplary Methodist sermon, full of ‘duty’ and ‘respect’ and ‘climbing mountains’. The allusion to Methodism refers to Brown’s own religious background, but it also gives us the clue as to how to interpret ‘climbing mountains’, which on the face of it is a strange member of the normal list of virtues. Of course, sermons are full of analogy and metaphor, and the metaphor of life being a difficult climb to reach the top of a mountain is a cliché that Brown apparently draws on in his speech. The writer, by bringing together three items from the speech and putting them in a three-part list, makes a fool of Brown and demonstrates the latter’s lack of charisma in comparison with Blair. Other writers make fun of Blair himself, in some cases by using the final part of a list to imply criticism of the other items in the list or by showing that respect only just makes it onto the list: −− dignity, respect, leadership and similar abstractions −− road pricing, pensions, housing and even respect The first example here, by adding similar abstractions retrospectively, implies that all the social virtues or absolute values are useless because they are not practical. The second example lists the more pragmatic type of political concern and then adds respect as an oddball member of that same group, implying that Blair’s policy concern with respect is out of step with normal political policies. There are many ways in which the writer can use lists, often combined with scare quotes, to ridicule the person quoted. One such example describes Blair talking in Newcastle about: −− ‘integrity’, ‘respect’, ‘dedication’, ‘fundamental restructuring’, ‘equity and fairness’ (both!), This list goes on for another twenty-three items and it is noticeable that although it starts with single word absolutes like integrity, as the list goes on the items


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become more complex in form. However, they are all noun phrases, often with nominalized actions such as empowering or pursuit. Of course, it is likely that all of these words were indeed used by the speaker, but in their original form they would have been contextualized and not members of a list. The ridiculing effect, while staying faithful to the original, is achieved by deleting all the intervening syntax. The writer concludes with: −− ‘Seize the opportunity of change!’ cries the Prime Minister. Everybody yawns.

8.4  Respect: Summary and concluding remarks This chapter has examined the detail of the usage of our final keyword, respect, which was one of the words used repeatedly by the New Labour project and ended up being one of the words used to ridicule this project, not least by the creation of a competing political party using this word as its name in order to draw attention to what was perceived as hypocrisy in the context of the Iraq War. Our findings confirm that respect was used significantly more in the Blair Corpus than in the Major Corpus, even once irrelevant (idiomatic and compound) uses had been set aside. We also found that there were significant increases in both premodifying uses of respect before other nouns and the use of respect as an unmodified head noun. While there was no rise in frequency of the verbal use of respect, there were minor differences in the nature of the verbal uses, most particularly in the more emotive nature of the verbs with which respect was coordinated in the Blair Corpus (e.g. love) compared with the more formal or conventional verbs in the Major Corpus (e.g. honour). The kinds of things that were respected in each corpus largely overlapped and could be grouped into three types, summarized as institutions, people and abstract ideas respectively. Turning to the nominal uses of respect, we separated out the premodifying uses of the word, some of which were tagged as adjectival by the automatic tagger. This group did not exist at all in the Major Corpus and were frequent in the Blair Corpus. They were part of the naming strategies used by the Blair government, and in particular what became known as the respect agenda. Though this naming practice clearly helped to reify the concepts associated with this sociopolitical sense of respect, to the extent that journalists and other commentators could use it freely assuming that readers knew what was intended, this premodifying usage also demonstrated a widespread cynicism, most clearly shown in the common

A Sugary Coating of Respect


use of scare quotes. The use of scare quotes around respect in the corpus more generally was also shown to be highly significant, not least because it hardly occurred at all in the Major Corpus. When we considered the head noun uses of respect, there were relatively few differences in the postmodification of the head noun between the two corpora, and the same three types of Goal of respect were seen in the range of referents following the preposition for as were found among the Goals of respect as a verb. These, again, focused on the institutions of democracy and society, people and groups of people, and abstract ideas. The premodification of the keyword showed a tendency for both corpora to use possessive determiners in front of the head noun (e.g. his respect) but there was some indication that the electorate or voters were more frequently used as the possessors in the Blair Corpus which also seemed to use more emotive adjectival premodification than the Major Corpus. The most important findings from this chapter, as in other cases, relate to the unmodified use of the keyword as head noun, which were significantly more frequent in the Blair Corpus but were also used somewhat differently. Though both corpora coordinated the keyword with other abstract ideas relating to social virtues (such as decency) and with partial synonyms (e.g. admiration), the Blair Corpus also featured coordinated nouns which had negative evaluation and thus created a textual opposition, for example, between fear and respect. These oppositions, between them, create an impression of respect being defined in this corpus more by what is absent than by positive characteristics or actions. Thus, respect becomes more the absence of fear or anti-social behaviour than a positive attitude towards others. Where respect was not being equated with other absolutes – or contrasted with them – it was often listed among policy areas in the Blair Corpus. This did not happen in the Major Corpus, which is indicative of the political burden that the word carried in the New Labour years. Not only was respect a new moral virtue, it was also a policy area alongside jobs, wages and housing, with practical and legislative actions that could be taken to increase this desirable and tangible asset. We also saw that unmodified respect was treated as the Goal of two sets of metaphorical verb pairings in both corpora: win/lose and earn/pay. While the Major verbs relating to the transfer of respect tended to focus on a trajectory away from the Actor (i.e. the person doing the respecting), the Blair Corpus had more verbs which reversed this angle of viewing towards the grammatical subject, so that the concern was more with what amount of respect could be acquired, rather than with what amount of respect could be paid to others. This


Keywords in the Press

is a slightly over-simplified picture of the data, but it does help to show that the difference between the corpora was not just in numbers of occurrences, but was also in the subtle changes in focus that accompanied this usage. While respect appears to have developed in the same way as other keywords in this study, becoming more like a shorthand label for a complex idea, but one which is both assumed and slippery, it also seems to have attracted more cynicism and meta-awareness than the other keywords, as evidenced by the frequency of scare quotes throughout the data. Its use as a label for both New Labour policies and also a new political party may have helped to highlight the linguistic changes that were going on with regard to this word, but for whatever reason, there seems to have been parallel developments of the absolute good meaning and the cynical view of that process. We will leave the last word in this, our last chapter on the keywords themselves, to two of the journalists in our data, whose three-part list of scarequote-enclosed abstract nouns (underlined) sums up the emptiness of the concepts in this period: Over the past decade we have been instructed in the simplified language of ‘reform’, ‘respect’ and ‘modernisation’, with a welter of abstract nouns, euphemisms, elaborate but meaningless locutions, and catchphrases. Every project is ‘inclusive’, with its ‘performance indicators’ and ‘choice advisors’ to show the way. We have discovered ‘social exclusion’ (which must always be ‘tackled’), ‘progressive consensus’ and ‘communities’ to be ‘empowered’ where once there were only people. There is no such thing as failure in new Labour; merely items that are ‘not fit for purpose’. The ‘War on Terror’ continues to inflict ‘collateral damage’ on the language, as meaning and clarity perish under a hail of euphemisms. (Times 2006 Philip Webster and Peter Ridell)



9.1 Introduction This book attempts to establish whether there is a connection between statistical keywords and keywords in the sense suggested by Raymond Williams. At the outset, we wanted to see whether developments in corpus linguistics, together with the development of stylistic approaches to critical discourse analysis, could not only tell us what the sociopolitical keywords of the Blair years were (as represented by the broadsheet newspapers), but also characterize their specific use as sociopolitical keywords. Our answer to these questions is the focus of this book. We established that the keywords of the Blair years as reported in the broadsheets included at least choice, spin, reform, global, terror and respect. We also established, through a number of different methodologies combining corpus and critical approaches, that these keywords all developed specialist senses in the Blair Corpus which were either an extension of what had gone before (i.e. in the Major years) or were new in the Blair period. There were some similarities in the behaviour of this group of keywords which together indicate a particular kind of emergent meaning pertaining to sociopolitical words of this kind. We will summarize our findings and comment on the nature and behaviour of such sociopolitical keywords below. The work reported on here contributes to three aspects of the discipline in which it is situated and these will form the structure of the rest of this chapter. First of all, we have integrated, for the first time in print,1 a stylistic framework, critical stylistics, with some of the corpus methodologies that are already established. We summarize our findings with regard to the efficacy of this amalgamation in Section 9.2. The second contribution of this work is to the description of political language, in particular to the language of reporting in the Blair years. We hope to have demonstrated that the New Labour project did indeed produce a change in the language of the commentariat, and that this


Keywords in the Press

change is one which can be documented by the methods used in the project. The findings with regard to the language of the Blair years are summarized in Section 9.3. Perhaps the most striking contribution, however, is one which we were not able to anticipate with certainty at the outset of this research, though we had seen some hints of it in earlier work. This is the nature of the emergent meaning specific to the keywords of political discourse. While other work (e.g. Jeffries 2003; 2011; Jeffries and Evans 2015) has shown that lexical items can and do take on specific meanings in particular times and places, this project has demonstrated more clearly than ever that there is a particular kind of sociopolitical keyword, more serious and longer-lived than the proverbial ‘buzz-word’, which arises in response to the political climate and has the paradoxical capacity to appear to both mean very little and at the same time be a shorthand for a bundle of semantic features that speakers are expected to understand. This lexical semantic oddity will be revisited in Section 9.4 and we will conclude our discussion with some final remarks in Section 9.5.

9.2  Methodological conclusions This project aimed to pair up some well-established corpus methods with a newer critical stylistic framework to try and address some of the difficulties that arise when large quantities of data are processed by machine, often producing impossibly long lists of keywords each with many hundreds or thousands of concordance lines. Though corpus software itself is beginning to address this problem by trying to automate more of the stages of analysis, via semantic tagging and visualization of results, there is some way to go before these developments are fully reliable and there are some specifically linguistic questions which cannot be answered in this manner. These include our research questions regarding the identity and nature of sociopolitical keywords, which cannot be studied by processing semantically tagged corpora. In the following sub-sections, we discuss the process we used to discover these keywords, our efforts in combining approaches and the limitations of corpus software for this kind of project.

9.2.1  Corpus methods to discover the zeitgeist keywords We used corpus methods as the first step to identifying words that could be seen as sociopolitically key in the reporting of the Blair years. This is different



to the processes used by Williams and by others following in his footsteps, who decided which words are sociopolitically key primarily through a process of informed intuition, followed by data or corpus-based investigation of the words’ behaviour, whereas we reversed this order. We used a series of quantitative and qualitative methods to reduce a long list of statistical keywords to something manageable. We showed that many of the statistical keywords could be removed fairly uncontroversially on the basis of statistical significance, raw frequency and grammatical class (e.g. proper nouns are unlikely to be sociopolitical keywords in the sense originally proposed by Raymond Williams). However, we also noted that, inevitably, we had to rely on intuition (and make use of our knowledge of New Labour politics) in order to finally decide on the six keywords we analysed for this book. We are not aware of any previous work which uses such a method to reduce the statistical keyword list to a shorter list of items for detailed study, though many scholars in fact make this leap without fully explaining how they get from one list to the other. The process we went through helped us to articulate one of the findings of this work, which was that although there is a link between the statistical keywords of a corpus and any sociopolitical keywords that are found in it, the latter form a small subset of the statistical keywords and have a number of linguistic features in addition to their statistical significance.

9.2.2  Combining critical and corpus approaches The insights which helped us to come to a set of conclusions about the nature and meaning of each of the keywords were reliant, in the end, not on corpusproduced statistics or automated findings but on a series of qualitative analyses. This largely manual analysis was made easier by computational organization of the data (e.g. into concordance lines and using a spreadsheet software). One of the hurdles faced by our study, and others like it, is how to deal with the reordered data found in concordance lines or keyword lists, without simply repeating the statistical information in another format and without being in danger of producing a rather mundane description with no interpretative power. Our answer to this problem was to develop linguistically informed and principled ways of dealing with the data we were faced with, albeit in a more organized format. Thus, after reducing the long list of statistical keywords to our shortlist, we produced concordance data for our final six words and used various sorting processes to allow us to characterize the keyword in its context according to a number of dimensions provided by the critical stylistic framework; namely


Keywords in the Press

the TCFs. During the analysis phase, we considered it important to account for all instances of the keywords in our corpora. We therefore used the sorted concordances to categorize each instance of each of the keywords by reference to its co-text and syntactic context, mainly in terms of TCFs. We found that our keywords themselves drove the analysis in different ways each time, though the result was a comprehensive account of the semantic behaviour of our keyword in the data. We also found that concepts relating to co-occurrence, including collocation, semantic prosody and semantic preference could be helpful alongside the TCFs to account for certain patterns of behaviour and particularly in organizing large numbers of examples into data-driven categories.

9.3.2  The limitations of corpus software This research would have been largely impossible without computer tools, since they allow the processing of millions of words in ways that would be unmanageable manually. These include the calculation of statistical keywords, the starting point of our project. Nevertheless, our research still involved a great deal of manual data manipulation. Much of the effort involved analysing concordances of our six keywords and sorting their occurrences into groups, based on their function and syntactic relations in the text, measured against or guided by an external framework. While the analysis of function and relationships was necessarily manual, other aspects to do with sorting and filtering were unnecessarily laborious, involving the export of results from the corpus tool to Microsoft Excel, where we were able to code and then filter results. This process usually meant referring back to the data using the corpus tool. Thus, one practical conclusion we reached on the basis of our research was that providing increased flexibility for saving and editing concordance lists within a corpus tool would prove time-saving for researchers wanting to allocate concordance lines to a set of categories. Also, being able to create data-subsets based on categorizations for further comparison would be an enormous help. Another practical development that could help future research of this kind would be to make the process of filtering the initial keywords more automatic by incorporating POS tagging to such a list and using dynamic filtering based on POS tags. This would mean that, as we did, certain grammatical classes could be filtered from a list automatically, rather than manually, in the same way that filters currently exclude words on the basis of frequency or statistical score. So,



ticking a box that removes, for example, proper nouns dynamically from the list would be a useful addition to the functionality of corpus software. Computer tools have revolutionized the way we engage with data. As these tools develop, some relatively simply adaptations would assist with some of the basic processes of linguistic analysis.

9.3  Keywords on the rise After a rather long-winded set of procedures, starting with software-produced statistical keywords and then a range of principled exclusions, we arrived at a shortlist of fifty-four candidates which were then whittled down further to just six. Although other candidate keywords were potentially also interesting, we were confident that our chosen keywords were representative of the kind of language being used in the reporting of the Blair government. As we expected, these keywords – their special senses in particular – were not new in the Blair years, but as well as increasing in (relative) frequency, they also developed in their meaning towards a specialized political sense and in their behaviour so that, for example, subsets of the keywords, such as the unmodified ones, also rose in number against the total. We summarize our findings with regard to the language of the press in the Blair years in the next section.

9.3.1  Keywords of the press in the Blair years Our keywords each presented us with different challenges, often as a result of their accidental histories and range of multiple meanings and uses. This section summarizes the findings to review what we learned specifically about some of the individual words used to report the Blair years, prior to a discussion of the similarities we observed between them in the next section. Spin, more a verb than a noun in normal language situations, has this pattern reversed in our Blair Corpus where the nominal uses dominate. We found that the political use of spin links to two (at least) of the more fundamental senses of the word, meaning to turn on the spot and to create something by spinning raw material. In addition, the political sense appears to draw on a common everyday metaphor of spinning a yarn (= story). We found that there were derived and compound forms (e.g. spinnable; spin-doctor) which helped to show how well established the political sense of the word had become by this period. The impression that spin was largely evaluatively negative was confirmed


Keywords in the Press

by its tendency to be conjoined with other negative words. A large number of occurrences of spin in the Blair (compared to the Major) corpus were found to be used as a mass, unmodified noun, whose meaning was assumed to be known by the reader. The spin chapter also led us to notice that constructions with variable slots (e.g. put a ___ on me) could be an overlooked source of semantic prosody in addition to the more common evidence of semantic prosody found by examining regular collocation patterns. Choice, unlike spin, is only nominal, and the political sense appears to link primarily to a single everyday sense of the word, relating to the condition of having a set of options. This sense of choice is closely related to the others, but is distinguishable by being a mass noun. Unlike with spin, our corpus contains a range of senses of the keyword, though the political sense is prominent among them and we showed that it grew as a proportion of the total occurrences of the word-form between the Major and Blair years. However, the more usual sense of choice is also in evidence in the data, particularly in relation to political choice (as in electoral choice for example), which helps to explain its naturalization as an equivalent to democracy and freedom in terms of their absolute and positive value. We found that where choice is modified, it is often in relation to some measure of amount on the one hand or to freedom, power and control on the other. Thus, choice is constructed in our data as being aligned to axiomatically good things in the Blair years as well as being constructed as something measurable. The effect of these dual associations is to equate more with better, so that more choice is a good thing. Reform, our third keyword, like spin, has a verbal and nominal form, and as with spin the nominal form is also dominant here, despite what might be argued to be the verbal basis of their concepts. However, for everyday usage of reform, the nominal form is also dominant, so we do not find a specific development away from the verbal form in this case. The areas of public policy with which reform is associated in the data changes emphasis from the Major to the Blair Corpus, with a rise in reform of health, welfare and public services in the later corpus and a fall in reform of democracy and political parties. Like choice, more reform is constructed as a good thing, and speed of reform is also valued positively. Though there is some evidence of cynicism about reform in political activity, there is a general agreement in both corpora that reform is to be welcomed. While one might expect progressive reform to be associated with the Labour Party, in fact the more right-wing reforms of reducing the state and privatizing services were evident in the Blair Corpus, though there was an increase too in the use of scare quotes and other indicators that reform is contentious. Like spin and choice, reform was



also found to occur in large numbers as an unmodified mass noun, referring to an unspecified, but assumed, package of semantic features. Global, the only adjective in the keyword list, illustrated what happens when an adjective becomes politically specialized. While it still bore the semantic denotation of whole world or worldwide, it also carried with it semantic links to different areas of political concern, such as business, the environment and terrorism. These links, and resulting connotations, are brought about through collocation with word-forms from different semantic domains, most frequently relating to economy, business and finance, the environment and climate, war and terrorism. The resulting connotative meanings appear to be assumed, but at the same time remain vague and unspecified. In common with other keywords, the meaning emerging for global in the data is not one that can be easily explicated, but yet encapsulates any number of concepts. There was also evidence in the data of global developing a negative semantic prosody due to an increasing tendency in the Blair Corpus for co-occurrence with semantically negative wordforms. Additionally, there were more instances of global phenomena being used as the reason or cause for political actions and policies. The analysis of global demonstrated how the immediate co-text of the keyword is important in assessing its meaning. It also demonstrated the issues with creating data-driven categories, and the importance of clearly specifying how any such categories are derived. Terror, our fifth keyword, was no surprise as a member of this group, but the analysis demonstrated a move away from the more conventional terrorism towards the more truncated terror, with a parallel change in meaning towards a vaguer set of semantic features, characterized, as with spin, choice and reform, by an unmodified mass noun. We saw in the data that terror was a shorthand for unspecified things, making its meaning apparently transparent or assumed. It was at its most transparent when it formed part of a list, often alongside other key political issues, such as healthcare or the environment. In these situations terror became reified as a complete discrete entity that needed no further explanation. Many instances of terror co-occurred with word-forms relating to law and legislation. This was due to the intense debate surrounding changes to the way in which the state can treat and process suspected terrorists. The irony here was that the potential for the state to abuse such power harked back to the original meaning of terror emerging from the French Revolution, and the actions of the republic against the people. This ambiguity demonstrated that terror can be wielded by the state as well as by individuals and groups against the state. Terror is an emotively strong word that is ever more inclusive in its reference, but yet remains indeterminate. This makes it a powerful rhetorical tool.


Keywords in the Press

Our final keyword, respect, was a high-profile word of the Blair years, much used by New Labour itself and turning up as the name of a new party, the Respect Party, in response to this party political appropriation of a word for an old-fashioned virtue. This keyword, more than the others, presented practical difficulties in finding the relevant occurrences to consider in more detail because of the number of idioms (with respect to; in respect of) which include the word-form but in a sense that has no connection to the relevant sense here. This keyword, like spin and reform, has both nominal and verbal functions, also dominated by the nominal group here. In the case of reform, however, it is clearly the nominal uses that increase between the two corpora, particularly in the unmodified form of this mass noun and mostly among the premodifying uses as in respect agenda or respect taskforce, leading to the conclusion that the New Labour policies using this term have probably had an effect on the word’s use in reporting the era. Although we could anticipate some of the findings above, from our general background knowledge about the Blair era, what we did not anticipate was the extent to which the keywords would share characteristics of behaviour (e.g. the unmodified occurrences of mass nouns) and semantic development (towards an emptier/assumed meaning). We summarize these similarities in the next section.

9.3.2  Common features of usage of the sociopolitical keywords We were aware from the outset that our study was comparable to many mediumsize corpus linguistics projects in aiming to discover what is going on in a corpus of data and how the linguistic features that are discovered reflect the context of use of that data. However, the increasing concern in corpus linguistics more generally with semantic patterning, rather than lexical patterning means that our concern with lexical behaviour stands out more clearly as sharing the territory of lexicology and lexicography, much of which is these days based on corpus mining. The difference between us and lexicologists, however, is that we are interested in a short historical period and the fluidity of lexical meaning in response to political upheaval. One striking similarity among our keywords, as we saw in the last section, was the common tendency for their immediate right-hand collocates to show that they often premodify other nouns, as in spin doctor, reform agenda, terror attacks, respect agenda and choice agenda. It is probably no accident that three of these are found premodifying the word agenda, which New Labour consciously



used in much of its public presentation of policies. Nevertheless, all of these usages emphasize the stand-alone nature of the keywords themselves, as nouns used in this premodifying position are usually themselves unmodified and are therefore assumed to be understood without further explanation. The other common feature of the immediate right-hand collocates of these keywords were the coordinators, and and but.2 These indicate that a new syntactic element has begun, so the headword is the final element of the noun phrase in these cases and as such it is used as though there were a clear and agreed meaning of the keyword. This also implies that the words themselves are semantically complete and do not need (post-) modification to be understood. In addition, the coordination of the words with other nominal forms demonstrates the broad semantic fields to which they are assumed to belong as in spin and self-congratulation, and respect and decency. Thus, for instance, spin is frequently coordinated with negatively evaluated words, whereas respect is coordinated with positively evaluated words. The immediate left-hand collocates of the keywords similarly contributed to the growing impression that what they had in common was the bald, unmodified usage which simultaneously appeared to presume a package of semantic features, while paradoxically appearing in fact to be relatively empty of meaning. There were some examples of the coordinator, and, being used before the keyword, where the patterns and effects were similar to those where this coordinator occurred after the keyword. In these cases too, the coordinated items tended to have positive or negative evaluation, depending on the keyword. In addition, immediate left-hand collocates often included prepositions (for example, of spin, on reform, on terror), which indicate that these keywords were being used as noun phrase headwords with no premodification. Added to the general lack of postmodification, these results intensify the effect of the keywords appearing to stand for a complex set of semantic components which the reader is assumed to understand. In addition, the frequent lack of determiners between the preposition and the headword constructs these nouns as mass nouns, referring, for example, not to a specific set of choices or reforms, but to a generalized notion of choice or reform. Choice is confirmed as a mass noun by such left-hand collocates as extend or more, which demonstrate its measurable nature as a mass referent. Respect, of course, is already a mass noun of this kind, and spin in its political sense similarly. Terror is also conventionally a mass noun, though its more general sense of fear or fright can also be used as a count noun in phrases such as night terrors. The use of terror as a shorthand for all the practices and effects of terrorism or terrorist activity is what stands


Keywords in the Press

out as innovative in this data and it certainly distinguishes this usage from the conventional meaning referring to an emotion. The exception to these general tendencies of patterning, of course, was the one adjective in our keyword list global, which nevertheless appeared to share with the nominal uses the tendency to be used in a sense which was separate from the dictionary definition (worldwide) and whose meaning had a similar paradoxical status as assumed and simultaneously empty. In the next section, we will reflect on what can be learned, theoretically, from the evidence of this study, about the meanings of lexical items, especially those which seem to carry a particular burden in relation to important ideas of the time.

9.4  The evolution of lexical meaning Among the most important findings of this study, we would argue, is the way in which lexical items can be shown to develop into a shorthand for a vague, but implicitly complex set of assumptions, as we see in all six of our keywords. This is most clear when the keyword occurs in an unmodified nominal form, either as the premodifier to another noun, or more clearly perhaps when it occurs as a bald, unmodified head noun. But the conceptual complexity/vagueness is also evident in verbal uses of some of the keywords (e.g. respect and reform) and the sole adjective, global. Some of these keywords show signs of separating out from the other polysemous senses of the lexeme, by, for example, converting to a mass noun when the everyday usage is countable. These kinds of lexicological clues to the development of identifiable senses help us to evidence the kinds of vague but insightful observations that are often a feature of political commentary, but usually fail to tell us how the language produces this effect. Following on from Jeffries (2003, 2011) and Evans and Jeffries (2015), where the argument was made that certain bodies of texts show the emergence of new or specialized meanings for familiar word-forms, we have shown through the investigation of our keywords that there is a very specific kind of lexical development that happens in particular discourses (in this case, political reporting and commentary). This includes: (i) specialized senses developing from everyday senses; (ii) derived and compound forms linked to these specialized senses and (iii) differences in syntactic behaviour between the specialized sense and its co-senses. These senses develop through the word’s use in texts, via the syntactic relations in which the word participates in, and



from connotations arising through repeated co-occurrence with other words, or words from a particular sematic domain. We have noted throughout this book that because the specialized senses that develop in our six keywords are closely related to more everyday uses, their emergence is accepted by language users and their new meanings become naturalized as a result. Their acceptance is signalled by their unquestioned and sometimes creative usage in the news discourse that we analysed. This process of naturalization is assisted by repeated use of similar co-textual surroundings (e.g. collocation or syntactic behaviour). The unmodified form of nominal keywords appears to confirm their status as bona fide senses which need no further explanation.

9.5  Keywords in the press – final remarks Throughout this project, we have found it difficult to know what other researchers actually did in their studies. The collecting of data and the search for terms/ words in that data is often clear and explained in great detail. However, the next stage – how to look at great quantities of concordance lines – is often vague and largely under-explained. We have attempted to be as clear as possible about what we did, both in terms of the semi-/automated processes involving corpus tools, and in the manual processes where we categorized and filtered our data. We know that some stages of our research might have been better served with different software (particularly for the organizing of data), but we attempted to be rigorous and account for every example in the corpus. We are quite happy for others to critique the processes we used, as a way of making corpus stylistic analysis ever more accurate and useful. Despite the difficulties encountered in applying qualitative methods to large quantities of concordance data, we are satisfied that this study has demonstrated some important features of how lexical items change their meaning, both in general and specifically in relation to the development of those sociopolitical keywords which seem to do important ideological work in serious discussions about political decision-making and yet appear to be relatively empty of meaning once they have developed to their full potential as unmodified mass nouns or in some cases, vague verbs or adjectives. The uneasy feeling that many voters report of being unsure what the political elites really stand for may well be partly due to this kind of political language which we feel we should understand, but know that we do not.


Keywords in the Press

The tendency for some of our keywords to develop an evaluative connotation (positive or negative) is evidenced in our project, with the rise of a range of previously non-existent ‘absolute goods’ or ‘social virtues’ typifying the legacy of a period when the prevailing ideology of the Labour Party turned away from collectivism towards the individualism of the Thatcher era. The naturalization of these ideologies in the zeitgeist of the serious reporting of this era, as well as in the language of the politicians themselves, produced a climate in which it was difficult for the ordinary voter to imagine a different world. Thus, we have been led to the point where the citizen’s ‘right’ to choose their own schools and hospitals, for example, is now so ingrained that it is hard to argue that there could be a better way to provide vital services. The trick of letting words stand by themselves results in the recipient being obliged to conclude that s/he ought to know the reference and sense of this word, including its connotations. The step to accepting the existence of – and value of – choice, reform and respect is a small one. And the step from knowing about specific acts of terrorism to a constant state of anxiety about terror is also small. We are now, in 2017, experiencing the early days of a US presidential team that is content to talk about alternative facts and this appears to mean that we have arrived in a world where it is accepted that spin is the only way that politicians can communicate. The anecdotally lower numbers of occurrence of choice and spin in political commentary at this point may well reflect not their demise, but their absolute acceptance as naturalized facts of the modern world. And it appears too that the global world is no longer a tautology, but a truism!

Notes Chapter 1 1 See 2 Note, though, that Enkvist (1973) described such types of comparison long before they could easily be carried out using computers. 3 What counts as a word-form differs from tool to tool. 4 See 5 It is not clear if these are the strongest keywords before or after any kind of filtering process has been applied. 6 See 7 See

Chapter 2 1 See 2 Some readers may already be familiar with the software and they may wish to skim these sections when they come to them. 3 There is also the notion of negative keywords, those words which are significantly under-used by comparison (see Scott 2010). We do not use negative keywords in our project. 4 Note that the SAMUELS project, which is currently underway, is producing a new tagger, based on the Historical Thesaurus of English, which should help us to disambiguate key search terms in future and minimize the need for hand-sorting of suitable data when building a corpus. 5 We are grateful to Paul Rayson at Lancaster for carrying out the tagging for us. 6 See 7 It is worth noting how many verbs were to do with the presentation of thought. 8 Indeed, McEnery and Hardie (2012: 123) note that what counts as collocation is not agreed; see McEnery and Hardie (2012: 122–33) for an extended discussion of collocation. 9 For a more detailed discussion of semantic prosody and preference, see McEnery and Hardie (2012: 135–42).



Chapter 3 1 ‘Sultans of Swing’ is a song by the British rock band Dire Straits from their debut album of the same name. It was a hit in the United States and the United Kingdom in 1979. This chapter’s title is taken from an example in our corpus which plays on the similarity of the sounds of swing and spin, where spin-doctors are creatively re-named sultans of spin.

Chapter 4 1 In 2016, the label ‘Brexit’ was given to the desire of some people in the UK to leave the EU. Once the vote had been won, and despite a lack of clarity about the implications of this decision, the word ‘brexit’ became the standard way to refer to what was effectively an ‘empty box’. 2 As the passive constructions tend to reverse the roles played by grammatical subject and object/complement, we have set them aside here and considered them with the transitivity patterns where choice follows, rather than precedes, the verb. 3 As there was no discernible patterning between the structures where choice was first and where it followed the conjoined items, we have not distinguished the two here.

Chapter 5 1 In Chapter 6, we offer an extended discussion of issues relating to defining datadriven categories as part of our discussion of global.

Chapter 6 1 See 2 UCREL (University Centre for Computer Corpus Research on Language) Semantic Analysis System. USAS uses a semantic framework based on McArthur’s (1981) Longman Lexicon of Contemporary English, but has undergone many revisions during its development. The framework consists of 21 general semantic fields which are subdivided into 232 categories. 3



Chapter 7 1

Chapter 8 1 CLAWS tags prepositions with an _II tag. 2 Asbos refers to Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.

Chapter 9 1 Some PhD students at the University of Huddersfield have also made progress in this regard. See Coffey (2013), Tabbert (2015) and Evans (2016) in particular. Apart from Tabbert’s, their work is as yet unpublished. 2 Collocation involving grammatical words can also be referred to as colligation, and collocates as colligates.

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Index AntConc  23, 27, 38–40, 42, 65, 121, 163

keywords project  5, 116, 143

bald, unmodified  13–14, 64–5, 78, 80, 106, 109–11, 159–61, 177–84, 195–6 British National Corpus (BNC)  44, 46, 54, 94–6, 113

local textual context  38, 124 co-text/co-textual  8, 35, 38, 65, 115, 118, 197 syntactic context  39, 113, 190

CLAWS  26, 42 collocate/collocation  35–40, 54, 88–9, 98 collostructions 66 corpus (corpora)  3, 5, 15–17 reference/target corpus  3, 23–7 corpus linguistics  3, 6, 9–10, 14–16 corpus stylistics  14–16 critical stylistics  7–12, 187

naturalized ideologies  6, 10, 12, 14, 19, 79, 82, 192, 197–8 new labour  1, 7, 19, 65, 107, 113, 115–18, 163, 184–6, 198

emergent meaning  6, 9, 12–13, 19, 48, 187–8 Fairclough, Norman  7, 19, 115–19, 124–6 Goffman, Erving  62, 64, 66 ideation/ideational 9–11 ideology/ies  6, 10–15, 19–20, 198 keyness 3 keyword(s)  2–3, 7 cultural 3–6 negative/positive 3 socio-political  4, 5, 16, 18–20, 27–34, 40, 188, 194–5 statistical  3, 23, 24, 27–34, 40

part of speech (POS) tagging  26, 38, 42, 65, 74, 91, 93, 162, 164–8, 190 political/ideological absolute  2, 13–14, 20, 68, 78, 86, 90, 109, 112, 192, 198 semantic categories/ categorization 118–26 semantic preference  37–8, 75, 91, 190, 192 semantic prosody  37–8, 54, 57, 88, 127–9, 190 statistical significance  3, 16, 27–8 log-likelihood  22, 27–8 Stubbs, Michael  5–6, 22 textual conceptual function (TCF)  8–12, 35, 39–40, 61, 80, 91, 103, 190 Williams, Raymond  1–6, 189