Negotiating alignment in newspaper editorials: The role of concur-counter patterns

Ruth Breeze

Abstract

Newspaper editorials are shaped by the need to negotiate alignment and rapport with a diverse readership. This is achieved partly through the resources of engagement (Martin and White 2005), that is, through the argumentative moves of disclaim, proclaim, entertain and attribute, by which dialogic relations with the reader are carefully modulated. One aspect of argumentation in editorials that has sometimes been overlooked is that of the concede-counter structure, by which the writer signals concurrence with the reader on a particular issue, only to counter this with a new argument that may wholly or partially refute the first one. Typically, leader writers signal this manoeuvre textually from the outset, indicating that they are setting up an argument in order to demolish it by means of specific lexical choices or patterns. Thus items such as “of course” or “naturally” are used to build up the first argument, with which the reader is understood to concur. This is generally followed by a turning point marked by “but”, “yet” or “though”, after which the counter-argument is presented. Corpus linguists have pointed out that the presence of this type of lexical patterning makes it possible to research argumentation in large volumes of text using corpus tools. This study contains an analysis of concede-counter patterns in a corpus consisting of all the editorials published in the Guardian newspaper in 2011. The distinctive patterns that emerge are described, with particular attention paid to patterns of alignment and disalignment that emerge, as well as the related use of concurrence in asides to the reader. The role of such patterns in structuring discourse is analysed, with a particular focus on their ideological dimension as a means of subtly aligning readers with a particular set of opinions.

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