Say What You Mean: Defining The Occupy Movement

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Say What You Mean: Defining The Occupy Movement
Group 13: Khani Le, Jordan Nugent, Hanna Fjortoft, Melissa Albrecht, and Lindsay Hudson

   Our group has focused heavily on the language used by the 1% in comparison to that which is used by the 99%. We sought to explore the different languages that are used in regards to the Occupy Movement on blogs from September 2011 to January 2012. We chose this area because we believed that the informal arena of blogs represents the mainstream view of the issue and is a strong proponent in the continuation of the Occupy Movement efforts. The words and patterns that the two binary social classes—those who present themselves as the 1% and the 99%—use is crucial in our understanding of the complexity of the Occupy Movement. Our goal with this research was to explore how these social groups consider themselves and those around them through blogs about the Occupy Movement.

It is our goal to illustrate that the language used by those in the Occupy Movement is heavily focused on positioning themselves within the social structure of the United States by Othering and that the use of collocation and concordance lines illuminate the impact that language surrounding the Occupy Movement has.

   As far as the corpus linguistics methods went, this was where we used concordance lines, collocation tables, and word frequencies to further carry out our data and understanding of the terms we have chosen to word with. For the concordance lines, we used a program that arranges all instances of a particular search item in a way that makes the search item appear in the center of the page. Using a word or a phrase can generate KWIC, key word in context. We did this with our whole corpora and then individually selected the term we each wanted to focus on. As for the collocation tables, these were the co-occurrence of words with no more than four intervening words. On the paradigmatic dimension it is defined rather differently, because items can only collocate with each other when present in the text and two items in a particular paradigm are by that arrangement classed as mutually exclusive (McCreless).

   A quick glance at collocation lines for the corpus shows that of the top 10 words collocated most closely with “protesters,” “peaceful” is the seventh most popular descriptor. The other words in the top 10 list are all unbiased descriptors: words like “the” and “occupy.”

Word Count L5 L4 L3 L2 L1 Node

the 79 8 6 9 2 30 protesters

street 12 0 1 0 1 7 protesters

some 9 0 0 1 0 5 protesters

and 22 3 2 2 2 3 protesters

of 26 0 6 3 7 3 protesters

peaceful 4 0 0 0 0 3 protesters

occupy 8 0 0 5 0 2 protesters

other 4 1 0 1 0 2 protesters

park 11 1 3 0 2 2 protesters

    This indicates that the majority of what is being said about the protestors in this corpus is slanted toward the positive, “peaceful” being a description aimed at increasing favor towards the protestors and the movement. After a careful examination of the instances where “peaceful” was being used, it became increasingly obvious that those blogs that described protestors as being peaceful were blogs that were pro-Occupy.

Just as pro-Occupy blogs identified themselves through their sympathetic descriptions of the protesters, so too did the anti-Occupy blogs with critical, demeaning descriptions. The most common discourse methods used to produce meaning for “protester” in anti-Occupy blogs were othering (i.e., “liberal progressive socialist Marxists”, and “their anti-American progressive socialist behaviour…,” etc.), us-versus-them pronoun usage (through the use of “them” and “their” coupled with negative descriptions), and, most strikingly, the seeming refusal to actually use the word “protester.” In these anti-Occupy blogs, lexical choices favored “occupiers,” “hippies,” and even “idiots” over the more neutral “protester,” suggesting that the authors wished to prescribe a more negative view of the Occupy movement (Chandler, 2007). Additional negative descriptors were often layered on top of these “protester”-substitutions, as the collocation tables below show:

Word Count L5 L4 L3 L2 L1 Node

blaming 1 0 1 0 0 0 occupiers

chumming 1 0 1 0 0 0 occupiers

failing 1 0 0 1 0 0 occupiers

loathsome 1 0 0 0 0 1 occupiers

Word Count L5 L4 L3 L2 L1 Node

occupy 3 0 0 2 0 0 idiots

Word Count L5 L4 L3 L2 L1 Node

dirty 1 0 0 1 0 0 hippies

libertarians 1 0 0 0 0 0 hippies

#occupywallstreet 1 0 1 0 0 0 hippies

ragtag 1 0 0 0 0 1 hippies

smelly 1 0 0 0 1 0 hippies

   All blogs utilizing such descriptors identified themselves as being anti-Occupy.

   Another way this pattern is perpetuated is by the use of in-grouping the protesters and out-grouping their opponents. This is done by othering, using quotations to discredit unfavorable protester descriptions, and us-versus-them pronoun usage. Othering is also apparent in pro-Occupy blogs, targeting the police and members of the 1%. Descriptions like “smart-mouthed” and “infamous” are aimed at these out-group members alongside the positive and sympathetic descriptions of the protesters. Combined, these paradigmatic choices lend specific political alliances to the blog posts.

Concordance lines can be particularly useful and, “the advantage of using this technique in such contexts lies in the unmediated nature of corpus data, which allows the analyst to tap into the way which certain words are used in real-life contexts” (Adolphs, 2006). By entering these excerpts, many words including, ‘I, our, their, they, and we’ were exceptionally high with ‘they’ as the highest with 25 times. This shows that by repeatedly using these words it can form this artificial boundary between these opposing groups. Using these particular pronouns creates an in-group/out-group effect and produces a stressed illusion of reality. 

Analyzing the different blogs and how often the author used particular language that formed the artificial boundary of the 1% and 99%, between good and evil. Many words, such as ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘they’, and ‘them’ are widely used in these blogs to create the sense of unity, defining the ‘other’ to define themselves and what they stand for. Van Dijk explains this concept by noting that, “the way in-groups and out-groups are represented in text and talk, prototypically represented by the ideological pronouns Us and Them” (Van Dijk 2006). By locating these types of words it accentuates the tactic of othering to create a boundary between these two groups. Analyzing the 1% vs. 99% comparisons excerpts, and highlighting words throughout the corpus demonstrate this method.

Othering was also prevalent in the texts we analyzed. In the Real Truth, we identified an othering statement: “The corporate media people are so comfortable, and so ensconced in their position, they do not believe there is any significant dissent; the situation is ingrained, routine and habitual.” This form of in-grouping/out-grouping puts the problems in America on “corporate media people” shoulders and effectively denounces any responsibility from the rest of the population, and even goes as far as to suggest that those who are responsible for the movement are ignorant to real situations. In the blog The Generation, it states, “Rather than a voice representative of the American people, the US is instead offered with…millionaires and billionaires that don’t represent the rest of the country.” It’s an interesting cultural note here that “millionaires and billionaires” are conceived so differently from the rest of us that they are not able to speak as anything other than their net worth. This is an example of othering that vilifies humans based on a truly frivolous aspect of their life, and reflects upon American society the idea that everyone else is absolutely different from you, and therefore to blame for the problems of life. One of our key findings was that people, regardless of where they stand regarding the Occupy Movement, think of the “other” people as the problem, and that if only they changed, everything would work out.

Our research—along with the patterns that we’ve identified—aids in the understanding of how people react in the situations that the Occupy Movement places American citizens in. The different excerpts help illuminate the way that different people in the movement use language in order to further their individual intentions—which was what our research sought to prove.


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McCreless, Patrick. “Syntagmatics & Paradigmatics: Some Implications for the Analysis Chromaticism.” JSTOR. Web. 23 May 2012.<>.

Adolphs, Svenja. “Exploring Words and Phrases in Use: Basic Techniques.” Chapter 4 in Introducing Electronic Text Analysis. London ; New York : Routledge, 2006. 51-63.

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