Episode 16: New Year’s Special

2020 through the language lens

We start our review of 2020 by talking about the language use around Brexit. Anyone interested in that topic can find relevant publications listed in Veronika’s bibliography-in-progress on Brexit and language, which is available here. Sten Hansson’s publications on the topic are:

Veronika at one point mentions prison metaphors in the Brexit debate (e.g. ‘free from the shackles of the EU’), which she has written about here:

Koller, V. (2020). Analysing metaphor in discourse. In Hart, C. (ed.) Researching Discourse: A guide for students. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 77-96.

Our subjective look back on 2020 continues with the university strikes in Britain early that year. We talk to Liz Morrish, who was a speaker at some of the events around the industrial action. Her critical studies of contemporary universities, in the UK and elsewhere, are collected in her blog Academic Irregularities (https://academicirregularities.wordpress.com/) and have also resulted in a book she wrote with fellow linguist Helen Sauntson:

  • Morrish, L., & Sauntson, H. (2019). Academic Irregularities: Language and neoliberalism in higher education. Abingdon: Routledge.

As mentioned in the interview, the marketisation of universities, including its language aspect,  has been researched for many years now. Here is a list of some of this work:

  • Fairclough, N. (1993). Critical discourse analysis and the marketization of public discourse: The universities. Discourse & Society, 4(2), 133-168.
  • Kheovichai, B. (2014). Marketized university discourse: A synchronic and diachronic comparison of the discursive constructions of employer organizations in academic and business job advertisements. Discourse & Communication, 8(4), 371-390.
  • Mautner, G. (2005). The entrepreneurial university: A discursive profile of a higher education buzzword. Critical Discourse Studies, 2(2), 95-120.
  • McMillan, J. J., & Cheney, G. (1996). The student as consumer: The implications and limitations of a metaphor. Communication Education, 45(1), 1-15.
  • Ng, C. J. W. (2014). Semioticizing capitalism in corporate brand enactment: The case of Singapore’s corporatized universities. Critical Discourse Studies, 11(2), 139-157.
  • Zhang, Y., & O’Halloran, K. L. (2013). ‘Toward a global knowledge enterprise’: University websites as portals to the ongoing marketization of higher education. Critical Discourse Studies, 10(4), 468-485.

Liz mentions various frameworks for evaluating research, teaching and knowledge exchange at British universities, known respectively as REF, TEF and KEF. This sign from the 2020 university strike combines criticism with word play:

Inevitably, our review of 2020 takes us to March and the arrival of Covid-19 in Europe. We look at the pandemic through the metaphor lens (pun very much intended) and talk to Paula Pérez Sobrino, one of the founders of the #ReframeCovid initiative. The collection of alternatives to the war metaphor for Covid-19 is available to view and download here: bit.ly/ReframeCovid – the link also leads to a form where listeners/readers can submit further examples. A group of scholars involved with the initiative have started to write about some aspects of metaphors for Covid-19 and about the initiative itself:

  • Olza, I., Koller, V., Ibarretxe-Antuñano, I., Pérez Sobrino, P., & Semino, E. (forthcoming). The #ReframeCovid initiative: From Twitter to society via metaphor. Metaphor and the Social World. (see also this roundtable discussion)
  • Pérez Sobrino, P., Semino, E., Ibarretxe-Antuñano, I., Koller, V., & Olza, I. (forthcoming). Acting like a hedgehog in times of pandemic: Metaphoric creativity in the #ReframeCovid collection. Metaphor and Symbol.Semino, E. (2021). “Not soldiers but fire-fighters”: Metaphors and Covid-19. Health Communication, 36(1), 50-58. (see also this blog post)

And finally, here are two examples of creative visual metaphors for Covid-19:

Caption: Potentially dangerous asteroid passes close to the Earth
Speech bubble: What do I care…
Sfintii nostri cei de toate zilele – Our everyday saints
(contributor: Alexandra Ciocănel, 14/04/2020, street art campaign by McCann, Romania)

More cartoons can be found here: https://sites.google.com/view/reframecovid/cartoons?authuser=0

2020 was an eventful year and we could not fit all important events into the episode. In the summer, the killing of George Floyd by police in the US led to the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement and protests against racism and racist violence around the world. In Britain, the statue of slave trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol, inspiring the poem Hollow by Bristol City Poet Vanessa Kisuule:

Detractors of the BLM movement sometimes counter that ‘All lives matter’, but this misunderstands the pragmatic meaning of the original statement: ‘Black lives matter’ is not an answer to the question ’Whose lives matter?’ but to the question ‘Do black lives matter?’. 

In the final interview, we reflect on the US elections and talk to Ulrike Schneider, co-editor of a book on the language of Donald Trump (which should win a prize for best book cover of the year!):

Schneider, U., & Eitelmann, M. (eds) (2020). Linguistic Inquiries into Donald Trump’s Language: From ‘fake news’ to ‘tremendous success’. London: Bloomsbury. 

Other work on the topic includes:

  • Knoblock, N. (2020). Trump’s text appeal: Vague language in post-truth politics. In Kranert, M. (ed.) Discursive Approaches to Populism Across Disciplines. Basingstoke, Palgarve Macmillan, pp. 119-144.  
  • Montgomery, M. (2017). Post-truth politics?: Authenticity, populism and the electoral discourses of Donald Trump. Journal of Language and Politics, 16(4), 619-639.

In our conversation, we touch on Trump’s use of Twitter; after the storming of the Capitol on 6 January 2021, Twitter suspended the President’s account indefinitely on grounds of incitement to violence. 

This brings Words & Action’s special New Year’s episode to a close, but we hope you will stay with us over the course of the year!

Listen to the episode here

Full transcription of the episode

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