This work is a corpus-based study of the language of English up-market (“quality”) newspaper editorials, covering the period 1900–1993. CENE, the Corpus of English Newspaper Editorials, was compiled for the purposes of this study and comprises editorials from the
Daily Telegraph, the
The Times chosen to represent periods at ten-year intervals. The language of the editorials was investigated with regard to features that previous research had proved to be markers of such types of discourse as might be of interest to an investigation of the development of the language of newspaper editorials.
To begin with, sets of features associated with the empirically defined dimensions of linguistic variation presented in Biber (1988) were compared across decades and newspapers; these dimensions included personal involvement and information density, narrative discourse, argumentative discourse, abstract discourse, and explicit reference. However, since the study showed that the features within each set often developed in diverging directions, the old sets were broken up and new ones formed on the basis of change and continuity as well as of shared linguistic/stylistic functions, specific for newspaper editorials, among the features involved. It then became apparent that, during the 20th century, the language of the editorials developed towards greater information density and lexical specificity and diversity but at the same time towards greater informality, in so far as the use of conversational features increased. The narrative quality of the editorials at the beginning of the century gradually decreased whereas their reporting and argumentative functions remained the same over the years.
When the features were compared across the newspapers analyzed, a clear distinction was noticed between
The Times and the
Guardian. The language of the
Guardian was the most informal and the most narrative while that of The Times was the least so. The information density was the highest in
The Times and the lowest in the
Guardian. In these respects, the
Daily Telegraph took an intermediate position. The editorials of the
Guardian were more argumentative than those of both the
Daily Telegraph and
The Times. As regards lexical specificity and diversity as well as sentence complexity, the
Daily Telegraph scored the highest and
The Times the lowest while the results obtained for the
Guardian were in between the two.
Journal of Historical Pragmatics, 7:1 (2006)
Table of contents
Acknowledgements. Tables and Figures. 1. Introduction. 2. Methodological considerations. 3. Features marking personal involvement. 4. Features marking information density. 5. Features marking ‘narrative’ discourse. 6. Features marking argumentative discourse. 7. Features marking abstract discourse. 8. Features marking explicit reference. 9. Towards a description of the modern English up-market editorial. 10. Summary, conclusions, and discussion. References. Appendix.