Tuesday, April 7, 2015



Discourse analysis is concerned with the study of the relationship between language and the contexts in which is used (McCarthy, 1995: 5). In other words, this branch of linguistics deals with how people construct their ideas in a cohesive and coherent way in order to communicate their message by means of written and spoken texts. Terre Blache and Durrheim (1999: 154) define discourse analysis as the act of showing how certain discourses are deployed to achieve particular effects in specific contexts’. This definition identifies three different aspects, namely the discourse deployed in a text, how a particular effect is achieved in a text, and lastly the broader context in which the text operates.
In recent years the study of mass media has grown significantly and it is becoming more and more difficult to analyze media discourses in modern times, as the contradictions and the complexities have grown many folds. The complexity of discourse is to be understood in terms of the complexities of the societies, their cultures and their polity. The discourses of mass media are even more difficult to analyze since human interaction to a large extent involves language, and linguistic interaction is embedded in and determined by socio-cultural, historical, ideological, and institutional conditions (Schäffner and Basnett, 2010: 2). Bednarek (2006, 11f.) lists eight major analytic approaches to the language of media discourse: the critical approach, the narrative/pragmatic/stylistic approach, the corpus-linguistic approach, the practice-focused approach, the diachronic approach, the socio-linguistic approach, the cognitive approach, the conversationalist approach.
Developments in the last few decades within such areas as text linguistics and, more generally, within the growing interdisciplinary study of discourse, have potential applications for the systematic analysis of mass media messages, from the classical approaches to content analysis to the construction of a sound theory of media discourse (Van Dijk, 1983:20). Torfing (1999: 210-224) distinguishes three inseparable areas or approaches where discourse theory can be put to work on media: discourses about the media, discourses in the media and the media as discourse. In all three cases, media are seen as specific machineries that produce, reproduce and transform social phenomena.

The present paper mainly highlights the nature of discourse in the media. Specifically, it extends the discussion of the following problems:
1. How is the linguistic construction of media discourse?
2. What effect(s) do the linguistics structures of media discourse have on audience/readers?
3. How are those contructions employed to achieve certain effects?


Discourse analysis does not constitute a single unitary approach, but rather a constellation of different approaches (Lea, 1996). Some studies examined the language of the press (e.g. Lüger 1995, Montgomery 2007), highlighting specific lexical, syntactic and stylistic features. Various discourses operate in a particular text; put differently, the text draws on, or is informed by, these discourses. Text refers to written and spoken language, as well as images (Terre Blache and Durrheim, 1999).The language used in media is to form ideas and beliefs. (Fowler, 1991:1).The following section reveals the language construction of media discourse and their role to construct ideas and beliefs.
The linguistic structure of media discourse plays a vital role in patterning ideas of which it reveals. Each particular form of linguistic expression in media discourse has its own reason. Differences in expression carry different values. The values are implied in linguistic usage. The linguistic choice is directed towards understanding such values (Fowler, 1991: 4-9, 37).
The media report on a variety of topics in a number of different genres. Forms of expression encode a socially constructed representation of the world. It is a complex process which begins with a systematic sorting and selecting of events and topics according to a complex set of criteria of newsworthiness known as ‘news values’. The origins of news values are complicated and diverse. They include general values about society such as ‘consensus’ and ‘hierarchy’, journalistic conventions, nature of sources, publication frequency and schedule, and so forth (Fowler, 1991: 11-13).
Different media report differently, in both content and representation. They relate systematically and predictably to their contextual circumstances. The selection is carried out on the basis of various political, economic, and social factors. It is obligatory to select a style of discourse which is communicatively appropriate in the particular setting. If we compare different language versions of the ‘same’ discourse   in different media, we can notice changes which cannot be explained purely with reference to stylistic reasons. Changes in the syntactic and semantic structure result in a modification of focus and evaluation.


Media discourse serves a dual function. First, media discourse is a source of information for citizens. When citizens try to make sense of an issue, they often use media discourse (Gamson 1992). The media discourse created by political entrepreneurs (including the media itself as a political entrepreneur) may or may not include three ingredients that increase the likelihood of collective action - identity, injustice and agency. It may or may not be presented in such an arousing manner that it is picked up by the citizen and has an effect on his/her manner of thinking about the issue. Media discourse, therefore, serves as a source of information available to citizens to make up their minds on an issue
Second, media discourse is also a repository of social events. The media sometimes reports on political activities by citizens, such as demonstrations, petitions or letters to the editor. Of course, most political activities by citizens go by without creating media resonance. The media makes a selection that is biased towards news value considerations and their editorial line. Despite these limitations, media discourse is for this plausibility probe a useful and easily accessible source to list the public political actions that citizens have undertaken in the past. (van de Steege, 2010: 7-8).
 The selected genres of media discourse do not simply report on political events in a neutral way, but they provide evaluations and thus can have an impact on public opinion about politics and also on policy making. Some issues on politics are politicized in the public mass arena to engage a particular group of people or citizens and to win their support or even to challenge decision making. It is expected that a discourse that is highly loaded with emotions is more likely to reach their hearts and minds, and thus lead to political action.
The mobilization of citizens depends on the specific actions of political entrepreneurs undertaken to politicize an issue. It is the political discourse developed by certain political entrepreneurs that politicize an issue. Emotionally loaded media discourse is expected to play an important role in this process concerning how ideas transform into words and then lead to deeds.

            The following is a sample of how media discourse employs certain strategies to achieve certain effect   on its audience (van de Steeg, 2010: 16)
·         Catch phrases (for example, a variation on “ich hatte das nicht gewuβt” - ”I did not know” - to warn against the extreme-right in Europe);
·         Conflict (explicit disagreements; indication of two contrasting camps; words related to war, battles and fights are used);
·         Personal relevance: reference to people like the reader. “However, that will bring us – and here I mean the country and its citizens – […]” (Der Standard, 27 January 2000); and relevance for the reader as a fellow-national or fellow-European “But we all have, with our own national characteristics and in various dimensions, our own Haider.” ( La Repubblica, 1 February 2000);
·         Authority figures (national Prime Ministers and Presidents, the Commission President, the Austrian President, the Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister when he is presented as the main anti-Haider spokesperson, Jewish leaders when a comment is made on the Holocaust – the Austrian ÖVP Prime Minister is not coded as an authority figure, since his authority was seriously put into question);
·         Emotional appeal “[…]the possible future Foreign Minister called upon all critics to leave the ‘realm of emotions’ and to return to ‘objectiveness’” (Die Presse, 29 January 2000);
·         Prominence: headline on the selected case, plural instead of a single headline, first page, and the newspaper’s comments; and
·         Rhetorical questions.


            In conclusion, the language construction in media discourse plays a powerful role in establishing the representation of the world in the media. Everyone acknowledges the importance of language in this process of construction. The content and representation is socially, economically situated. It is a complex process based on the news values. Both are directed towards achieving those values. The media discourse brings about some effects on people. It catches their attention and activates a deeper reflection on issues. Moreover, it influences their attitudes and triggers their behavior.


Fowler,Roger. 1991. Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press. New York: Routledge.

McCarthy, Michael. 1995. Discourse Analysis for Language Teacher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Schäffner, Christina, and Basnett, Susan. 2010. Political Discourse, Media, and Translation. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Torfing, Jacob .1999. New Theories of Discourse. Laclau, Mouffe and Žižek. Oxford: Blackwell.

Van Dijk, Teun A. 1983. Discourse Analysis: Its Development and Application to the Structure of News. In Journal of Communication. Volume 33:2. The Annenberg School of Communication.

Van de Steeg, Maria. 2010. Emotion, Media Course, and the Mobilization of Citizen. In Kolleg-Forschergruppe (KFG) Working Paper, No. 16. Berlin: Freie Universität Berlin

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