University of Cambridge > > Cambridge Linguistics Forum > How do stylistic features “work” in news texts about a violent event that took place abroad? A cross-cultural case study.

How do stylistic features “work” in news texts about a violent event that took place abroad? A cross-cultural case study.

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  • UserAshley Riggs (Université de Genève)
  • ClockThursday 27 May 2021, 16:30-18:00
  • HouseOnline.

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The role of stylistic features of news in conveying information and portraying events and societies warrants more research, and the potential impact of such features on readers’ impressions of events and societies is, I claim, under-estimated. That said, journalism studies scholars have certainly recognized the importance – and power – of the formal characteristics of news texts; Ettema (2012 [2010]: 296] even asserts that “the formal features of news, as much as (or more than) its content, are a source of whatever socio-cultural authority that journalism retains.”

In my interdisciplinary study of news language, I conceived of journalists reporting on events abroad as intercultural mediators and of cultural representation as a form of translation. This is in line with the recent broadening of the definition of translation (e.g., Davier, 2015; Maitland, 2017; Valdeón, 2015; van Doorslaer, 2012), in part to account for the variety of processes involved in collecting, drafting and disseminating news across borders and across cultures.

My corpus consisted of online news texts from the UK, French-speaking Switzerland, and Spain about the violent attack that took place in Nice, France in July 2016. Using a mixed-methods approach, I analysed certain lexical choices and the use of modality, alliteration and metaphor in these texts from three distinct linguistic and cultural spaces and from different parts of the political spectrum. There was a strong tendency across the corpus to label the event as terrorism as soon as the news broke and to “make the attack about (radical) Islam”, and stylistic features played an important role in conveying these messages. There were important differences, however, linked to political leanings, in how Muslims were reported upon and how French society and/or the event were contextualized. The UK texts sometimes used modality to give unproven assertions a patina of factuality in ways that were likely to heighten fear and a sense of threat, whereas the Swiss and Spanish news more often employed it to establish distance or allow vacillation. In almost all the news texts, the majority of the alliterated content was negative, thus making such content more salient, although the device was more frequent in the UK news than in the other sub-corpora. Metaphor, too, was predominantly negative and evocative of violence – although the imagery chosen sometimes varied by country/language – and this was particularly true of the Telegraph, Le Courrier and El País (and therefore not directly attributable to political affiliation). Concrete examples of these stylistic features as well as the potential reasons for and implications of these findings will be discussed.

The research presented and the open access version of the resulting book, Stylistic Deceptions in Online News: Journalistic Style and the Translation of Culture (Bloomsbury Academic, 2020), were funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation.


Davier, L. (2015), “‘Cultural Translation’ in News Agencies? A Plea to Broaden the Definition of Translation,” Perspectives, 23 (4): 536–51. 7676X.2015.1040036

Ettema, J. S. ([2010] 2012), “News as Culture,” in S. Allan (ed.), The Routledge Companion to News and Journalism, 289–300, London: Routledge.

Maitland, S. (2017) [Kindle version], What Is Cultural Translation?, Bloomsbury Advances in Translation, London: Bloomsbury.

Valdeón, R. A. (2015), “Fifteen years of journalistic translation research and more,” Perspectives, 23 (4), 634–62.

van Doorslaer, L. (2012), “Translating, Narrating and Constructing Images in Journalism with a Test Case on Representation in Flemish TV News,” Meta: journal des traducteurs/Meta: Translators’ Journal, 57 (4): 1046–59.

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