Conceptual metaphors in media discourses on AIDS denialism in South Africa

Nothnagel, Ignatius (2009-03)

Thesis (MA (General Linguistics))--University of Stellenbosch, 2009.


According to Nattrass (2007:138), the denial and questioning of the science of HIV/AIDS at government level by, amongst others, Thabo Mbeki (former State President) and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (former Minister of Health) resulted in an estimated 343 000 preventable AIDS deaths in South Africa by 2007. Such governmental discourse of AIDS denialism has been the target of criticism in the media and by activist groups such as the Treatment Action Campaign. This study investigates the nature of this criticism, specifically considering the critical use of metaphor in visual texts such as the political cartoons of Jonathan Shapiro, who works under the pen name of “Zapiro”. The purpose is to determine whether the nature of the criticism in visual newspaper texts differs from that of corresponding verbal newspaper texts, possibly providing means of criticism not available to the verbal mode alone. A corpus of texts published between August 1999 and December 2007 that topicalise HIV/AIDS was investigated. This includes 119 cartoons by Zapiro, and 91 verbal articles in the weekly newspaper Mail & Guardian. The main theoretical approach used in the analyses is Conceptual Metaphor Theory, developed by Lakoff and Johnson (1981), and its extension to poetic metaphor, developed by Lakoff and Turner (1989). Because of the socio-political nature of the problem of HIV/AIDS, the study also draws on Critical Discourse Analysis, including complementary concepts from Systemic Functional Linguistics. The study reveals that visual and verbal texts make use of similar sets of conventional conceptual metaphors at similar frequencies, which confirms the predictions of Conceptual Metaphor Theory. The study further reveals that the cartoons enrich these metaphors through four specific mechanisms of poetic metaphor, which the verbal articles do not. This indicates a significant difference between the two types of texts. Furthermore, it is found that the use of such poetic metaphors directly contributes to the critical power of the political cartoons. The study indicates that multi-modality in cartoons, which triggers single metaphoric mappings, adds a dimension to the critical function of the text that is absent in the verbal equivalent. The finding that the visual texts enable a form of cognition that is not available to verbal texts, poses one of the most significant avenues for future research. Thus, cartoons apparently achieve a type of criticism that is not found, and may not be possible, in the verbal texts alone. This makes the political cartoon a text type with an important and unique ability to articulate political criticism.

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