ROLLS talk: Paul Baker

As part of the Research on Language and Linguistics at Sussex seminar series, this week we will be hosting Paul Baker from Lancaster University. The talk will be Wednesday 19 March, 12.00 in Arundel 211

“Homosexuals are often very delightful, artistic and loving people”: An analysis of the changing language of anti-equality voters in the British Parliament.

This paper is concerned with the language around the legal processes involved in two (successful) attempts to award equality to gay men and women in the UK. The first took place in a series of political parliamentary debates between 1998-2000 which resulted in equalising the age of consent for sexual intercourse for gay men at 16. The second set of debates occurred in 2013 and involved allowing same-sex partnerships to be legally recognised as marriages.

These two debates are a rich source of data for analysis of discourse and argumentation around homosexuality and equality. While public attitudes have become more liberal towards homosexuality, in both debates a substantial number of Members of Parliament and Lords voted against equality, being willing to go ‘on-record’ about their decision, and sometimes speaking at length about why they wished to do so.

In order to examine how British Parliamentary arguments against LGBT equality have changed in response to decreasing social acceptability of discriminatory language against minority groups a combination of corpus-driven and corpus-based methods were used to compare two small corpora (168,000 words in total) consisting only of the speech from people who voted ‘no’ to change in the law across the two debates. The research questions focussed on whether and how these anti-equality speakers differed between the two time periods in the ways they constructed their 1) anti-equality arguments and 2) attendant representations of gay people.

Using AntConc, first we analysed keywords by comparing the two corpora of ‘anti-equality’ speeches together. After discarding ‘expected’ keywords which occurred due to the specific nature of each debate (e.g. consent, marriage), we examined other keywords which appeared more linked to specific representations and argumentation strategies (e.g. moral, consultation). Following this, we focussed more closely on frequencies and collocates of the lemmas GAY and HOMOSEXUAL in each set of debates, as well as examining concordances and frequencies of words relating to the concept of homophobia.


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