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Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory

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How to identify moral language in presidential speeches: A comparison between a social-psychological and a cognitive-linguistic approach to corpus analysis

Kiki Y. Renardel de Lavalette
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Dutch Studies, University of Amsterdam, Spuistraat 134, Amsterdam 1012 VB, Netherlands
  • Email:
/ Gerard Steen
  • Department of Dutch Studies, University of Amsterdam, Spuistraat 134, Amsterdam 1012 VB, Netherlands
/ Christian Burgers
  • Department of Communication Science, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, De Boelelaan 1081, Amsterdam 1081 HV, Netherlands
Published Online: 2016-12-03 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cllt-2016-0007


Lakoff (2002 [1996], Moral politics. How liberals and conservative think. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press) presents the Theory of Moral Politics (TMR), as based in the roles of metaphor in moral thinking in American Politics. Two distinct methods of data analysis, one social-psychological and one cognitive-linguistic, have been employed to empirically test Lakoff’s assertions on moral reasoning, but have yielded different results. We applied both methods to the same corpus of speeches to determine whether they would yield similar results and could thus be considered to be equally appropriate ways of testing the presence of moral language. We show that the method affects what sort of conclusion can be drawn from research. Consequently, when testing TMR, we recommend that the corpus-linguistic method used is critically evaluated.

Keywords: morality; politics; corpus analysis; metaphor; political speeches


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About the article

Published Online: 2016-12-03

The contribution of Christian Burgers was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO VENI grant 275-89-020).

Citation Information: Corpus Linguistics and Linguistic Theory, ISSN (Online) 1613-7035, ISSN (Print) 1613-7027, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cllt-2016-0007. Export Citation

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