International Pragmatics Conference edition:10th location:Göteborg date:8-13 July 2007
Variation in news narratives can provide the empirical testing ground for investigating news production processes, such as selecting and adapting input stories from external sources. In taking a comparative approach this paper maps transformations of source text into target text. In particular it examines differences between original input supplied by news agencies and final newspaper output as well as divergent treatment of identical source material by various news groups. The empirical analysis is based on a pragmatic study of language and ideology in English-language news accounts in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Republic of China on Taiwan (ROC) about the Hong Kong sovereignty transfer from the British Crown to the PRC in 1997 (Lams 2004). As a high-profile major international news event, the handover ceremony garnered worldwide media attention. For this paper’s purpose I look into a set of foreign news agencies’ articles adopted by two Taiwanese English-language newspapers, the input versions of which were retrieved from the Associated Press archives. The emerging transformation patterns between source and target texts can be grouped in various categories. While some texts are taken over verbatim, others are scrambled, reduced in size or amended. The latter is reflected in the writing process of rephrasing propositions, deleting specific adverbial complements, and modifying lexical terms. These divergences may be attributed to practical editorial concerns (space/time constraints), general guidelines on house style, or ideological considerations. Although it is not easy to pinpoint the precise underlying reason for each editorial adjustment, it can be safely assumed that, whenever adaptations appear with a regular occurrence, ideology or fixed editorial preferences/directives concerning structure and style are at play. An example of an ideological transformation is the consistent editorial amendment in one of the Taiwanese papers of the proper noun “China” as the preferred lexical denotation for the Chinese mainland (encompassing a political, cultural and geographical dimension) throughout the Associated Press data set. Certain temporal deictical changes illustrate non-ideological modification patterns conforming to a particular house style. Clearly, findings in this paper concerning changes between source and target texts as well as diversity between newspapers in final output originating from the same input shed a light on a tiny, but nonetheless important link in the complex intertextual chaining process of news production.