Artwork by Safa Yakoob
Corpus Analysis of "Monster" in Media
by Safa Yakoob
News discourse has been of interest to linguists due to the underlying ideologies embedded in every word. Nowadays, audiences tend to consume news in high amounts on a daily basis. Thus, a plethora of newspapers exist out there, which is why linguists are interested in it. Linguists can examine and interpret news discourse from a number of perspectives and perhaps each of these perspectives can unfold important ideologies or issues regarding both linguistic and social practices. It is important to note that media institutions, journalists and editors have a significant role in shaping ideologies and discourses based on their opinions. They also have the power to paint people and concepts in either positive or negative light and associate attribute to things or words, and they do all of this by using words. Thus, it interests linguists to unravel those ideologies, observe the linguistic techniques and patterns deployed to convey ideologies to the audiences.
In the media, I assumed that only criminals like rapists and murders are usually called “monsters,” and perhaps this metaphorical comparison is done to portray the inhumanity and ugliness of the criminal. According to Oxford Dictionary, monster has multiple meanings like “A large, ugly, and frightening imaginary creature,” “An inhumanly cruel or wicked person” and “A thing of extraordinary or daunting size.” This shows that the word monster can be used in three different ways and its meaning is not limited to its typical meaning, which is an ugly creature. One could expect to the use of this word to describe criminals, but it must have been used in different forms for different functions. This paper aims to examine the use of the word monster in different registers of news discourse by using Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA).
After conducting a research on the word monster and analyzing 250 samples from the corpus, I discovered some patterns. Firstly, I categorized the registers as follows: sports, entertainment/arts where entertainment includes stories from the celebrity world and art register includes fictional stories, book reviews, disasters, crime and finance. Also, the frequency of the appearance of the word monster in different registers was counted and recorded in the table below. The patterns in these different register showed that monster could be used both literally and metaphorically. I also discovered that monster appeared in different grammatical forms in these registers of news discourse. The form and function of the word monster will also be analyzed in this paper to understand the different purposes it is used for.
Monster as a metaphor
The first pattern that was identified while conducting my research on news discourse in COCA was that the word monster is always used as metaphor in different genres of news discourse. Initially, I assumed that it would be only used as a metaphor in crime articles, but my research findings proved my assumptions wrong. The word monster is used as a metaphor in different new registers. Additionally, it is important to note that even though it is commonly used as a metaphor across different registers, it usually has the same semantic purpose, which is to show something is very large.
As suggested by the frequency table in the introduction, the word monster is frequently used as a metaphor in sports register. It was used as a metaphor in sports register 113 times in 250 samples that were obtained from COCA, which amounts the frequency of these metaphor to 45%. Some examples of monster as a metaphor in sports register are shown below. It can be seen that monster is commonly used with words like series, shots and games to describe how massive or big the series, season of a game or the shot of a player. From the examples extracted from COCA, it could be seen that monster metaphors are used positively to define the scale of success of the season or to show how marvelous or intense a player’s shot was.
Examples of monster metaphors used in entertainment registers, in news discourse, are also shown below. The examples below show that semantically all metaphors imply the same meaning, which is something very big or something very large. However, these metaphors are used to describe different things like the ratings of the movie, whether the movie was a hit or a flop and even to measure the performance of celebrities in the entertainment industry. Interestingly the second example, that describes the movie as a monster flop, shows that this metaphor is not always used to describe positive events, but also to describe negative events. This informs the reader that the movie was a massive failure. Therefore, it can be concluded that in entertainment register, monster can be used to measure or describe the size of movies/performance and it can be used both positively and negatively.
Furthermore, examples obtained from different newspapers below explain how monster is used in disaster reporting register to describe the largeness and perhaps even the intensity of destruction of these natural disasters. It is commonly used with words like storm or catastrophe and their synonyms in disaster registers to measure the intensity or size of the disaster.
Also, monster metaphors are used in crime registers to prove my assumptions right. It should be noted that in crime registers, these metaphors are used to paint a criminal as inhumane, dangerous or cruel. Therefore, in crime registers, these metaphors have a different semantic meaning than other metaphors discussed above. The examples below show how different monster metaphors are used to refer to criminals and dehumanize them. Also, using these metaphors imply that these criminals are dangerous. It is interesting to note that monster is in scare quotes in the examples below. Perhaps this is done to show that they are not talking about a literal monster, but a metaphorical one.
Lastly, in financial registers of news discourse, monster metaphors are not used as commonly as they are in the registers mentioned above. Thus, only 3 out of 250 samples showed the use of the word monster and a metaphor in financial news discourse. The two examples below show that inflation is often referred as the monster in finance articles. Here it seems that monster is used to describe inflation as something harmful. Thus, here the metaphor has negative connotations attached to it because it shows something is bad and dangerous. Due to the fact that we have a small sample size, we cannot conclude from 250 samples that only inflation or taxes are referred as monsters. It is possible that monster could have been used to describe different things in financial register, which did not appear in these 250 lines.
To conclude, it can be observed from the examples above that various types of monster metaphors are used in different registers to describe things, notions, events or humans. Although the metaphors are used in different ways in different registers, most of them imply the same semantic meaning, which is something very large, big or intense. Thus, it mostly used to measure or describe the size of different events or things. However, the metaphors used in crime register turned out to be exceptions and implied a different semantic meaning. Monster metaphors in crime register were used to dehumanize criminals and describe them as dangerous. Now that we discovered and analyzed how the word monster is used as a metaphor in news discourse, the next two sections will analyze the usage monster on a grammatical level in news discourse.
Although the word monster is mostly used a metaphor, it is also used to imply its literal meaning in news discourse. However, it is not very common to use it for its literal meaning and as the table in the introduction section showed it has appeared literally only 9 times in 250 examples. The data also suggested that the literal the meaning of the word was only used in the entertainment/fine arts register as the examples below show. Thus, it can be noted that it is used to describe fictional characters in books or movies.
In this section, the usage of the word monster will be analyzed on a syntactical level in different registers of news discourse. The objective of this section is to analyze the 250 samples, classify monster either as the head of a noun phrase or as a noun pre-modifier and identify which form is the most common in each register.
Monster as Head
A head of a phrase helps determine whether that phrase is noun phrase, adjective phrase or a verb phrase. The table below shows the frequency of monster as a head of a phrase in different registers. Also, monster appears as a head of the phrase very commonly in news discourse. In 250 samples, it appeared as a head about 111 times, which in percentage is 44.4%. This indicates that it is used more frequently as a head than as a modifier.
In sports register, monster was used as the head of a phrase only 50 times in a total of 250 samples. Phrases like “He was a Monster at the field,” “Monster of the series” and “Monster of runs” show how monster appears as the head of the sentence. Also, these examples show that when it is the head of the phrase, it is used usually describing the success of failure of the player and not the game itself.
Similarly, the word monster appears as a head in the entertainment/arts register too. As the table shows, it appears as a head the most in this register compared to other registers. The examples below show it is used in the sentence as a head and describes characters in films or fictional books.
Also, the examples below show that these heads are regularly used in crime registers and it is used to imply its literal meaning, which is a big and ugly creature.
The last register analyzed was the financial register and it was seen that the word monster was used in all three examples, which suggests that it is probably never used as a modifier in this register. The examples from financial register discussed in the metaphor section above in this paper, show how the word monster is used as a head in different ways in this register.
Monster as Modifier
Noun pre-modifiers are nouns that occur before other nouns and modify them. The word monster is a noun and it appears right before other nouns modifying them in many registers. As the table in the beginning of the section shows, they appear as pre-modifiers most in sports register and never appear in the finance or crime register. Overall, monster appears more as heads of noun phrases than modifiers as suggested by the calculated total of their frequencies in the table.
In sports register, the word monster pre-modifies nouns like games, shots, hits, and runs quite regularly; the frequency of monster modifying other nouns is highest in this register. Also, in the entertainment/arts register, the word monster modifies entertainment or arts related nouns like monster ball, monster concert tour, monster hit, monster ratings, monster breakthrough and monster screech. These phrases appear in news regarding the entertainment/celebrity world and phrases like monster screech and monster paws appear in arts register in some fictional stories. This register has the second highest frequency of the word monster modifying other nouns. Moving on to disaster reporting registers, monster usually modifies nouns like catastrophe, storm, rainstorm, and hurricane. An interesting thing to note found in my research is that monster always appears as a modifier in this register and never as a head. Out of the 3 examples of financial registers discussed in this paper, only one of them had the word monster modifying another noun and this example is given below. In this example, budget is being modified by the word monster.
By conducting a corpus research on the use of the word monster, I found some patterns in different registers of news discourse. This word was used in registers like sports, entertainment/arts, disaster, crime and finance. All these registers used this word as a metaphor to measure or show the size of something, to measure failure or success, to dehumanize a person and even to show how dangerous things or people are. However, it was also discovered that this word is used for its literal meaning in the arts/entertainment register. Thus, it can be seen how one word can function in different ways to imply different meanings semantically. Lastly, the different syntactical forms were analyzed and it was discovered that monster appears both as a head of a noun phrase and as a noun pre-modifier in some of these registers.
Safa Yakoob is a Pakistani Mass Communication senior at AUS. She plans to move on to a post graduate school in Canada and specialize further in her field. She also aspires to get published in one of the good PR journals. Her professors call her a perfectionist.