With the development of mass media, newspapers are one of the major sources of information acquisition all over the universe. Nowadays, English newspapers are very popular and read all over China. However, many people still have trouble understanding English newspaper headlines, even for some English big leagues.
This is because English newspaper headlines have their own particular characteristics, cultural backgrounds, and are different from the daily English we use in many aspects. This paper will focus on the lexical, structural characteristics, and rhetorical devices of English newspaper headlines, which can help us have a better understanding when we read newspapers. Key words: Newspaper headline, Lexical characteristics, Structural characteristics, Rhetorical devices.
Every time we pick up a newspaper, what comes into our sight are lots of news headlines. A headline has become an indispensable part of the newspaper. The editor aims to attract the reader’s attention through headlines. As a result, news headlines are usually specially designed to be short, concise, and informative to convey different types of information.
We may be confused by headlines like “Cater’s War on Waste”, “UFO Sighted”, “Smugglers Get Jail and Fines”, “Weekly Mag for Stamp Lovers to Be Launched”, etc. Yet without some knowledge of news headline characteristics, it is not easy for us to read English newspapers.
This paper has summarized the study of newspaper development in recent years and presents the lexical characteristics, structural characteristics, and rhetorical devices of English newspaper headlines in detail.
The study of English newspaper headlines can be dated back to the 1990s. In the past 10 years, many scholars in China have carried out many studies regarding news headlines, and many papers have been published. One of the papers, “On the Features of English Newspaper Headlines”, is written by Zhang Qiong in 2001.
That paper covers different characteristics of newspaper headlines, but it is not specific enough. This paper will focus on three aspects of news headlines: lexical characteristics, structural characteristics, and rhetorical devices, which help to some extent in making our understanding of newspaper headlines more profound and specific.
Lexical Features of English Newspaper Headlines
The lexical characteristics of English newspaper headlines can mainly include four parts. They are exemplified as follows:
Abbreviation, which is used in a large measure in English newspapers, means “a shortened form of a word or phrase used chiefly in writing to represent the complete form”. Generally speaking, there are three types of abbreviations used in the newspaper:
- Abbreviation for organizations. Examples: UNESCO = United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization; PLO = Palestine Liberation Organization; IOC = International Olympic Committee; NASA = National Aeronautics and Space Administration; APEC = Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference; FIFA = Fédération Internationale de Football Association.
- Abbreviation for profession and occupation. Examples: MP = Member of Parliament; PM = Prime Minister; GM = General Manager; PA = Personal Assistant.
- Abbreviation for familiar things. Examples: UFO = Unidentified Flying Object; DJI = Dow Jones Index; AIDS = Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome; GMT = Greenwich Mean Time; Laser = Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation; Radar = Radio Detection and Ranging; Sonar = Sound Navigation Ranging; TOEFL = Test of English as a Foreign Language; IELTS = International English Language Testing System.
Shortening different words in newspapers serves to save more space or to reduce the length of the headlines.
Examples: grad = graduate; hosp = hospital; cig = cigarette; cell = cellular; sec = second; reps = representatives; info = information; int’l = international; deli = delicatessen; hi-fi = high fidelity; hi-tech = high technology; 3-D = three-dimensional; G-7 = Group of Seven; A-bomb = atomic bomb; V-day = victory day.
Compound words in English newspapers are usually formed by two or more than two words. By intensifying, we can make complicated constructions simpler, and save space. Examples: “Plan to help school dropouts extended” (China Daily, Feb. 5, 1998). Here, “school dropouts” refers to “students who drop out of school”. “Li emphasizes corruption fight” (China Daily, Feb. 6, 1998). Here, “corruption fight” refers to “fight against corruption”.
Informal and Small Words
Newspaper headlines are likely to use informal and small words because small words have more meanings than big words and can be used in many instances. In news English, these words are referred to as “synonyms of all work”. Examples: aim – purpose, design, object, purpose; meet – assembly, convention, fold, test; pact – compact, contract, understanding, convention; deal – negotiation, dealing, deal.
Structure Features of English Newspaper Headlines
Structure characteristics of English newspaper headlines can be divided into two facets: omission and the use of nouns to replace adjectives, phrases, and verbs.
- The omission is one of the major characteristics of English newspaper headlines. By and large, skipping can be classified into four types.
- Omission of articles Examples: “Italian Ex-Mayor Murdered” ( = “An Italian Ex-Mayor Was Murdered”) and “Tenth of British Mackerel Catch Ground into Feed” ( = “A Tenth of the British Mackerel Catch Ground into Feed”)
- Omission of conjunctions and pronouns Examples: “USA, Vietnam Resume Talks” ( = “USA and Vietnam Resume Talks”) and “Have Dollars, Will Sell” ( = “If You Have Dollars, Will Sell”)
- Omission of “be” and subsidiary verbs Examples: “Three Dead after Inhaling Gas” ( = “Three Are Dead after Inhaling Gas”), “Married Women to Get Care Allowance” ( = “Married Women Are to Get Care Allowance”), and “PNC’s Universe Positions Praised” ( = “PNC’s Universe Positions Were Praised”)
- Omission of verbs Examples: “Ballots, Not Bullets” ( = “Algerians Want Ballots, Not Bullets”) and “Pompeii Reported Seriously Damaged” ( = “Pompeii Reported to Have Been Seriously Damaged”)
Use Nouns to Replace Adjectives, Phrases, and Verbs Nouns are often used in newspaper headlines to replace different words to organize assorted constructions. So, nouns are the most alive words in intelligence headlines.
Examples: “Yugoslav Piano Player Stirring Music Universe” (“Music World” = “Musical World”), “Corruption Reports Against Police Rise” (“Corruption Reports” = “Reports on Corruptness Ailments”), “Female Axe Murderer Executed” (“Female Axe Murdered” = “A Female Murderer Who Killed With an Axe”), and “Export Growth to Crush Crisis” (“Growth” Is Used to Replace “Grow”).
Rhetorical Devices of English Newspaper Headlines
Rhetorical devices of English newspaper headlines chiefly have six sorts. They are as follows:
- Imitation Examples: “The Son Also Rises,” “To Save or Not to Save,” “The Road Not Taken,” “Do as Maoris Do,” “The Great Mall of China,” “Candidate in the Wind,” “iPod, Therefore, I Am.”
- Metaphor Examples: “A Dove Taking Wing,” “Whitewater May Drown Democrats,” “Trouble Brewing.”
- Alliteration is the repeat of initial indistinguishable consonant sounds in successive or closely associated syllables, stressed syllables.
Examples: “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility.”
“Kill or Cure? Carrots and Clubs? Lone Soldier Tiger Tied Virtual Villains”
Rhyme is the repetition of an indistinguishable stressed vowel sound followed by an indistinguishable consonant sound but preceded by different consonants. Examples:
- Masculine rhyme: Foe/toe, meet/fleet, make/brake.
- Feminine rhyme: Revival/arrival, mountain/fountain.
- Eye rhyme: Brain gain/drain, dream team, wheels and deals, bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. It’s more than a war.
Pun is a literary device that achieves accent or wit by creating an ambiguity, two distinguishable meanings suggested either by the same word or by two similar-sounding words. Examples:
- Why is the river so rich? It has two banks.
- Why are monkeys as chatty as women? Each monkey has a tail (story).
- Why is that female film star so cool? She has many fans.
- Which can run faster, heat or cold? Heat, because everyone can catch a cold.
- What is the worst weather for mice? When it rains cats and dogs.
- Why is the bride always unlucky on her wedding day? Because she can never marry the best man.
- What is mind? It doesn’t matter. What is the matter? Never mind.
Rome was not built in a day, third time lucky, the seven-year itch.
To summarize, English newspaper headlines can use different types of lexical characteristics, structural features, and rhetorical devices to create many effects. In addition to the features mentioned above, there are many other characteristics in English newspaper headlines for us to analyze. Understanding the headlines of the news is a gateway to understanding the whole news, so news headlines are an area worth exploring deeply.