Critical discourse analysis

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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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

Rhetoricitus: Why Politicians Need Our Sympathy

by Craig Evans

The accusation often levelled against politicians is that they are not straight with people, but I’m inclined to believe that it’s not entirely their fault. After all, they do have an affliction, a language condition (let’s call it rhetoricitus) which prevents them from saying exactly what they think.

The BBC has been campaigning for years to raise awareness of the plight of rhetoricitus sufferers, and every Thursday their in-house specialist, Mr David Dimbleby, runs a workshop. At the workshop, the brave men and women of Westminster are invited along to demonstrate the crippling effects of their affliction on their ability to give straight answers to questions posed by members of the public. With the workshops being broadcast on both television and radio, the hope is that such exposure will take away the stigma associated with rhetoricitus whilst encouraging people to be more accepting of sufferers’ use of language.

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Power, paisley pyjamas, and language observations on BBC Question Time

by Craig Evans

After watching Question Time on Thursday (2 October – available on BBC iPlayer), I was struck by how pertinent some of the discussion seemed to be to two of the modules I am taking: Critical Discourse Analysis and Gender, (Im)politeness and Power in Language. In particular, a question relating to a scandal involving Tory MP Brooks Newmark raised an interesting response about the abuse of power. I have transcribed this below, together with a comment about women’s language from the labour MP, Stella Creasy.

For those who may have missed this story, it is about a tabloid newspaper sting operation which caught the Minister for Civil Society, Brooks Newmark, sending explicit photos of himself to someone he believed to be a young, female party activist. The MP has since resigned, and what has followed is a controversy about whether or not entrapment was used, and also if the story can really be said to be in the public interest. In defence of the view that it is in the public interest, freelance journalist Susie Boniface (the Fleet Street Fox) made this compelling argument: Continue reading

Decisions Decisions – Third-Year Module Choices

by Craig Evans

‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood / And sorry I could not travel both’ – Robert Frost


Friday’s module option fair has left me in a bit of a quandary. What to do, what to do? From the start I was certain about three of the four options, and I had hoped the fair would help me make up my mind about the fourth. Alas, it has not! I am stuck between two choices, but come 12 noon tomorrow (when the online module choices open), for better or worse, I will make my decision.

It is not a decision to be taken lightly, though. How do we want to spend our final year studying English Language and Linguistics at UWE: will it be with lecturers we favour? Are we going to allow ourselves to be swayed by what our friends choose? Or will we base our decision entirely on the module content?

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New textbook by Jonathan Charteris-Black

by Jeanette Sakel

Congratulations, Jonathan, on publishing your new textbook on ‘analysing political speeches’:

The book is also available downstairs in the Blackwell bookshop! Those of you studying Jonathan’s final-year module on ‘Critical discourse analysis’ will become quite familiar with the book!

Here’s what Jonathan says:

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