Zorzi, Virginia (2018) The Communication of Science and Technology in Online Newspapers: a Multidimensional Perspective. [Ph.D. thesis]
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Abstract (italian or english)
Communicating science and technology, both at specialised and non specialised levels, is an important component in the production and circulation of technoscientific knowledge and practices. Newspapers – both in their printed and online versions – are regarded as an important and generally reliable source of scientific and technological information for the general public. The study investigates the communication of science and technology in UK and US online newspapers, focusing on the language of articles published in newspaper sections dealing with science and technology and contextualising it within the newspaper genre as a whole. Different methods of analysis – involving both quantitative and qualitative aspects – were combined and applied on a corpus of articles published in four UK and US newspapers between 2014 and 2016. The Multidimensional Analysis (MDA), originally proposed by Biber to analyse genre and register variation in English, was taken as the main methodological reference for the present study. Thus, specific software tools were created and combined with existing ones to perform a new version of the MDA on the news corpus, partly adapting it to the present research needs. Based on the analysis of a set of linguistic features spanning different levels of language – namely, grammar, syntax, and lexis – this method enabled a statistically-based description of the corpus and its internal linguistic variation, with a focus on articles reporting on science and technology. The aim was to find out whether any linguistic elements distinguished the communication of science and technology from news published in other newspaper sections. A qualitative analysis on a set of texts from the corpus contributed to the interpretation of the statistical results, and was useful in relating the linguistic patterns identified as relevant to their possible underlying communicative functions. As a result, four main patterns of variation, referred to as ‘dimensions’, emerged. They concern the extent of informational purposes, the use of speech attribution and reporting structures, the presence of explanation and argumentation, and the type of time reference of a text. Thus, each text of the corpus could be described as a particular combination of these four different dimensions (hence the term Multidimensional Analysis). Subsequently, a lexical content analysis was performed on the corpus, and in particular on articles about science and technology, with the aim of identifying the main themes characterising these texts, as well as the semantic relations connecting different themes. The lexical analysis thus provided some useful insights into the public representation of science and technology in the analysed newspapers. Overall, the results revealed that some communicative features slightly but significantly distinguish science and technology news from groups of articles published in different newspaper sections. At the same time, articles reporting on science and technology share some communicative features with most news from other sections, thus pointing to a degree of homogeneity within the news genre. The findings from the linguistic analysis were further commented on and connected to sociological theories on the social construction and public communication of science and technology, thus laying the basis for further research on the role and construction of technoscientific knowledge in the mass media.
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