The role of appraisal and corpora in detecting covert evaluation

Coffin, C. and O'Halloran, K. (2006). The role of appraisal and corpora in detecting covert evaluation. Functions of Language, 13(1) pp. 77–110.



'Dog-whistle politics' is a phrase that has recently been coined to capture a form of covert evaluation. This is where political communication seemingly uses neutral meanings but where in fact a negative message is likely to be 'heard' by the target community (Manning 2004). This article explores the use of dog-whistle journalism in the British popular tabloid The Sun by examining a news report published in it on May 1st 2004, the day that 10 new countries joined the European Union (EU). In order to systematically account for the positioning effect of this form of covert evaluation we suggest that it is useful to combine an APPRAISAL analysis of the May 1st text with an APPRAISAL analysis of a corpus of related news articles published in the run up to EU enlargement. As further substantiation, we interrogate the 45 million word corpus of Sun news texts in the Bank of English. The combined method, we argue, provides an empirically-based, systematic account of how the May 1st report is likely to position Sun readers to see the new EU citizens as a threat to Britain's lifestyle and welfare system – despite the fact that there are no directly inscribed wordings stating such a viewpoint.

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