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A corpus-based critical discourse analysis of Chinese medicine advertising leaflets in the UK

Fang Wang (University of Surrey)


Reflections on the potential of combining corpus linguistics and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) go back quite a long way now (e.g. Mautner, 1995), and recent CDA work using corpus linguistics have shown the strength of corpus method (e.g. Baker and McEnery, 2005; Baker it al., 2008;) Mautner (2009) indicates that from quantitative perspective, corpus tools can offer the function of computing frequencies and measures of statistical significance, as well as presenting data extracts in such a way that the researcher can assess individual occurrences of search words; From qualitative perspective, corpus method helps to examine their collocational environments, describe salient semantic patterns and identify discourse functions.

This paper aims at investigating the features of the discourse of Chinese medicine advertising in UK represented by a small corpus consisting of 5 leaflets from 5 biggest Chinese medical companies in the UK. The content and quality of the texts of these leaflets are crucial for the sales of each company. Therefore, it is interesting to investigate how the discourse of Chinese medicine is constructed in these leaflets and in what ways it has gained its popularity and, in turn, its market. On the macro level, this paper describes the discourse features employed by all these 5 leaflets; On the micro level, it analyzes the language patterns that have been used to construct the discourse of Chinese medicine through the frequency analysis and keyness study of the corpus.

Wordsmith tool (Scott, 2004) and Wmatrix (Rayson, 2008) are used to conduct detailed corpus-based keyword analysis and key semantic domain analysis on such a corpus. The frequency analysis shows that the high use of modal verb can coupled with sets of positive evaluation verbs such as regulate, strengthen, improve .etc suggests a process of normalization: readers of the leaflets will be encouraged to believe that Chinese medicine is an effective remedy. Also, Chinese medicine is repeatedly represented as can be taken, which (re)produces the legitimacy of taking Chinese medical remedies. The detailed concordance analysis of frequent lexical item Chinese medicine reveals the ways that Chinese medicine is constructed: through the introduction of its general working principles, Chinese medicine is represented as a holistic approach, which views the body as an organic whole with a network of coordinating parts. Furthermore, Wmatrix was used to extract the top 20 key semantic domains of the corpus. The key semantic domain analysis discovers that the leaflets holds as its central task to explain the causes of each disease and makes consumers believe that Chinese medicine gets to the root of each disease and guarantees its efficiency.

This research shows how the use of corpus tools can help such a discourse analysis in de-mystifying Chinese medicine’s ideologies about health embedded in such advertising leaflets. It can also be concluded that the analysis of a mini corpus as such can help to understand how, within the discourse at large, different realities are constructed for different occasions and purposes. The success of the business of Chinese medicine in this country shows that there is a demand for such alternative realities.


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Serie: CILC2021: Discurso, análisis literario y corpus / Discourse, literary analysis and corpora (+información)