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Home arrow Communication arrow Semiotics and Verbal Texts: How the News Media Construct a Crisis
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Example 3: Study of a Consumer Issue in Different Written Mediums

In this study (Table 15.3), the medium of the communication is the focus of attention. Analysis would seek to uncover which language choices were typical of different mediums, using a particular topic as an illustration. In this example, the mode is writing, but the mediums are very different, and genre, purpose and audience will play a significant role in discussing the verbal representation of a particular issue.

Example 4: A Different Crisis

The brief examples above addressed types of research design. A final example touches on more specific aspects of language in the case of a different crisis. On 1 October 2015, after a mass shooting in Oregon, President Barack Obama made an emotional speech about gun control. Although this is an instance of the spoken, rather than written, word, political speeches of this kind, as mentioned above, are a type of communication which Crystal (2003: 292) terms “writing to be read aloud”, in that they are usually carefully pre-written, and generally read from autocue. They frequently exhibit many of the features of writing discussed in this book. A transcript of part of Obama’s speech follows:

Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it: we become numb to this. We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston.

It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun. And what’s become routine of course is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation. (Obama, 2015)

A number of observations can be made about this brief extract which are pertinent to the themes of this book. In just these few lines, Obama uses several terms relating to discourse about the tragic events: “reporting”, “response” (twice), “conversation” and “talked about this”. Obama’s choice of words (or “signs”) emphasises the role of the discursive construction of crises and other catastrophic events in how we anticipate, manage, control and respond to such events. In a study of this kind of text, one of the discursive features at the level of the sign generated by the immersive Stage 2 of my approach might well be word choices relating to discourse and communication.

Repeating the word “routine” in a tricolon construction (“Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response here at this podium ends up being routine.”), Obama challenges a discourse of the normalisation of mass shootings. For his part, he is attempting to establish an alternative, resistant discourse about gun control, in opposition to other discourses about “the right to bear arms” which are widespread in the USA. One of the ways he presents this alternative discourse as natural is by using the terms “of course” and “common- sense” in relation to his own argument. If this speech were part of a researched data set, an identification of discourses would be an important area for investigation, where the discourses might be about disputed notions regarding gun ownership rather than discourses of representation (as in the case of the BP research). As part of my immersion phase of analysis, I would note from this excerpt rhetorical features at the level of “code” (structuring figures such as the tricolon mentioned above) and at the level of mythic meaning (rhetorical tropes such as metonym: here we see a significant use of PLACE FOR EVENT in “Columbine”, “Blacksburg” and so on). The use of modality is a further potential area for analysis: in this fragment Obama’s words are largely unmodalised declaratives expressing certainty, with only the modal auxiliary “cannot” being used as a deontic (meaning “must not”) and having the force of a directive, a pattern I have described as “linguistic certainty” and which would warrant examination. I would also note the appearance and role of categorisation (“after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston”).

 
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