Language and Media

III. Syntax and morphology

Premodifier Variation ("Subjective/Objective Polarity")

  • Objective assessments

    • "French Renaissance" (The Times, November 21, 2007)
    • "martial law" (Guardian Weekly, November 9-15, 2007)
    • "personal data" (The Independent, November 22, 2007)
    • "personal details" (The Sun, November 21, 2007)

  • Subjective description and evaluation

    • "He issued his stark message [...]" (The Times, November 21, 2007)
    • " [...] and the stability of an entire region with reckless criminality" (Guardian Weekly, November 9-15, 2007)
    • "[...] unacceptable to the more radical Union leaders." (The Independent, November 22, 2007)
    • "[...] one of the worst government security breaches ever [...]" (The Sun, November 21, 2007)

Note that it is rather an important stylistic feature for individual newspaper section than of high importance for distinguishing newspapers.

Contractions of auxiliaries and negatives

A standard cue to oral mode (also in academic writing) that tries to sound chatty and user-friendly, e.g. he’ll, don’t, won’t,.... The generating of informal colloquial language by way of using quoted (Q) or original (O) contractions in

  • Headlines (avoidable)

    • Original: "They've got your number" (The Independent,November 22, 2007)

    • Quoted: "Paris Hilton: 'I'm empty inside'" (The Sun, October 16, 2007)

  • Quotations (often unavoidable, depending on source, however)

  • Introductory passages (avoidable)

    • Original: "That's not to say that the character's own moral choices were defensible [...] but the challenge even from such a morally flawed person persists." (Guardian Weekly, November 9- 15, 2007)

    • Quoted: "You think you are innocent, but you'renot" (Guardian Weekly, November 9-15,2007)

  • Concluding Passages (avoidable)

    • Original: "I'm dismayed that many newspapers reported the findings as if they came from a respectable source." (Guardian Weekly, Nov. 9-15, 2007)
    • Quoted: "I don't' see politics as a career." (The Times, November 21, 2007)

→ Majority of Q-Forms in text category of reportage, mainly AUX-contractions (I’m, s/he’s, We’ve,….). Since quoted they can be put anywhere and do not have to fit to surrounding register.


  • to convey a feeling of a true-to-life rendering of what interviewees and others have said, and of how they said it.

→ Majority of O-Forms in text categories editorial and review, mostly NOT-contractions (don’t, isn’t, hasn’t, won’t, shouldn’t,…..)


  • to enter into a more or less subtle mental ‘dialogue’ with readers.
  • to generate a relaxation of the otherwise quite formal tone.
                                     (Westergren, Jucker)


Short or incomplete sentences, e.g.

  • “We got him” (Sun, Monday, December 15, 2003)
  • “Don't ever leave him” (Sun, Tuesday, September 02, 2003)


Modal expressions

  • signify judgements as to
    • truth (‘correct’, ‘false’,...)
    • likelihood (‘certainly’, ‘might’,..)
    • desirability (‘regrettable’, ‘favorable’,..)
  • stipulate obligations (‘should’, ‘ought to’,…)
  • grant permission (‘may’)

Suggests the presence of an individual subjectivity behind the printed text, someone qualified with the knowledge required to pass judgement, the status to grant leave or assign responsibility.

'Spech Acts'

Form of words which, under certain conditions, actually constitutes the performance of an action.

High density of speech act verbs in newspapers

"President Putin accused Nato yesterday [...] He issued [...] Mr. Putin hit out at Nato [...] He threatened..." (The Times, November 21, 2007)


Tabloid Words

  • "They are labels. They do not convey precise meanings. The reader looks at the label, opens the tin – and finds a tin of labels". (Keith Waterhouse, veteran journalist)