Two tales of Gaza: Comparing FOX and CNN’s coverage of the violence

In the past month we’ve seen the unfolding of another chapter in the bloody conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza. Since this conflict is, for me and probably many of my readers, taking place halfway around the world, the primary way we come to understand it is through reading accounts of it in news reports. However, even allegedly ‘objective’ news reporting can’t help but make choices that reveal particular ideological biases. Read more ›

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Posted in Language and politics, Media discourse and media bias

Demystifying dog whistle racism

Recently, I’ve noticed people using the term “dog whistle” before things like racism and classism. Although not the originator of the term, Ian Haney López (Professor of Law, University of California-Berkeley) has recently written a great deal about the concept as it relates to racial politics in the United States in his book Dog Whistle Politics (some of which is excerpted on Salon, herehere, and here).

Haney López’s argument goes something like this. As overt or explicit racism has become increasingly seen as distasteful by White voters in the United States, politicians have had to eliminate it from their discourse. However, the potential benefits of appealing to racism have not necessarily subsided especially for a subset of White conservatives. As a result, conservative politicians use “coded” language to avoid explicitly mentioning race while still sending White supremacist messages to a conservative base. As a result, Haney López argues that the racism beneath the surface of these messages goes unnoticed by White liberals and moderates while being quite audible to the conservative base. Hence, the dog whistle metaphor. Read more ›

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Posted in Language and politics, Language and race

Women are 2.87 times more likely than men to be called pushy

My post looking at gendered descriptions of Jill Abramson has generated a little bit of attention. Notably, The Atlantic posted an article by Olga Khazan titled “Pushy is used to describe women twice as often as men”, citing my work.

I’ve been asked if The Atlantic headline is technically inaccurate. This question is based upon the astute observation that the description of “twice as often” fails to account for the fact that women are under-represented in the corpus. Read more ›

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Posted in Language and gender

Beyond bossy: More on our gendered characterizations of leadership and authority

You may have heard that Jill Abramson the former executive editor of the New York Times, was recently fired. I’ve been living the life of an academic hermit for the past couple of weeks, so thankfully Lynne Murphy (Reader in Dept. of Linguistics, University of Sussex) alerted me to the issue and pointed out that Abramson’s leadership and professional behavior were being described using potentially gendered language. Murphy noted in particular the use of pushy, and reading about Abramson in various articles (for example, here, here, and here), I found her described in numerous ways pushy, brusque, stubborn, and condescending Read more ›

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Posted in Language and gender, Media discourse and media bias

Who is articulate?: Biased perceptions of language

A while back, I read H. Samy Alim and Geneva Smitherman‘s excellent book Articulate While BlackThe book takes an in-depth look at racialized public reaction to Barack Obama especially as a candidate for president. One phenomenon they explore is the use of the word articulate to describe Obama, especially in light of a rather infamous quote by Joe Biden who has since become Obama’s vice-president but was at the time a fellow candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination. Biden described Obama as “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”. Read more ›

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Posted in Language and politics, Language and race, Media discourse and media bias

Shibboleths of social class: On the obscurity of SAT vocabulary

College Board, the company that designs and administers the Scholastic Achievement Test (“the SAT”, the most popular standardized test used in admissions to colleges and universities in the United States), recently announced that it would be releasing a revised form of the SAT in Spring 2016. Among the changes is a revised vocabulary section, which promises to avoid the obscure vocabulary that the test is infamous for. Read more ›

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Posted in Language and education, Language and social class

Do we talk and write about men more than women?

As I’ve been researching the gendered nature of bossy, I’ve gotten a lot of important feedback from fellow linguists, who have helped to strengthen the argument in favor of viewing bossy as a word that is applied to women and girls more than men and boys.

One particularly interesting point was raised by Lesley Jeffries (Professor of English Language at the University of Huddersfield). She commented that “One argument that you didn’t even use is that women are usually less mentioned in corpora than men”. I did not mention this, and if I could have provided evidence of it at the time, it would have impacted how I presented my findings on bossy. Specifically, it would mean that women were called bossy more than men were even though men were given more attention by speakers and writers in the corpus (suggesting bossy is even more gendered than I found originally).

Beyond that though the other implication that is staggering is this: If women are less frequently mentioned in corpora, which attempt to represent (to the best of our ability) language use in some domain, then that would reflect the idea that, we systematically pay less attention to one group of human beings than another. Read more ›

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Posted in Language and gender

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