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Linguistics Fridays: Zhang

April 30, 2021 @ 4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Flipping those pages, swiping that screen: A corpus-based analysis of the digital transformation of the news register

Lynn Zhang

English, UW-Madison

This talk discusses the digital transformation of newspapers and the linguistic changes resulting for the register of news reportage. To address the two main research questions: “is online news a hybrid register between printed and spoken news?” and “how has the influence of digitalization changed news writing linguistically?”, I conducted a corpus-based register analysis under Biber (1988)’s Multi-Dimensional (MD) framework. A total number of 7,254 news articles were collected to form 5 corpora (over 1.5 million words each): spoken and printed news from 1996-97 and 2018-19 and online news from 2018-2019. Through the examination of 76 syntactic constructions included in Biber’s original analysis, the study compares online news as a register on a written-spoken spectrum and looks at how it is similar to/distinct from printed/spoken news.

The results indicate that online news has its unique linguistic patterns that are quite different from those of written and spoken news. The language is more informationally dense and more narrative (in Biber’s terminology), exemplified by lower type-token ratio, shorter clauses, and more frequent use of general nouns, nominalizations, private/public verbs, 3rd person pronouns and past tense. The dimension scores also suggest that the digitalization of news has an impact on the linguistic features of news writing in general, which is not simply a “drift” of written registers toward more “oral” styles (Biber & Finegan, 1989; Biber et al., 2001) or “colloquialization” (Hundt & Mair, 1999). Rather, it is a shift towards a more informationally compact and context dependent writing style.


April 30, 2021
4:00 pm - 5:00 pm
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