Introduction: Jenni Räikkönen

picture of Jenni Räikkönen

Hello! My name is Jenni. I’m currently a doctoral researcher at Tampere University. My dissertation, titled Pronouns separating the UK from the EU: We and us in British newspaper articles and parliamentary debates in 1973–2015, is currently being pre-examined. I will hopefully defend the thesis in spring 2024. After finishing my PhD, I will start working in the LanCris project as a post-doctoral researcher.

My main research interest lies in the political discourse and political language. I have studied presidential speeches, parliamentary debates as well as the speeches of those that are outside the mainstream politics, i.e. activists such as civil rights activists and suffragettes. I have also focused on the language used in newspapers, particularly in the newspaper articles about political topics. As politics and the media are so strongly intertwined, analysis of newspaper articles contributes to the field of political discourse analysis.

Why political discourse?

Because politicians and the media have easier access to the public discussion, they can more easily put forward their world views and influence how the public sees the world. In the field of critical discourse analysis, politics and media are seen as being part of the so-called “elite”, whose language can have a strong effect on our world view. Also, language is the most important tool politicians (and the media) have. Thus, analysis of the language used by politicians and the mainstream media is important.

In the LanCris project I will continue studying political discourse. My main focus will be on the language used by politicians and other public officials. I will also analyse newspaper articles, as they have been – and still are – crucial in spreading information from the decision-makers to the public.

My research plan

First, my focus in the project will be on expressions of certainty and uncertainty in the press releases and official statements of government officials in the United States related to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and newspaper articles related to the Spanish flu in 1918.

Crises always entail that the situation is unclear, and one characteristic of good crisis communication is that the public is informed that not all the facts are known. Thus, I am interested in whether and how decision-makers expressed to the citizens that the situation is unclear. Furthermore, I am interested in whether there are any differences on this regard between the communication strategies used during the COVID-19 and the Spanish flu pandemics.

Second, I will analyse the official governmental press releases in the US and the UK during the COVID-19 and Spanish flu pandemics to see how often and in which types of contexts experts or scientific knowledge is referred to. Are experts referred to when placing new restrictions to citizens, in particular? Or in situations that are very unclear?

Third, I will compare the language used in the British parliamentary debates and press during the Spanish flu epidemic (1918–1920). During the Spanish flu epidemic, there was a war in Europe. Because of the war, the mortality rates or the severity of the epidemic was not openly discussed in the media, at least during the first waves. This was because the information could have been useful to the enemy. I am interested in the similarities and differences in the discussion on the Spanish flu in the two contexts: Were different words used or did, for instance, one focus on the mortality rates while the other, let’s say, on the pre-emptive measures? Was the issue more often (and perhaps more openly) discussed in the parliament than in the newspapers?

Fourth, I am interested in the general development of public communication during health crises. For that end, I would like to analyse the language used in the health campaigns related to the tuberculosis after 1882 and compare the language of those to the health crisis communication during the Spanish flu and COVID-19 pandemics.

In the late 1800s, tuberculosis killed one out of every seven people living in the US and Europe. In 1882, Dr. Robert Koch announced the discovery of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which is the bacteria that causes tuberculosis. This finding proved that tuberculosis was not hereditary, but an infectious disease. Consequently, educating the public about good hygiene and how the disease spreads became the focus of TB health campaigns. Similarly, good hygiene (such as washing hands, using disinfectant, and covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing) and the spread of the virus were topics that were prominent in the health campaigns during the COVID-19 and Spanish flu pandemics. How were the three campaigns similar or different in terms of language? Was there any development in the language of these campaigns through which the public was educated? If yes, then what type?


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