Lessons from the Ed and Dave Show

As part of the Open University’s ‘English Grammar in Context’ module, I carried out a small research project last year on the language used in the party political speeches delivered by David Cameron and Ed Miliband at their party conferences in 2011. It isn’t exactly required reading, but you can glance at it here if you want to.

In brief, I had wondered if the language that the party leaders used told us anything about their attitudes to their audiences and to the electorate at large. I thought that the language used by a Labour leader might be more demotic than the language used by a Conservative leader. I came to the rather uninteresting conclusion that it wasn’t. What the research did show, however, was that the language of both leaders was less formal than that used by their predecessors as shown in a corpus of conference speeches over the preceding ten years.

I mention this, not because I have discovered any new insights into political discourse, but because it shows the potential of corpus linguistics to confirm or, perhaps more often, challenge, our intuitions. However, many, I suspect, will prefer to live with their prejudices.

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