Language is one of the most important features when it comes to the media, or to analyzing life in general. Besides painting, there is no other written way of expressing one’s belief or point of view on a certain subject. After a brief introduction on British press I shall speak throughout the essay about the two approaches on the same subject of a broadsheet and of a tabloid. The articles are taken from The Guardian and the Daily Mirror and tackle the issue of child of 14 who commits suicide while in custody.
To start with, it should be noted that Britain’s first newspapers appeared over 300 years ago. Now, as then, newspapers receive no government subsidy, unlike in some other European countries today. Hence, the survival of newspapers is very much dependent on advertising, which constitutes a vital source of income. Surprisingly enough, this small island boasts approximately 130 daily and Sunday papers, 1,400 weekly papers and over 6,500 periodical publications. More newspapers, proportionately, are sold in Britain than in almost any other country. According to David McDowall “national newspapers have a circulation of about 13 million on weekdays and 17 million on Sundays, but the readership is twice this figure”.
The national newspapers, both on weekdays and on Sundays, fall into two broad categories: the ‘popular’ (also called in a derogatory way: ‘gutter’) and ‘quality’ press. All the popular papers, with the exception of the Sunday Express, are ‘tabloid’ in format. The tabloids are essentially mass entertainment, as evidenced by the fact that they are smaller than the other papers, have larger illustrations, bold captions and a sensational prose style (as we shall see later on). This leads to an emphasis on gossip, emotion and scandal, and a significant reduction in the news content. By contrast, quality newspapers, known as ‘broadsheets’ on account of their larger format, emphasise news coverage, political and economic analysis and social and cultural issues.1
Both the quality and the popular press present breaking news, human interest stories, comments and features specific to this type of media. Again, the content has different social functions, which are also associated with different patterns of textual organisation. Editorials tend to be organised more on the basis of a continuous structure, with stages which all contribute to the overall effectiveness of the text. But generically speaking, they are different in style.
Style is the textual result of choices between alternative ways of saying more or less the same thing by using different words or a different syntactic structure. Such stylistic choices also have clear social and ideological implications, because they often signal the opinions of the reporter about news actors and news events as well as properties of the social and communicative situation (their use in a tabloid) and the group memberships of the speakers, for instance that a specific journalist is white, male, or middle-class.
Thus, the use of mob and rentamob, instead of crowd and demonstrators, may be interpreted as signaling the ideological position of the reporter about left-wing demonstrators, while at the same time discrediting them for the readers. The same is true of the use of howling, screaming, and fury, instead of vigorously protesting. Besides expressing negative attitudes and manufacturing the consent of the readers (Herman and Chomsky, 1988), the use of such words also shows a cultural dimension of news language: the everyday, popular style of tabloids.2
Drawing on the distinction that Systemic-Functional grammar makes between spoken and written language, and between informal and formal language, it may be claimed that broadsheets have many features in common with formal and written language, whereas tabloids present a highly spoken and informal style. In order to illustrate such assertion, firstly I will focus on the linguistic implications of mode (spoken language: tabloids vs. written language: broadsheets), and then I will turn to the linguistic consequences of tenor (informal language: tabloids vs. formal language: broadsheets) The examples illustrating each of the linguistic features considered have been drawn from the news reports analyzed in the following section.3
As far as mode is concerned, in the first place it may be argued that spoken language tends to show a dynamic structure, while written language is more synoptic and more carefully designed. This explains the reason why news reports in broadsheets more often than not follow a highly structured organization of the information (in terms of the answers to the main wh-questions: who, what, where, when, why, how), whereas news stories in tabloids are structured mainly around the most emotive and shocking elements of the news story. Secondly, mode also exerts a significant influence on the kind of lexis used when speaking and writing.
Spoken language tends to be dominated by ‘everyday’ lexis (often Anglo-Saxon in origin). By contrast, written language makes more use of prestige lexis (often Latin in origin) than spoken language does. Concerning the dichotomy between tabloids and broadsheets, it appears that ‘everyday’ lexis is far more common in tabloids than in broadsheets, which in turn implies the prestigious quality of broadsheets, as opposed to the everyday and informal quality characteristic of tabloids.
Next, in addition to lexis, syntax also plays a major role in the linguistic differences between spoken (tabloids) and written language (broadsheets). The evidence shows that spoken language tends to be syntactically simple, while written language is usually syntactically complex. This, in turn, has a direct bearing on the ‘lexical density’ of the text, in the sense that on the one hand, spoken language is lexically sparse, and on the other, written language is lexically dense.
In relation to tenor, let me say that the most outstanding differences between formal and informal language have to do with lexis. One such difference stems from the emotiveness present in some words. This means that informal language (tabloids) tends to be highly attitudinal and emotional, while formal language (broadsheets) is more neutral and objective. As a general rule, there is often a one-to-one relationship between emotiveness and colloquialism, which means that attitudinal lexis tends to be colloquial (abbreviated forms, slang) as well, and neutral lexis is usually formal (full forms, no slang) as well. Another relevant lexical difference between formal and informal language lies in the naming of human participants. Informal language (tabloids) tends to employ first names, nicknames and diminutives, whereas formal language (broadsheets) often makes use of titles and full names.5
A final feature of British tabloids, as opposed to British broadsheets, was suggested by Fowler and is connected with the high degree of personalization found in tabloids. By personalization, he argued that tabloids tend to be packed with items about individuals, but they are lacking in reports of general or extended processes. This certainly goes hand in hand with the emphasis that tabloids place on gossip, emotion and scandal.
Otto Friedrich has observed that “the average newspaper is simply a business enterprise that sells news and uses that lure to sell advertising space “Whether one would accept this assessment for true hard-news publications, it does seem to be especially appropriate for tabloids, a term used here specifically for newspapers focused on gossip which, as Levin et al. state (article abstract), could concern “mundane events” in the lives of the famous or bizarre events in the lives of the otherwise ordinary.