Language, Identity and Power – Portfolio

Written text analysis

In this first part of the portfolio, I will be analysing option A for the written text analysis using the Social Actor Analysis framework. It is an article called More Illegal Boat Migrants Landed Last Week in Britain Than All of 2019 written by Kurt Zindulka.

The Social Actor Analysis is defined as ‘a set of linguistic categories that can be applied to the analysis of any discourse in which people are evaluated through the way they are named, categorised … and/or identified in terms of age, gender, provenance, class or religion’ (Machin & Mayr, 2012a, p. 223). The article that I will be focusing on is filled with discriminatory and dehumanizing language and I will be discussing this by using this framework. 

It is possible with the use of certain words and avoiding others to steer the way people view the title of a text. The article that I’m analysing relies on a shock value and intimidation. By using the words ‘Illegal Boat Migrants’ the author tries to dehumanize a large group of people. The term for this is impersonalization, which is when social actors are not represented as human beings and are, for example, presented by using abstract nouns, or concrete nouns that don’t include the word ‘human’ as a sematic feature (Van Leeuwen, 1996, p. 59). The concrete noun ‘boat’ is used to refer to a large group of people, which causes readers to see them as less than human. 

The words ‘Illegal Boat Migrants’ are followed by a statistic. When people are grouped and treated as a statistic, it is called aggregation. As Van Leeuwen (1996) stated, immigrants are often grouped and treated as statistics and not individuals. Not only it makes them ‘the object of rational economic calculation’, but also the large group that is ‘legitimately feared’ by Britons (p. 50).

When reading the article, it becomes very clear that the writer is not in favour of immigration. Immigrants are at in the second paragraph even referred to as ‘illegal aliens’, which is another example of impersonalization. By using the noun ‘aliens’, the writer quite clearly does not see them as human at all, let alone as individuals. He is trying to invoke the feeling of disconnection within the readers, so they will not humanize them and rationalise his lack of compassion towards people that need help.

There are several different participants in the text that could be divided into three main groups: immigrants, border control and the UK government. All groups have examples of assimilation in the text. Assimilation are terms that describe groups of people, and they are most frequently seen describing immigrants within the article. Not only are immigrants dehumanized but the writer doesn’t treat them as individuals either. When there is an instance of the opposite of assimilation, individualisation, which refers to terms used for individuals, it is not used often for immigrants. In fact, no immigrant is mentioned by name. The closest the article gets to individualism, is when ‘alleged 38-year-old man’ is mentioned. This is taken from the last paragraph of the article which points out an individual from a large group of people. This paragraph describes a crime that was done by an immigrant to prove that immigrants, in their entirety, are bad. 

The individual participants that are mentioned by their actual name are ‘Home Secretary Priti Patel’ and ‘Brexit leader Nigel Farage’. Both are government officials and individualized through their nomination. Nomination is present when individuals are represented by their unique identity (Van Leeuwen, 1996, p. 52). In this case they are identified by their unique position, Home Secretary and Brexit leader, and by their actual name. The reason the writer chose to put government officials in the text was to add importance to his article. By mentioning people that are employed in high and unique positions, the writer’s argument sounds much more convincing and can persuade the reader to be against illegal immigration, because these government officials are against it as well.

Groups and people associated with the government and border control are represented by terms that are more functionalised than identified. ‘Participants can be identified or nominated in terms of who they are or functionalized by being depicted in terms of what they do’ (Machin & Mayr, 2012b, p. 71). ‘Border Force officers’, ‘volunteers’ and ‘immigration officials’ are all examples of functionalization. They are referred to by either their occupation or their role. Although these terms are not individualised but grouped, they are not dehumanized by being referred to with concrete or abstract nouns like immigrants are. This exudes respect and trust in the text.

The immigrants on the other hand are described through identification. They are portrayed by what they are rather than what they do. For example, ‘illegals’, ‘illegal aliens’, ‘illegal boat migrants’, ‘migrants’ and ‘alleged asylum seekers’ are all examples of identification. In contrast to UK officials who are respected because they chose and earned their position, immigrants are defined in terms of what they unavoidably are and always will be. 

To conclude this written text analysis, the Social Actor Analysis framework has proven to be very useful in analysing this text. It has revealed that the article is filled with discriminatory and dehumanizing language and that certain people, like writer of this article, will never see immigrants as anything more than who they are as a group. Arguably, he will never recognize them as individuals with respected qualifications. 

Spoken text analysis

In this next part of this portfolio, I will be analysing the first half of a transcript of the video called Jordan Peterson debate on the gender pay gap, campus protests and postmodernism, which is an option two for spoken text analysis. In order to analyse this conversation, I will be using ideas from conversation analysis. It is a conversation between Jordan Peterson and a female interviewer, Cathy Newman. I will be primarily focusing on the power dynamic within this conversation.

In Critical Discourse Analysis, power in spoken discourse is ‘expressed by more powerful person in an institutional setting constraining the contributions of the less powerful participants’ (Mayr, Simpson & Statham, 2018, p. 12). There are four devices that, according to Fairclough (1989), are used to express power in spoken discourse. Interruption, enforcing explicitness, controlling topic and formulation (p. 44). 

When it comes to news interviews, like the one that I will be analysing, the interviewers should not be bias and take a ‘neustralistic stance’ instead (Greatbach, 1998, p. 167). However, that can be difficult to do if the interviewer perceives the topic of discussion as personal, as is the case in this interview. I will be looking at the bias and power expressed in a few passages of this interview by using some of Fairclough’s four devices and other devices used for analysing spoken discourse.

First, I will be focusing on topic control. In contrast to informal conversations, where development of topics is often unpredictable, in interviews, the topics are developed, controlled and changed by the dominant person. When that person is biased or personally involved in the interview, the questions can be steered to get the answer they desire (Mayr, Simpson & Statham, 2018, p. 14). When it comes to this interview, the interviewer and the interviewee are often fighting to dominate the interview.

In the example 1.2.1 (found in the appendix), the interviewer controls the interview by posing questions to the interviewee. She tries to steer the conversation and control the topic in these questions to get the answer she desires. But in this instance, the interviewee attempts to dominate the conversation as well by asking her a personal question. This does not normally happen in interviews, as interviewee does not usually confront the interviewer. Newman, however, quickly takes the power back by not answering the question and posing one of her own. 

Example 1.2.2 is another instance of interviewee taking a control of the interview. Peterson interrupts Newman in order to correct her and she quickly changes the topic after his response. Newton gets emotionally invested in the interview after Peterson talks about what women are like even though he is not a woman himself. Newton has an issue with the generalisation and therefore, this could be an example of reverse discourse. As Mayr, Simpson & Statham (2018) state, ‘people engage in the forms of resistance … through talk and they do so, for example, by rejecting often derogatory labels to classify them’ (p. 136). 

Reverse discourse is defined by Pelissier Kingfisher (1996) as drawing ‘on the very vocabulary or categories of dominant discourses in order to make a case for oppressed groups’ (p. 541). In this case, Peterson is not necessary using a derogatory label, but it is possible she sees it that way, because it is a generalization about women that she rejects, as it does not apply to her. It is possible that Peterson is the dominant in this extraction, as he does interrupt Newman. Therefore, it is possible that by rejecting the idea of a ‘typical woman’ she is making a case for an oppressed group, because as stated in this interview, eighty percent of Peterson’s viewers are men.

In the example 1.2.3, the interviewer is developing a summary of what the interviewee is saying. This is according to Fairclough referred to as formulation. Formulation is defined as ‘summarizing, glossing over or developing the gist’ of what the speaker has stated previously (Heritage, 1985, p. 100). In this case, Newman often summarizes Peterson’s statements, but not always correctly to his standard. Arguably, Newman summarizes them incorrectly in order to make Peterson seem bad, or maybe she is doing this to control the conversation. Formulation has been used in the past as a weapon of the interviewer that enabled them to control the interaction and clarify the topic for the audience at the same time (Mayr, Simpson & Statham, 2018, p. 15). Although she does this repeatedly, Peterson always disproves the statements and clarifies what he meant. It is also possible that Newman felt, similar to the previous example, personally attacked because Peterson makes repeated general statements about women. It is a possible example of reverse discourse, although more subliminal.

Asking clarifying questions in this interview is an example of another one of Fairclough’s devices, which is enforcing explicitness. When a less dominant speaker uses ambiguous or unclear language in order to deal with more powerful person in the conversation, the dominant speaker may demand from the speaker to clarify their statements (Mayr, Simpson & Statham, 2018, p. 13). Because Peterson often answers with one sentence, clarification for the audience is often needed. It is possible that Newman does not feel attacked and simply wants to clarify the subject for the audience. Interruptions, however, have been defined as signs of dominance within interviews (p. 13).

In conclusion, this has been very interesting conversation to analyse. When watching the video, the audience can easily perceive Newman as hostile due to the way she is interviewing Peterson. However, by analysing the spoken discourse in more depth, it is possible that Newman felt upset because of the way Peterson generalized all women. The power dynamic in this interview often switches between the interviewer and the interviewee, which does not usually happen in interviews. 

Multimodal analysis

In this final part of the portfolio, I will be constructing a multimodal analysis. I have picked a make-up print advertisement for a Maybelline’s red lipstick (can be found in the appendix). By using a multimodal analysis, I will analyse this advertisement to discover different tactics that were used to capture the attention of potential customers.

In Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis, as defined by Machin & Mayr, ‘we are interested in showing how images, photographs and graphics also work to create meaning, in each case describing the choices made by the author’ (2012a, p. 9). In relation to the advert that I will be analysing, I will be discussing what specific design choices the author made in order to make the product more desirable. Therefore, I will be drawing on social semiotics of visual communication, which ‘involves the description of semiotic resources, what can be said and done with images (and other visual means of communication) and how the things people say and do with images can be interpreted’ (Jewitt & Oyama, 2001, p. 134).

Halliday separates metafunctions, into three categories: the interpersonal, the ideational and the textual (Andersen et al., 2015, p. 4). The ideational metafunction is concerned with the use of semiotic resources to convey things about human experience and the world and it can be referred to as ‘language as reflection’ (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2013, p. 30). We can therefore talk about participants, objects and setting in the advertisement. 

First, I will discuss the colours used for the advertisement. The main two colours that dominate in this poster are blue and red. Blue is known to have a psychologically calm a peaceful effect, which goes well with the vibrant red that is attention-grabbing, passionate and risky. By combining these colours, it creates a juxtaposition of two ideals that are symbolize the opposite. This makes the product stand out and creates a mysterious effect. 

The female model used in this advertisement has blue eyes and it is possible that she was chosen for this exact feature, as it goes very well with the effect the poster is trying to create. With her blue eyes and the blue background that reflects on her pale skin tone, this portrays her cool, collected, mysterious and deep personality that contrasts well with her red lips that create a bold, daring and passionate effect. The red fixes our gaze on the boldness and power of the lipstick which makes the model, and potentially the customer, stand out and desirable. 

The main physical objects used in the poster are the product and a flower. Several shades of the lipstick are portrayed, which makes it more appealing to the customer who might not be interested in the shade that is as bold as the model is wearing. Honey nectar is portrayed dripping from the lipsticks to emphasise on the creamy texture. Flower is positioned behind the lipsticks to create the connection with the ingredient. Another reason that a deep red flower is used for the advert is to make the connection with passion, love, desire and femininity, which the red flower symbolizes. 

Next, I will discuss the interpersonal metafunction. The interpersonal metafunction is concerned with using semiotic resources to influence, maintain and build relationships. It can also be explained as ‘language in action’ and it is interactive and personal (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2013, p. 30). I will be focussing on gaze, poses, gestures, distance and point of view used in the make-up advertisement.

Many pictures, as is the case for this advertisement, show people who have their look fixed directly at the person looking at the picture. This causes them to make contact directly with the viewer and create a relationship with them. This is defined by Kress & van Leeuwen (1996) as ‘demand’ pictures, which means that people in the picture want something from the viewer. What exactly they demand is specified by their gestures and facial expressions. (Jewitt & Oyama, 2001, p. 145).

The poster that I am analysing shows a beautiful woman that, as I’ve stated in this essay already, has blue eyes. These eyes are very piercing and hypnotizing, as the model stares directly at the viewer. This stare is almost daring – it dares the viewer to buy the product and stand out as her lips do in contrast with her pale skin and blue background. Because the model is looking directly at the viewer, it encourages and hypnotizes them to buy and try the product to look as mysterious and passionate as her.

The pose of the model suggests that she is putting an emphasis on her face, more specifically on her lips, that contain the product. Her hand is touching her neck, almost framing her face which is facing the viewer directly. She is looking over her shoulder, which creates a sense of mystery and seduction. The angle of her face, which is leaned slightly on her shoulder that frames her face, also contributes this, because if she looked straight ahead, it would seem more confrontational than seductive.

Images, like the one I am analysing, can bring people closer to the observant. ‘To see people close up is to see them in the way we would normally only see people with whom we are more or less intimately acquainted’ (Jewitt & Oyama, 2001, p. 146). This is the case for the model in the picture. She is so close to the shot that we could almost touch her. Because this is a make-up advertisement, the model needs to be close to the camera lens, so we could properly see the effects of the product. It also creates a personal connection – we can clearly see the effects of the lipstick on the model, which causes the viewer to trust her. 

The point of view that is used is direct, she is facing the viewer head-on and on the eye level of the viewer. This symbolizes that she doesn’t have power over the viewer, and it is possible to achieve the same look as her by using the advertised lipstick. 

The last metafunction that I will be discussing is the textual metafunction. The textual metafunction ‘relates to the construction of text’, it uses semiotic resources to arrange a message in a coherent and clear way (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2013, p. 30). I will be discussing salience, placement and light in relation to the picture. 

I have discussed a few topics that belong under salience in the previous paragraphs. To define salience, it refers to features of pictures that are foregrounded – they are meant to stand out and draw the viewer’s attention. I have previously talked about colour, which might be the first feature that the viewer will notice. The contrast with red and blue is so strong that it makes us focus on it immediately. 

When it comes to salience in reference to the text, more specifically to the colour of the text itself, there are three – white, red and black. The white text is placed on the blue and red background, which makes it stand out very well. The words that are in bold and italic are meant to stand out. Words like ‘passion’ and ‘sensational’ are in bold to further point out the quality and boldness of the product. On the bottom, the text stands out the most out of the other texts in the entire picture. There is a white background with a black font, except the word ‘it’ in ‘make it happen’, which is in red. This can be interpreted as daring and mysterious. The name of the brand has the biggest font, to show who created the lipstick and point to the fact, that the product was created by a known brand. The text that mentions the ingredients is the smallest, because it is not as important in terms of marketing as the other texts.

Besides colour, the model’s lips stand out in the picture the most. This makes sense as they display the product that Maybelline is trying to sell. Red lips are known as symbol of desire, passion and sex appeal for many celebrities, for example Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Madonna. It is possible that the creators had this in mind while creating the advertisement. The lips are places in the centre of the picture, which causes our eyes to instantly focus on them. They highlight the white text with red background under them, that states ‘Passion, I’m all about it’. This further shows the effect of desire and passion the creators of the poster wanted to achieve in the picture. The word ‘color’ that is in bold and ‘sensational’ which is in italic are cleverly placed between the bold lips and the product to further point out the deep red colour of the product.

To continue discussing the placement of the text, the text on the bottom is the most important, as it states the name of the brand. The name is not noticeable right away, as the lips and colours capture the viewers’ attention first. They become interested in the product and subconsciously start searching for the name of the brand so they could buy it. 

The very last feature that I will be analysing is the lightning. Most of the light on the picture shines on the face of the model. In fact, light is used to further highlight the product. It reflects on her lips and on the lipsticks themselves. The light is white, and it further elevates the model’s mysteriousness by being placed slightly behind her back and shining on one side of her face more than the other. 

In conclusion, Multimodal Critical Discourse Analysis is very useful if one wants to learn how to use graphic design in marketing effectively. Personally, I have found it very useful, because I am interested in graphic design, and now I know more about what to look for in good advertising. 


  1. 1 Written text analysis
ImmigrantsBorder controlUK government
Illegal Boat MigrantsBorder Force officersHome Secretary Priti Patel
Illegal aliensVolunteersBrexit leader Nigel Farage
IllegalsHome Office’s Border ForceMr Farage
Migrants Coastguard vesellsGovernment authorities
Illegal migrants Home Office spokesman
Boat migrants Immigration officials
Alleged asylum seekers The Home Office
Alleged 38-year-old man  
Child migrant  
Home SecretaryIllegal Boat Migrants
Brexit leaderIllegal aliens
Border Force officersMigrants 
Government authoritiesIllegal migrants
Home Office spokesmanBoat migrants
Immigrant officialsAlleged asylum seekers
Home Office’s Border ForceAlleged 38-year-old man
The Home OfficeChild migrant
  1. 2 Written text analysis

Example 1.2.1

Newman: What’s in it for the women, though?

Peterson: Well what sort of partner do you want? You want an overgrown child? Or do you want someone to contend with, that’s going to help you?

Newman: So you’re saying women have some sort of duty to sort of help fix the crisis of masculinity?

Example 1.2.2

Newman: I’m going to take issue with the idea of the “typical woman”. Because, you know, all women are different! And I want to just put another quote to you from the book, …

Peterson: Oh, they’re different in some ways and the same in others.

Newman: Okay. You say women become more vulnerable when they have children.

Example 1.2.3

Newman: But you’re saying basically, it doesn’t matter if women aren’t getting to the top, because that’s what’s skewing that gender pay gap, isn’t it? You’re saying well that’s just a fact of life, so they are not going to hardly get to the top.

Peterson: No, I’m not I’m saying it doesn’t matter, either.

Newman: You’re saying it’s a fact of life.

Peterson: I’m saying there are multiple reasons for it, and they’re not being taken into account.

Newman: But why should women put up with those reasons? Why should women be content?

  • Multimodal Analysis
A picture containing text, cosmetic

Description automatically generated

Link to the picture:


Fairclough, N. (1989) Language and Power (2nd edn 2001), London: Longman.

Greatbatch, D. (1998) ‘Conversation analysis: neutralism in British news interviews’, in A. Bell and P. Garrett (eds), Approaches to Media Discourse, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 163–186.

Halliday, M.A.K. & Matthiessen, C. M.I.M. (2013). Halliday’s Introduction to Functional Grammar. Fourth edition. London: Routledge.

Heritage, J.C. (1985) ‘Analyzing news interviews: aspects of the production of talk for an overhearing audience’, in T.A. van Dijk (ed.), Handbook of Discourse Analysis, Vol. 3: Discourse and Dialogue, New York: Academic Press, pp. 95–119.

Hestbaek Andersen, T., Boeriis, M., Maagerø, E., & Tonnessen, E.S. (2015). Social Semiotics: Key Figures, New Directions (1st ed.). Routledge.

Jewitt, C., & Oyama, R. (2001). ‘Visual Meaning: A Social Semiotic Approach’. In T. van Leeuwen & C. Jewitt (Eds.) Handbook of Visual Analysis. Sage Publications. Pp. 134-156.

Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T. (1996) Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design. London: Routledge

Mayr, A., & Machin, D. (2012a). How to Do Critical Discourse Analysis : A Multimodal Introduction. SAGE Publications Ltd. Available from:,sso&db=nlebk&AN=1099453&site=ehost-live

Mayr, A., & Machin, D. (2012b). The language of crime and deviance : An introduction to critical linguistic analysis in media and popular culture. Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Available from:

Pelissier Kingfisher, C. (1996) Women in the American Welfare Trap, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Simpson, P., Mayr, A., & Statham, S. (2018). Language and power (2nd ed.). Taylor and Francis.

Van Leeuwen, T. (1996). ‘The representation of social actors’. In C.R.Caldas-Coulthard and M. Coulthard (eds) Texts and Practices: Readings in Critical Discourse Analysis. London: Routledge. 33-69.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *