Guest lecture - The Discourse of the UK Referendum: Evidence from Twitter
Jonathan Charteris-Black is Professor of Linguistics at the University of the West of England, UK. His research interests are metaphor, rhetoric and political discourse.
About the lecture
One week before the UK’s referendum on membership of the European Union 41 year old Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally slain in a politically motivated murder. A report of twitter postings in the month following her death showed that there were over 53,000 tweets that celebrated her murder from at least 25,000 individuals. Some postings described Mrs Cox as a "traitor" and even referred to her killer as a "hero" and "patriot". Other postings described the language used in the debate as ‘vitriolic’ and contributed to the polarisation of the country into ‘them’ and ‘us’ positions. Direct instances of ‘hate speech’ co-existed with other instances of forceful language – both metaphoric and literal – indicated a set of values to which the poster was strongly committed.
I argue that the Twitter social media campaign contributed to the polarisation of the country in the week leading up to the referendum. I demonstrate how clusters of high frequency and semantically related words enable me to identify both keywords and, subsequently, frames. Frames include both literal and metaphorical uses of words and they provide valuable insight into the cognition of both ‘sides’ in the referendum ‘battle’. I examine Twitter postings for the hashtags ‘Brexit’, ’VoteLeave’ and ‘VoteRemain’ in the one-week period between the slaying of Jo Cox and the date of the referendum to address the following research questions:
What keywords were employed on Twitter on the topic of the UK referendum?
What metaphors were employed on Twitter on the topic of the UK referendum?
What evidence do keywords and metaphors provide of the underlying cognitive frames that characterised the UK Referendum?
Was there any difference in how keywords, metaphors and frames were used by supporters of Brexit and Remain, for example in how Leave supporters represent Remain supporters and in how Remain Supporters represent Leave supporters?
Taken together addressing these questions enables an initial description of the Discourse of the UK Referendum as evidenced through Twitter.
Where possible findings will be classified using the ideological square as a means of demonstrating how frames emerge from lexical choices. In this approach there are four possible categories of lexical use according to two scales: one for intensity/ hyperbole and the other for euphemism. The positioning of clusters of words on these scales allowed me to compare ‘us’ and ‘them’ representations.
Early analysis suggests three key themes:
1) Patriotism, & a Heroic National History
2) Trust & Betrayal
3) Freedom and Slavery
About the guest lecturer
Jonathan Charteris-Black is Professor of Linguistics at the University of the West of England, UK. His research interests are metaphor, rhetoric and political discourse. He is the author of Fire Metaphors: discourses of awe and authority (Bloomsbury, 2017); Analysing Political Speeches: Rhetoric, Discourse and Metaphor (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2014); Politicians and Rhetoric: The Persuasive Power of Metaphor (Palgrave-MacMillan, 1st edition 2005, 2nd edition, 2011); Gender and the Language of Illness (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2010); The Communication of Leadership: The Design of Leadership Style (Routledge, 2007); Corpus Approaches to Critical Metaphor Analysis (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2004) as well as numerous other articles and book chapters.