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Home arrow Communication arrow Semiotics and Verbal Texts: How the News Media Construct a Crisis

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My genre analysis might have generated the hypothesis that, because the texts are moving from more “factual” towards more “evaluative”, they would move from a state of certainty (this is what is happening) to a state of uncertainty (but what does it all mean?). We might have expected that an aim for objectivity would give way to a more subjective view of events, and thus a greater intrusion by the writer. In fact, the movements go in the opposite direction. This move to certainty could rather be seen as a move from a state of “newness” to a state of “givenness” (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004). With the passage of time, writers are presenting their observations in such a way that they are incontrovertible. A statement without modality is the most unobtrusive way, grammatically, to signal unequivocal information.

However, the analysis also suggests an increase in evaluative language, and here a distinction between the processes at work in the modality system and those at work in the Appraisal System (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2004; Martin & White, 2005) are worth making. Following the work of Hunston and Thompson, Martin and White (2005: 38) comment that:

Opinions about entities are canonically attitudinal and involve positive

and negative feelings; opinions about propositions on the other hand are

canonically epistemic and involve degrees of certainty.

From this perspective, we see a discernible move from a highly modalised (“canonically epistemic”) means of expression towards one that is high in force in terms of the Appraisal System (“positive and negative feelings”).

Table 9.2 Summary of findings—modality and Appraisal

Descriptive genres

Evaluative genres

Generic

expectation

Low modality

High modality

Findings from data

High

• Modality mainly attributed to other writers/speakers • Some authorial modality

Lower

  • • Opinion presented as fact
  • • Use of other evaluative strategies

Type of modality found

Epistemic "It might be"

Deontic "You should"

Findings for Appraisal

Present

• "Semantics of intensification"

High

• Judgement: social sanction

This could indicate that the crisis moves from a set of disparate propositions about the relevant events, presented using the resources of the modal system, towards being a single entity with a recognisable set of characteristics, presented using resources that are more relevant to attitude and judgement.

Table 9.2 summarises these findings on modality and Appraisal across my texts, as they move from more descriptive genres to more evaluative genres.

The findings indicate that news media writers have become increasingly clear, certain and judgemental in their approach to the topic of the BP Deepwater Horizon events. In effect, they are asserting by this stage: “we know what this is”.

 
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