Webometric Thoughts

June 10, 2008

Is the web linguistically on the left or right?

I am currently in the middle of reading David Crystal’s (2006) ‘Language and the Internet’, an interesting book that, when it started mentioning style guides, got me wondering about whether style guides could be used to determine whether the UK web space was politically on the left, or on the right. The leading broadsheets from both sides of the political debate have publicly available style guides (i.e., The Telegraph and The Guardian), and the differences could be used for the basis of such a linguistic-webometric investigation.

My personal favourite style guide section is The Telegraph’s Banned Words. Whilst the banning of terms such as ‘Europhobe’ have obvious political motivations, you have to wonder whether it was really necessary to explicitly ban referring to ‘perverted Scout leaders’ (Whilst Google Trends does not show the phrase to be endemic, that may be because of the Telegraph’s quick action). It is interesting to note, however, that despite the Telegraph’s authoritarian values, they seem seem to be very lax with their own language, the supposedly banned ‘mass exodus’ was used only a few days ago. Surely there will be letters to the editor!

Unfortunately these days search engines try to be helpful, and ignore many of the differences. For example, ‘Yahoo’ and ‘Yahoo!’ are both treated as the same, when any fool would know that the exclamation mark reflects the searching for more conservative opinions on the search engine. It would be nice to be able to turn a search engine’s ‘helpful’ features off occasionally.

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