Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Actional and Relational Verbs in Newspaper Editorials

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Actional and Relational Verbs in Newspaper Editorials

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In this paper, we will analyse 60 editorials from the British newspapers The Sun and The Times, using the lateral verb model outlined in Kress and Hodge's (1979) "Language as Ideology", a seminal work that advocates closer ties between linguistics, sociology and psychology.

A study of newspaper discourse should require no justification because it is probably both the most read of all text types and that of which the greatest volume is printed. Moreover, the two papers in question, both owned by Rupert Murdoch, represent the two ends of the press spectrum: The Sun is Britain's top-selling tabloid daily, known for its sensationalist scandalmongering; while The Times has long been considered a venerable organ of the establishment.

Our starting hypothesis is that the differing styles of these two papers owe something of their distinctiveness to the writers' choices of verb types as carriers of new information. Thus, we will determine the relative proportions of the various Relational and Actional verbs, in the above model, used in each paper. Where statistics for The Sun and The Times differ, we will attempt to discern rhetorical motivation for this.

2. Theoretical background

Kress and Hodge (1979) explain that perception is not purely psychological, but dependent on language, which reconstitutes the world and provides the systematic organising assumptions through which we see "reality". As the practical consciousness of society, language is:

inevitably a partial and false consciousness. We can call it ideology, defining ideology as a systematic body of ideas, organized from a particular point of view (Kress -- Hodge 1979:6).

More practically, for our purposes, language is:

an instrument of control as well as of communication. Linguistic forms allow significance to be conveyed and to be distorted. In this way hearers can be both manipulated and informed, preferably manipulated while they suppose they are being informed (Kress - Hodge 1979:6).

Whereas Theme generally gives prominence to certain actors and sets the agenda for a message, some schemata - which according to Kress and Hodge, classify events in the world - are principally carried by the Rheme. Among these is one they call the Lateral model. Focused on the verb, it portrays "reality" in terms of two sub-models, the Actional and the Relational, and these provide the theoretical framework for the present study. The Actional submodel, firstly, relates one entity - Actor - to another - Affected - by a process (Transactive) or, alternatively, a single entity and a process (Non-Transactive). The Relational submodel, secondly, involves writer comments on entities or actions. Again, there are two types of Relationals: Attributives describe and are either Possessive (eg. "Bill has courage") or Qualitative (eg. "Paula is brilliant"); Equatives equate two concepts, usually entities, (eg. "John is President").

Kress and Hodge claim for their model, which they call essentially semantic, a higher degree of rigour and delicacy than was possible with the traditional distinction between transitive and intransitive. Unlike the latter, for instance, their lateral model would not confuse actions and non-actions (eg. "the parcel weighs ten pounds"). Unfortunately, a semantic analysis is at least partially dependent on reader interpretation. This means that even their model fails to clarify, definitively, the philosophical question of what constitutes an action in a world subject to perpetual change (Halliday 1993:23). So as not to become embroiled in the Kantian dilemma of subjective versus objective reality, therefore, we opted to employ the following simplified model:

A. Kress and Hodge's lateral model, reduced to:

B. Analysis was by form only, though we noted instances in which form and function diverged.

C. Ignoring Kress and Hodge's mental versus physical process dichotomy, we nevertheless aimed at a measure of delicacy by including the following subcategories:

a) Within Active Transactives -

abstract object

indirect object

abstract subject AND object

abstract subject

reflexive subject/object

b) Within Passive Transactives -

implied subject

explicit subject

no subject

D. …

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