Content analyses of state-level language policy rhetoric, pre- and post-9 /11

Janice Snow Rodriguez, Tennessee State University


In the post-9/11 era, the perennial debate of the necessity of an official language has resurged. While the historical context may have changed, have the underlying arguments for official English? To answer this question, this study analyzed the content of the bills, legislation, documented discourse and media coverage of the state-level English language policy debates before and after September 11, 2001. The methodology employed consists of both quantitative and qualitative research techniques, emanating from a constructivist paradigm. Utilizing the computer-assisted content analysis software Diction 5.0, nearly 2000 texts spanning 1994 through 2008 were examined to return composite scores for five overarching semantic features - Activity, Optimism, Certainty, Realism and Commonality - in addition to 35 sub-features. Statistical analysis results indicate significant differences between the pre- and post-9/11 legislation in the variable Commonality. With regard to the media discourse, the variable Certainty decreased significantly, while Realism and the sub-variables Denial and Blame increased significantly in the post-9/11 groupings of news stories, editorials, and letters to the editor. Combining rhetorical and critical discourse analysis, the rhetorical strategies used in the manifestations of opinion are educed, painting a portrait of polarization (us vs. them) through use of figurative language, patterns of opposition, appeal to emotion, logical fallacies, and appeals to authority. Comparing the stances assumed prior to 9/11 and those post 9/11, the use of rhetorical strategy of polarization increased by 17% in our sample of opinion pieces, while appeals for unity increased 99%. This study provides an additional perspective on the impact of the events of September 11, 2001 while looking more closely at the role of rhetoric and persuasive argumentation in the policy process, and expands the repertoire of tools available to the scholar in policy studies and public administration by the successful application of the combined methodologies of quantitative content analysis and qualitative critical discourse analysis. Various forms of discourse and their relation to the events of September 11, 2001 are analyzed in other studies, but none takes the unique approach that this research attempts in looking at the effects of September 11 on the policy issue of official English.

Subject Area

Public administration|Mass communications

Recommended Citation

Janice Snow Rodriguez, "Content analyses of state-level language policy rhetoric, pre- and post-9 /11" (2009). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI3356169.