Defining Privacy
A critical investigation of Canadian political discourse

Text-Analysis

3 Introduction

Text analysis, according to linguist Svenja Adolphs, offers “a way into the data that is informed by the data itself” (19). The purpose of the text analysis in this chapter is to discover trends from Hansard that would be difficult to determine from reading alone. The selection of Hansard chosen for this research contains almost 69 million words spanning ten years of governance in the House of Commons.

Text analysis is a type of research methodology that involves the study of language in texts beyond the unit of the word, clause, or sentence (McKee 1; Stubbs, Words and Phrases 5). Stubbs situates this definition within his assertion that our understanding of language is more than knowledge about individual words, but of the ways in which they can be combined, and the cultural knowledge that surrounds those unique combinations (Words and Phrases 3). For the purposes of this chapter, a text consists of spoken or written language that is naturally occurring within a real context (Words and Phrases 5).

Text analysis, as a methodology, can be used to determine the meaning of a word by studying the words that surround it, within the context of its use. The context of the text under analysis in this research is political discourse, specifically the language used in the House of Commons. Parliaments are institutions which have predictable patterns of spoken discourse; MPs debate, question, explain and justify in an environment of legislation and policy (Bayley 1). It is a purely linguistic activity where the result of the discourse establishes what may or may not be done in a given society (Bayley 12). Parliamentary discourse is, as Bayley describes, “a struggle over meanings” (12).

The ways in which words are used can reveal their meaning, when they are examined within the context of their use. Sinclair refers to this as the ‘state of the discourse’ (Trust the Text 14). The state of parliamentary discourse is deeply reflective of the culture of the MPs. The language reveals the relationship between the speakers and their own beliefs, expectations and evaluations of the world around them (Stubbs, Words and Phrases 6). In order to understand language, the speakers and the hearers must have something in common. According to Stubbs, speakers and hearers of language must share knowledge and assumptions about the world, linking their communicative competence with their cultural competence (Words and Phrases 6). This means that contextual knowledge about the world helps people to infer meanings from language, meanings that often transcend the dictionary definition of individual words. The methodology of text analysis can be used to define a word in the context of its use, both linguistically and culturally, determining its meaning as a joint construction of the shared knowledge between the speaker and the hearer.

Purpose of this Chapter

The purpose of this chapter is to gather information about the use of the word ‘privacy’ in the House of Commons in order to pinpoint areas of interest for a further critical analysis of the discourse.

Using the transcripts of Hansard, spanning the period of the 39th to the 41st Parliaments (which cover the years 2006 to 2014), this chapter will investigate the following questions:

Word Frequencies

  • What is the frequency of the use of the word ‘privacy’?
  • Has there been an observable change in the frequency over time?
  • Concordances

  • What patterns of language use are visible in the output of concordances?
  • Overview of this Chapter

    If text analysis is a research methodology that involves the gathering of data about ‘texts’, then electronic text analysis involves the gathering of data about electronic texts. Adolphs extends this definition to encompass not only texts, but entire collections of texts (3). While collections of text can appear in many contexts (i.e. libraries, the Internet, newspaper archives), when that collection has been assembled with the intention of linguistic analysis, it is known as a corpus (Tognini-Bonelli 2; Hunston, Corpora in Applied Linguistics 32). Section 3.1 of this chapter will explain what a corpus is and how it can be used for text analysis. This will be followed by a description of the Hansard corpus and the justification for its use in this research.

    Section 3.2 will examine how the frequency of words in a corpus is calculated, discussing the common terms, statistical methods, and limitations of this type of research. The results of the word frequency analysis on the Hansard corpus will be revealed.

    Section 3.3 will focus on the history and method of producing concordances for text analysis research. The Hansard concordances will be analyzed.

    Section 3.4 will discuss the results of this chapter, and how the results will be used to inform and direct Chapter 4, which will be a Critical Discourse Analysis that focuses on one of the most compelling trends discovered as a result of this text analysis.

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