• Author Spotlight - Speech presentation in newspapers: An empirical reader response

    Author Spotlight - Speech presentation in newspapers: An empirical reader response

    Posted by Huddersfield Press on 2021-05-10

Huddersfield linguistics student Matthew Butler is one of the students whose work is being featured in our 7th edition of FIELDS; our student research journal. We asked him about this research and the aims of his research:

The research I report on in this paper is primarily concerned with how readers perceive speech to be presented in newspapers. I became interested in how speech is presented in newspapers through conversations with researchers at the University of Huddersfield who have been developing a model designed to account for presented speech in literary texts. The ‘speech presentation model’ (Leech and Short, 1981) states that there are several ways in which speech can be presented in a text and measures this in terms of how (un)faithful the presented speech is to the original speech event. So, someone may have originally said “Please can you be quiet”, but when the event is being presented in a text such as a newspaper headline, it may read “Person shouts shut up!”. Sometimes there is a mismatch between the original speech event and what is presented, either by mistake or intentionally. The effect that different kinds of speech presentation and techniques used to present speech has not received much scholarly attention and this led to motivated my dissertation project.

In this article I attempt to provide some empirical results for how speech presentation in newspapers is perceived by readers. I began by first asking readers the extent to which they thought speech was presented in a particular newspaper article. Using these results, I was able to account for particular effects that certain texts had on readers. This was achieved through a mixture of qualitative and quantitative analysis. The results of the study found that certain textual constructions, such as the use of speech marks, meant readers were confident about the extent to which speech was presented. This was not unsurprising, since we often associate speech marks with verbatim accounts of what someone has said. Perhaps more surprising was how subtle stylistic choices by text producers – such as different reporting verbs like “shout” or “said” – influenced readers’ interpretations of the text. Such results also have implications on people responsible for presenting others speech. Having an understanding of the effects which certain literary techniques have on readers in the context of presented can influence readers’ perception of the authenticity of a text.

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