Ambiguity in News Headlines: A Predictive Corpus/Variationist Approach
CLAREP Journal of English and Linguistics (C-JEL)
Author: Mayowa Akinlotan
Institution: University of Texas at Austin, Austin, USA
The language of news headlines requires that the specific meaning being constructed is without ambiguity, and thus be clearly identifiable by the readers. But ambiguity and meaning-making are so related that the former is, to a varying degree, almost always present in news headlines, given a number of linguistic and non-linguistic factors influencing the writer, reader, and the language at hand (Hirst, 1987, Akinlotan 2018d, Eckert 2018). This study shows (1) the extent to which ambiguity is present in online Nigerian newspaper headlines; (2) the linguistic nature of the ambiguity, and (3) how a total of 14 linguistic predictors clearly show where we might find ambiguous headlines, the nature of the ambiguity, and the different scenarios characterising (1) and (2). A total of 14 predictors is investigated on the basis of over a thousand news headlines extracted from a Nigerian national newspaper, The Punch, showing that ambiguity has a likely incidence of 22%. Of the ambiguous proportion, 47% is lexically-motivated while 53% is structurally motivated. A logistic regression shows a combination of factors including animacy and structural complexity as important predictors showing the nature and where/ when we might find (non) ambiguous news headlines.
ambiguity, construction, Nigerian English, linguistic variable, meaning, corpus pragmatics,news headlines
ISBN: 978-3-96203-100-8 (Print)
ISBN: 978-3-96203-244-9 (PDF)