Headlines in British Online Tabloids: Syntactic and Lexical Analysis

Aneta Matějíčková

My diploma thesis ‘Headlines in British Online Tabloids: Syntactic and Lexical Analysis’ is to analyse online newspaper headlines in two British red-top tabloids, The Sun and the Daily Mirror, from the viewpoint of some of their syntactic characteristics (ellipsis, clause structure, tenses, sentence types, etc.) and lexical characteristics (short words and abbreviations, metaphor and metonymy, naming strategies, loaded words, neologisms, intertextuality, etc.), with the intention of identifying similarities and differences.

The thesis consists of two parts. The first, theoretical part, provides a general introduction to the history and the presumed future of newspapers, a definition of the term ‘news’ in the context of newspapers and the structure of the newspaper article with the focus on headlines, their function and chosen syntactic and lexical characteristics. The second, practical part analyses the given corpus from the point of view of the syntactic and lexical characteristics discussed in the theoretical part and focuses on an analysis of the length of headlines, their informative content and their naming strategies, besides other things. As for the corpus, one of Galtung and Ruge’s news values is called ‘reference to elite people’, and thus I decided to study the headlines of articles related to members of the British royal family. For the purposes of this thesis, 200 samples of headlines from online versions of the above-mentioned tabloids were gathered (100 corresponding samples of headlines from each tabloid). These samples contain headlines published in a period of six months, from May to December 2016, on the websites thesun.co.uk and mirror.co.uk, and all of them are related to a member of the British royal family.

The aim of this thesis is to analyse the above-mentioned sets of online newspaper headlines with the purpose of ascertaining if there are any features of headline-making specific to each of the tabloids under investigation, or if they are quite similar. It was assumed that since both newspapers address similar readerships, the structure of the headlines would be quite similar too, with certain differences because of differences between the two newspapers. During the analysis of the headlines, it was ascertained that some headlines, often from The Sun, but rarely from the Daily Mirror, are formed from two parts, i.e. the main headline, called the ‘proper headline’ for the purposes of this thesis and having mainly an informative function, and a part which precedes the main headline, called the ‘pre-headline’ for the purposes of this thesis, functioning mainly as an attention catcher, and also providing a certain amount of information. The term ‘pre-headline’ was chosen due to its position (at the very beginning) because in terms of content it could easily function as a headline by itself, although it would not provide as much information as a proper headline. For reasons of the low frequency of appearance of pre-headlines in the Daily Mirror, the thesis focuses mainly on proper headlines in order to provide a relevant and useful analysis, with an exception in the chapter 3.3.2, which deals with lexical characteristics such as neologisms, intertextuality, word association and allusion, sound-play and puns commonly used as attention catchers and therefore rarely present in proper headlines but frequently present in pre-headlines.

The results show that the two online tabloids demonstrate certain lexical and syntactic differences as well as similarities in their headlines. The main difference seems to be the specific strategy of The Sun to create a two-part headline structure, where the first part is formed by a pre-headline (PS = pre-headline of The Sun), which has the function of an eye-catcher, while the second part is formed by proper headline (HS = headline of The Sun), which seems to have a mainly informative function. This is in contrast to the headlines of the Daily Mirror, which are mostly formed of only one part, the proper headline (HM = headline of the Daily Mirror) .

Examples of no pre-headline in the Daily Mirror:

PS + HS 42: KING PINS This is why Prince George always wears shorts … and it’s not because they look super-cute

PM + HM 42: The reason Prince George is ALWAYS wearing shorts – whatever the weather

Examples of headlines with pre-headline in both newspapers:

PS + HS 24 : WILLS TO THE RESCUE Prince William helps up pensioner who fell in front of him as Kate watches on

PM + HM 24 : Wills to the rescue! Prince helps up Lord Lieutenant Jonathan Douglas-Hughes as he FALLS OVER

Concerning naming strategies, it seems that headlines in The Sun use familiar forms of the names of members of the royal family (Wills, Kate) more frequently, while Daily Mirror headlines use more formal, neutral naming (Prince William, Kate Middleton). The table below shows the frequency of use of different naming strategies referring to Prince William in the two tabloids.

Prince William

The Sun – quantity The Sun – headline number The Daily Mirror – quantity The Daily Mirror – headline number
Prince William 9 HS – 5, 16, 24, 25, 26, 79, 83, 91, 96 17 HM – 5, 9, 15, 19, 25, 26, 28, 32, 36, 43, 69, 79, 80, 83, 91, 96, 97
William 3 HS – 34, 35, 36 1 HM- 62
Wills 11 HS – 6, 9, 13, 28, 37, 39, 40, 43, 45, 62, 97 0
Duke of Cambridge 2 HS – 80, 95 0
Duke 1 HS – 19 0
William, Duke of Cambridge 2 HS – 30, 32 1 HM – 6
Prince, Wills 0   1 HM – 24
Total 28 HS – 5, 6, 9, 13, 16, 19, 24, 25, 26, 28, 30, 32, 34, 35, 36, 37, 39, 40, 43, 45, 62, 79, 80, 83, 91, 95, 96, 97 (28) 20 HM – 5, 6, 9, 15, 19, 24, 25, 26, 28, 32, 36, 43, 62, 69, 79, 80, 83, 91, 96, 97 (20)
Table 1: Naming strategies referring to Prince William

It is also useful to mention that both newspapers showed frequent use of informal expressions, with a slight predominance in the headlines in The Sun. Both newspapers use informal expressions to reinforce a tone of familiarity or make headlines more emotional, which is a typical feature of tabloid news language which differs from the neutral language of broadsheets. Nonetheless, I have ascertained that although both newspapers use informal expressions, they sometimes differ in how they appeal to the emotions of the reader; they are differently loaded.

Examples of the use of different loaded words in headlines:

HS 10: Kate Middleton dazzles in stunning cream dress as she attends awards bash at Natural History Museum – to dazzle = usually passive, if you are dazzled by someone or something, you think they are extremely good and exciting (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.)

HM 10: Kate Middleton stuns in floor length gown as she braves a real-life night at the museum – to stun = to shock or surprise someone very much (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.)

While the verb ‘to dazzle’ seems to refer to something good or exciting, but not surprisingly good, the verb ‘to stun’ seems to be even more emotionally coloured, containing a sense of surprise.

To sum up, the headlines in two online tabloids which belong in the same category of red-top publications have many similar characteristics. Nonetheless, they are still two different newspapers and therefore characterized by some syntactic and lexical difference. To see other differences and similarities between the tabloids, go to: https://is.muni.cz/th/444466/pedf_m/ for the full version of the thesis.