SOAS University of London

Centre of Taiwan Studies

Measuring and Accounting for Taiwan’s Maintenance of the Status Quo: A Linguistics Informed Discourse Analytic Research Design

Martin Boyle

Date: 7 February 2018Time: 7:00 PM

Finishes: 7 February 2018Time: 9:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: MEET 116

Type of Event: Seminar


Political statements by Taiwan’s elites maintain the cross-Strait status quo in the face of attempts by China to change it. However, their meanings are obscured by diplomatic rhetorical conventions and open to multiple (mis)interpretations. 

For linguists, discourse analysis implies analysing language in context. Social-scientific and Critical (CDA) discourse analytic approaches analyse context, but often downplay the lexico-grammar, are highly interpretive or conflate text, rhetoric and discourse. The Linguistics sub-fields of Corpus Linguistics (CL) and Pragmatics resolve this. CL permits the quantitative measurement of salient text, reducing researcher bias, while Pragmatics permits the qualitative analysis of text in context. Granted, conscious statements like ‘One China’ or ‘Taiwan’s democracy’ send important signals, but it is sub-conscious lexico-grammatical signalling that more powerfully presupposes and implies Taiwanese identity in cross-Strait elite speech because it is harder to fake. 

My research design combines CL, CDA and Pragmatics in four steps: first, I constructed a 5 million word master corpus of Taiwanese political speech (TPS) in English covering the years 1992-2016; second, I used CL to identify salient language, themes and discourses in TPS; third, I analysed selected sub-corpora quantitatively and qualitatively against the master corpus to locate, compare and interpret the discourses of particular Taiwanese interest groups; fourth, I carried out a pilot study using the 2015 Xi-Ma summit to explain and measure Ma’s discourse in the context of broader discourses of Taiwanese identity.

The pilot study finds no textual warrant for pan-Green claims that Ma sought to sell Taiwan out or that his discourse expressed a more Chinese identity than that of his predecessors. Rather, it suggests that Ma’s personal identity is irrelevant, that what was interpreted by pan-Greens as a pro- Chinese discourse was instrumental rhetoric and that Ma’s speech encodes a discourse of ROC state identity informed by and responding to a broader discourse of Taiwanese national identity to maintain the status quo. 

This presentation clarifies certain linguistic universals (what is true of English is true of Chinese), requires no specialised knowledge of Linguistics and explores a number of simple techniques and free online discourse analytic tools. The takeaway is that this approach permits the location of firm textual warrant for claims around the meaning of political actors’ statements.

Speaker Bio


With a background in Applied Linguistics and language teaching, Martin Boyle taught English in Spain, Germany, Saudi Arabia and Brazil between 1985 and 1993. He took up a two-year post with CETRA (TAITRA) in Taiwan in 1993 and it was this that sparked his interest in cross-Strait political relations. From 1995, he has designed and co-ordinated courses and taught Taiwanese and Chinese students across a range of disciplines on foundation programmes at SOAS, Kent, UCL, Imperial College and in Beijing and Qingdao. He taught international IR students on pre-sessional language and academic skills courses at SOAS from 1995 to 2007 and worked as a Portuguese and Spanish interpreter and translator in local government. In 2006, he studied Chinese at BLCU in Beijing. In 2010, he took up a visiting fellowship in Education at Peking University, set up exchanges between UK and Chinese universities and represented Kent at education fairs in China. He considered PhD research in Education, but found IR – and cross-Strait relations in particular – more interesting. He started a (very) part-time PhD at the University of Kent in 2011 and lives in London. As a mature student and the father of a four-year- old daughter, he is living his life in reverse.

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Organiser: Centre of Taiwan Studies

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