Author: uwelingo

The language of ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ in the EU referendum

by Craig Evans

Voting day is upon us. After months of campaigning, the voting public will make their way to the polling stations to determine whether or not the UK will continue to be part of the European Union. For some, the choice they will indicate on the ballot paper may have been made long ago. For others, the decision is not so clear-cut, and it is these voters who political activists on both sides have been most keen to reach in the final weeks and days of the campaign. This means that, rather than preach to the converted, activists have needed to be more strategic in convincing the undecided that their position – be it leave or remain – is the right position.

One way to sway a wavering voter might be to appeal to emotion (‘pathos’, in Aristotle’s terms). For example, the fear of something that isn’t known (e.g. the precise economic effects of leaving the EU) or something that can’t be controlled (e.g. immigration). Regardless of the reality of either situation, this fear might be just enough to nudge voters one way or the other. Little wonder then that politicians have been shamelessly repeating expressions like ‘keep our seat at the table’ (Remainers) and ‘take back control’ (Brexiters). The first appeals to the fear of being shut out from a place of influence, the second to the fear of being powerless. Continue reading

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Undergraduates, an opportunity not to be missed!

by Craig Evans

I was pleased to see that UWE is supporting students wishing to attend the British Conference of Undergraduate Research (BCUR) next year, no doubt due in large part to the tireless efforts of Jenny Hill to secure funding. As a recent UWE graduate of the English Language and Linguistics degree course, and someone who benefited from this support in 2014 and 2015, I feel that I should stress how it is an opportunity not to be missed. This is especially the case for those thinking about continuing your studies postgraduate. I am currently studying for an MA in Discourse Studies at Lancaster University, and I believe the experience of attending an undergraduate conference not only helped bolster my MA application, but also my self-belief for studying at a higher level.

Of course, it is not only an opportunity for would-be academics, but also invaluable for anyone hoping to get ahead in a variety of industry sectors. No doubt we’ve all had our fair share of advice about the importance of doing extra activities to get an edge in an increasingly competitive graduate work market. Well, if you only do one extra activity during your time at university, then I recommend you make it the attendance of an undergraduate conference. The drive, focus and initiative demonstrated by students who present their own independent research at a national conference is something that will impress any discerning employer.

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The Confusing Language of Mortgage Lending

by Craig Evans

A response to today’s news story about interest-only mortgages

I have a lot of sympathy for the ‘nearly a million homeowners’ who face losing their homes after opting for interest-only mortgages. I can also understand why more prudent borrowers and a lot of non-homeowners might feel differently; after all, who’d want to pay only the interest on a loan that they can’t afford to pay back in full?

The logic against it is very sound. However, so too is the logic in favour of taking out an interest-only loan: surely the lender wouldn’t give out hundreds of thousands of pounds at a time unless there was a clear plan for capital repayment – right?

I should probably now take a step outside this post and explain that it is not my intention to write about finance. This is actually an issue concerning language and communication. Having previously spent a number of years working in the mortgages department of a finance company, I can appreciate why people might put their faith in common sense when faced with the often opaque language of financial services.

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Who ‘spared’ the mass killer? Investigating word choice in the media

by Craig Evans

When news outlets reported on the sentencing of James Holmes at the weekend, I was struck by the incongruity between the events described and the repeated use of the word ‘spared’. In July, Holmes was found guilty of the murders of 12 people in a cinema in 2012. Prosecutors in the case sought the death penalty, but the jury needed to be unanimous in their decision to pass this sentence. At least one juror opposed the death penalty, and Holmes was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

The consensus in the media was that James Holmes had been ‘spared’. Here are some quotes from publications across the political spectrum:

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Caesar was ‘ere: name etchings at the Colosseum

by Craig Evans

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Here is a photo of names etched into an interior wall of the Colosseum. I was there the other day while visiting Rome. Inside that ancient arena it is hard not to be drawn into musings about universal human truths. My own thoughts fixed on the idea of the spectacle and how societies, ancient and modern, are organised around staged performances. This is somewhat aided by the design of a circular, tiered structure which encourages a sense of belonging to a mass group with a common purpose while also marking social status differences. The presence of a ‘Royal Box’ for distinguished guests at Wimbledon suggests that this social function of the arena has survived into today’s world.

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Some thoughts on ‘impact’, the theme at iMean 2015

by Craig Evans

It was the fourth meeting for iMean, a biennial linguistics conference first held at UWE in 2009. Jointly organised by staff and students from UWE and the University of Warwick, this year’s event took place at Warwick. Here are some of my thoughts on the main theme of the conference…

‘Impact’ was the theme at this year’s iMean conference. I was there as a student volunteer helping out for four days in April. ‘Impact’ emanates from a source, and I had the opportunity to experience firsthand the source in question at iMean 2015, that is: the linguistics research community. Or at least, I should say, a variety of academics from across the world whose research focus is language. This seems to be an important distinction to make now that the onus falls increasingly on the individual researcher – rather than research community – to justify their work in terms of its ‘impact’.

It was fascinating, as an English Language and Linguistics undergraduate still fairly new to the world of language research, to observe seasoned academics as they grappled with this buzzword ‘impact’.

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iMean Conference 2015

by Craig Evans

Back in April, the fourth iMean conference was held at the University of Warwick. This was the first iMean outside of UWE. The conference – started in 2009 and staged every two years – is organised by Jo Angouri and Kate Beeching. This year, UWE’s Helen Watts was at the helm coordinating a group of Warwick and UWE students to help ensure the smooth running of the event, which by all accounts was a great success.

Rachael and I were there representing UWE’s English Language and Linguistics undergraduates. It was an exciting opportunity to experience a different university campus, to meet others interested in language research, and to experience some fascinating talks by academics at all levels. During our four days at the conference, we helped out with registration, organising signage, and directing delegates to the right rooms. In return for our efforts, we were able to attend the talks we wanted, to enjoy free breakfasts and a free drinks event, and to gain some valuable work experience (always good for the CV).

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Politicians and Their Words: Some Thoughts about Semantic Prosody

by Craig Evans

The battle-lines of political discourse in the context of election campaigns are often drawn at the level of individual words. Take, for example, the following words: ‘immigrants’, ‘benefits’, ‘bankers’, ‘Islamic’, ‘Brussels’, ‘politicians’. While defined in neutral terms by dictionaries, these words tend to acquire a derogatory sense when used in the media or by politicians themselves: ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘benefits cheats’, ‘bankers’ bonuses’, ‘Islamic fundamentalism’, ‘Brussels’ bureaucracy’, ‘distrust of politicians’.

The collocates that frequently occur with these words, as illustrated here, influence their semantic prosody; that is, the degree to which they have negative or positive associations. In the discourse of British political debate, the semantic prosody of these particular words tends to be negative. Alternatively, words like ‘troops’, ‘nurses’, ‘countryside’, ‘schools’, ‘British values’, ‘communities’, etc tend to have positive associations. This is because of the frequency with which they collocate with the possessive determiner ‘our’, where the sense of them belonging to us implies a positive emotional connection.

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CDA speeches! A practical exploration of Aristotle’s artistic proofs and other rhetorical techniques

by Craig Evans

For last week’s Critical Discourse Analysis module, several students volunteered to write speeches which they then delivered in the seminars. The purpose of the exercise was to explore the way that features of classical rhetoric, in particular Aristotle’s artistic proofs, work in persuasive writing. The format involved four speakers in each seminar making opposing arguments on two topics. After each speech the rest of the seminar group were asked to discuss the rhetorical merits of the speech; and after each topic, a vote was held to decide which argument had won the most support.

The two topics chosen by students to speak on were immigration and the Oscar Pistorius trial. Speakers were asked to argue against or for the following propositions:

“Immigration has gone far enough and a firm limit should now be placed on Britain’s borders”

“Oscar Pistorius is guilty of murder and should be sentenced accordingly” Continue reading