Linguistics and the Human Sciences, Vol 4, No 3 (2008)

Exploring diachronic register change in reports of armistice 1902–2003

Claire Emily Scott
Issued Date: 14 Jul 2011


This paper presents a linguistic perspective on changes in news writing in the context of Australian wartime journalism over a century. It forms part of a larger study that takes reports of the conclusion of war from the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) as a set of texts of the same register, through which to investigate change in the meanings and context of news reporting. Reports of the ends of seven wars (or the end of a phase of war) in which Australia has been involved from 1902 to 2003 were analysed linguistically using the framework of systemic functional linguistics (SFL) (see e.g. Halliday and Matthiessen, 2004). In SFL, the configuration of conditions that motivate a writer’s selection of meanings ‒ the context of situation ‒ is viewed as a set of parameters: field (the kind of social interaction that is taking place), tenor (the relationship of the participants in the interaction) and mode (what part the language is playing in the interaction) (Halliday and Hasan, 1985). This paper focuses on the parameter of tenor, particularly social distance and the ‘textual visibility’ of the journalist, by exploring some lexicogrammatical realizations of semantic motifs. These motifs are: the textual identification of the journalist or agencies (realized by bylines), mediation of news information (realized by projection and the thematic status of projected information), semantic intervention in the news process (realized by tense selections that bring all news information in line with the journalist’s frame of temporal reference), and codal sharing (realized by homophoric and deictic reference).

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DOI: 10.1558/lhs.v4i3.241


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