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Wednesday, July 3 • 11:30am - 12:30pm
A translation device for axiological-semantic density in Daily Sun articles

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Post-apartheid South Africa is faced with the challenge of including millions of previously-disenfranchised citizens in democratic decision-making. The tabloid Daily Sun, South Africa’s most widely-read newspaper, is one medium through which a large audience of working-class and lower middle-class citizens gain knowledge that informs their participation in democracy. Axiological-semantic density (Maton, 2014) is essential to political knowledge-building, as it describes the strength of relations between various people, political stances and moral judgements, enabling these to be positioned in relation to each other in constellations. I present a multi-level translation device designed to identify strengths of axiological-semantic density in Daily Sun political news articles.

This translation device is a product of a PhD project developed in response to the following research questions:
1. How is language used to associate different policy positions and moral evaluations with political parties in the Daily Sun?
2. What organizing principles lie behind the grouping of different policy positions and moral evaluations with political parties in this newspaper, in the light of South Africa’s socio-political context?
3. What are the implications of the responses to the above questions for: (a) the ways in which the use of language in political positioning can be conceptualized using Legitimation Code Theory (LCT) and Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), and
(b) the transformation of political discourses in South African public

In particular, the translation device assists in responding to questions (1) and 3(a). This translation device is an external language of description (L2, Bernstein, 2000) that demonstrates how axiological-semantic density was enacted in this study. It shows the ways in which language is used to constellate particular political parties together with policy positions and moral judgements in the Daily Sun’s coverage.

In the study, a corpus analysis of six months of Daily Sun’s political news coverage was conducted to identify broad-scale trends in the positioning of political parties. Following this, complementary fine-grained exploratory analyses of three articles were carried out using LCT and SFL. In the LCT analyses, the concepts of axiological-semantic density and constellations were enacted. In the SFL analyses, various linguistic resources identified by Martin (2017) as contributing to ‘mass’ – a linguistic corollary of semantic density
– were used to describe how political positioning was being accomplished in the articles. These three exploratory analyses were used as a basis for an initial draft of the translation device. The researcher and a team of student research assistants ranked various expressions from the articles according to their perceived strengths of axiological-semantic density, and then the researcher divided these rankings up into various types, which were included in the translation device. Later, the device was tested, refined and exemplified through targeted analyses of three articles selected to reflect the trends in political positioning shown in the corpus analysis.

The final translation device has five tools:
• a wording tool, which describes the contribution of individual words to axiological-semantic density
• a charging tool, which describes the strength of charging enacted by individual words and short expressions
• a modifying tool, which describes the contribution to axiological-semantic density of words that modify a head word in a group of words
• a clausing tool, which describes the contribution of entire clauses to axiological condensation
• a sequencing tool, which describes the contribution to axiological condensation of links between short passages of text

In this paper, I outline the structure of the translation device and describe some insights that can be gained from the relations between these five tools. Then I describe the wording and charging tools in detail, using examples from Daily Sun political news articles.

Each of these tools reveals insights into South African political discourses and ways in which axiological-semantic density can be enacted in future research. The wording tool shows the primacy of 'ideas', abstract systems of thought usually including the suffix –ism in English, in shaping political discourses in South Africa. The charging tool illustrates the influence of resonance (Maton & Doran, 2017) in axiological charging.

This translation device represents a description of how axiological-semantic density was enacted to examine one object of study, and could be adapted to examine discourse in other contexts. Making axiological-semantic density visible using such a translation device can also assist readers in understanding the ways in which publications such as the Daily Sun position political parties, enabling them to become more critical consumers of news.


Wednesday July 3, 2019 11:30am - 12:30pm SAST
Room B48

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