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A Systemic Functional Linguistic Approach to the Analysis of English Journalistic Headlines

By:   •  October 20, 2012  •  Essay  •  1,440 Words (6 Pages)  •  1,890 Views

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1. Introduction

According to Halliday's systemic functional linguistics (SFL), language is a network of systems or interrelated sets of options for making meaning. The applicability of language in daily life is the main subject being studied, and guides the theoretic system of systematic functional school. According to SFL, functional bases of grammatical phenomena are divided into three broad areas, called metafunctions: the ideational, the interpersonaland the textual. The three functions were widely used in analyze all kinds of English texts. SFL is concerned primarily with the choices the grammar makes available to speakers and writers. These choices relate speakers' and writers' intentions to the concrete forms of a language.

Newspaper has its certain functions in the society and it has a unique language style. By reason of diverse cultural backgrounds or political statements, different newspapers report a same event from various points of view. Different effects occurred in society because the ways of reporting. Meanwhile the headline is the topic of news. Actually it is a piece of short news and it has simple vivid and concise language.

2 News headline

2.1 Definition

When reading a newspaper, we would first read the headline, and then what is

a headline? There are some different versions about the definition of news headline. Bruce H. Westley (1972)6 regards a headline as "any line or collection of lines of display type that precedes a story to introduce or summarize it." Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English (Wesley 1998)7 defines a headline as "the heading printed in large letters above a story in a newspaper." Another enduring definition of news headline offered by Longman Dictionary of the English Language (Summers 1984)8 is, "a head of a newspaper story or article, usually printed in large type and devised to summarize the story or article that follows."

In conclusion, we can conclude that the headline is a line or lines of concise words outside a newspaper or article, usually printed in large or different type and devised to summarize or make comments on its contents

2.2 Language Features of English News Headlines

When we read a newspaper, headline always comes first into sight. Through it, we are told what to expect, while the remainder of the text will explain the headline and give examples. Confined by the space and time, news headlines always give a highly condensed summary of the news. Although headlines vary from one to another in the mainstream big news presses which all feature their own style of headlines, they do share some similarities whether lexically or semantically, which thus poses some requirements in language writing. In this thesis, the stylistic analysis of news headlines focuses on such three features as grammatical, lexical and rhetorical features.

2.3 Page-Design: Value of the News

Headlines are the cream of a newspaper, so they should be the eye catcher. Page-design is an important way to help readers understand the value of a passage at the first sight. The character and the size of a headline suggest this news' value and status in the newspaper.

For example, in 2001, The New York Times reported a piece of news, which is some American news reporters were shot to death. This news' headline is "37 journalists killed in 2001" with big black bold font and engaged the most important part of the newspaper. On the other hand, China Daily used "Attacks on journalists rise" as headline and this news is part of the "World News in Brief". This case clearly indicating that these two newspapers attach different importance toward one piece of news.

The other feature of the news headline is the use of punctuation marks. In order to be brief, the headline often omits the full stop, but keeps the question mark to imply the meaning of dissatisfied disbelief and uncertainty. For example: "Superkids?"(The Times), means "Are there any superkids exists?" show the disbelief.

Some other punctuation marks are often used to serve two purposes, one is to save pages and another is separate the meaning groups.

Direct Air, Sea Links with TW (comma here represents the conjunction"and")

Poll: 75% Glad Bush is Done (colon means explanation and remark)

In conclusion, the page-design of the news headlines can reflect the value of the news trough the use of character, size, and punctuation mark.

2.4 Word choice: Attitude of the News

The English newspaper headline is brief and explicit and is considered the soul of the news. On one hand, it use humor, exaggeration, metaphor and the word play to stand out; on the other hand, the words choice of a headline imply the newspaper's stand and attitude.

A considerable numbers of headlines choose words with vague meanings. It shows the newspaper's political stand to a certain degree.

Here is a case in point.

"Hundreds Feared Dead in Afghan Earthquakes"

— The New York Times, March 27, 2002

"Toll in Thousands Feared as Quake Hits Afghan Town"

— The New York Times, March 28, 2002

These two headlines both use vague numbers to reported the Afghan earthquakes. The condition was changing and there didn't have the exact number, so in order to report this important news in time, the newspaper chooses to use words with obscure meanings such as "hundreds of" "toll in thousands".

Theoretically, the headlines should avoid words with personal feelings. However, this is not rare in news reports. For example:

Saudi, in Emotional


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