Comparing discourse construction in 17th-century news genres

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In this paper I shall examine aspects of discourse construction in 17th-centurycrime reports. To this purpose I shall select four news genres which circulatedin the 17th-century news market, reaching a heterogeneous cross-section ofsociety: news broadside ballads, occasional news pamphlets, newsbooks, andThe London Gazette as an example of an early newspaper. The news genres willbe compared in terms of structure and lexis so as to highlight similarities anddifferences in their murder presentation and reporting. By referring to vanDijk’s (1988) categories of news discourse, I shall focus on the layout, the lead(which will be called “proto-lead”) and the body of the news. In particular, theproto-lead and the body of the news will be inspected for authorial comments,factuality and metadiscourse, their distribution and realisation being indicativeof the news values and ideology behind the news report. Frequent instances ofdiscourse interrelatedness among the news genres testify to a certain degree ofcontinuity in terms of authorial intrusion, blending of factuality and sensationalism,and Puritan stance. At the same time, however, forms of discoursevariation – especially from the second half of the century – highlight changesin the direction of objectivity, impersonalisation and brevity. The analysis willshow how authorial commentaries and metadiscourse progressively withdrawfrom the murder account with a consequential foregrounding of factuality asthe major ingredient of a high-quality report.


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