Changes in the portrayal of bullying language. A discourse analysis of two young adult novels

Seminar Paper, 2021

26 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Language of bullying
2.1. Definition
2.2. Forms of bullying
2.3. Characteristics of bullying
2.4. Roles
2.5. Language use

3. Methodology
3.1. Data collection procedure
3.2. Data analysis

4. Research findings
4.1. “Blubber” by Judy Blume (1974)
4.1.1. Sample passages
4.1.2. Discourse analysis of social actors
4.1.3. Analysis of bullying language
4.1.4. Bullying methods
4.2. “Friend me” by Sheila M. Averbuch (2020)
4.2.1. Sample passages
4.2.2. Discourse analysis of social actors
4.2.3. Analysis of bullying language
4.2.4. Methods of bullying

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography
6.1. Primary Literature
6.2. Secondary Literature

1. Introduction

Bullying, also known as peer victimization, is a big problem for young people and happens both physically and online. (cf. Xu et al., 2012, p. 656) A study carried out in 2018 (cf. Bundesministerium fur Soziales, Gesundheit, Pflege und Konsumen- tenschutz (BMSGPK), 2020, pp. 4-6) revealed that there are many victims of bullying in Austrian schools, especially at the age of thirteen years. Students who are finan­cially disadvantaged are more likely to be bullied by their peers, and students with a migration background are more likely to participate in (cyber-)bullying. A problem with bullying is that it contributes negatively to adolescents' physical health. Therefore, this topic should be covered in school to sensitize the students. One way to raise awareness for this issue is to read young adult novels in class in order to deal with peer victimization.

This seminar paper wants to investigate how the portrayal of bullying language and methods has changed over the last 46 years, because it is a fact that words have the power to hurt somebody deeply. (cf. Harmon & Wilson, 2006, p. 33) For this purpose, two fictional young adult novels, “Blubber” by Judy Blume (1974), and “Friend me” by Sheila M. Averbuch (2020), were chosen.

The paper starts with an investigation into the language of bullying, taking into ac­count a definition, different forms, and characteristics of bullying, the roles of the par­ticipants, and typical linguistic use of words and phrases. Afterwards, the methodolo­gy will be explained, accompanied by the data collection procedure and the data analysis, before the research findings will be explained. This starts with a brief intro­duction for each of the two books, a collection of sample passages, and this will then be concluded with a discourse analysis of the social actors, the analysis of bullying language, and the methods, which are used for peer victimization. Having analyzed each young adult novel in these three steps, there will be a with the aim of giving an answer to the research questions, taking into account the portrayal of bullying lan­guage and methods, how they have changed over the last 46 years. To round up the discussion, some suggestions will be given to teachers and educators, who want to deal with the serious topic of bullying and sensitize their pupils by using such fictional books.

2. Language of bullying

Due to the fact that bullying, in other words peer victimization, is one focus of this paper, a brief description of this topic shall be given. The act of bullying is a negative action that is connected with manipulative and aggressive performances. (cf. Putri & Satvikadewi, 2017, p. 1) Since technology develops rapidly, bullying is also an online issue. In this chapter, a definition will be given, before moving on to different forms and methods that characterize bullying. Afterwards, different roles are explained, be­fore moving on to typical discourse patterns of bullying language.

2.1. Definition

A well-known definition of “bullying” is provided by Dan Olweus who states that bully­ing is an aggressive behaviour and carried out intentionally. It is acted out repeatedly and over a longer period of time. The relationship between people is interpersonal and characterized by an imbalance of power. (cf. Olweus, 2002, p. 22) The offender wants to harm another one, and this intention is followed by pride and satisfaction since the victim feels discomfort. Bullying can be found in various contexts, and it is directed against weaker individuals or groups, as bullying is physical, psychological, moral, political and bureaucratic abuse. (cf. Stavridi, 2020, p. 3)

2.2. Forms of bullying

Experts distinguish between different forms of bullying. Face-to-face physical bully­ing, verbal bullying and relational bullying are the most common types of it. (cf. Arch­er & Coyne, 2005, p. 217) Due to the fact that technology has been developing steadily, bullying also became an online issue. (cf. Putri & Satvikadewi, 2017, p. 1) Besides verbal and traditional bullying, which take place offline, cyberbullying is like an extension of traditional bullying, because the offenders can be anonymous and unrelated to the victims. (cf. Williams & Pearson, 2016, p. 10) Cyberbullying takes place on the internet and is characterized by verbal forms of harassment. (cf. Xu et al., 2012, p. 657) Social media channels are attractive for people since they can con­nect and interact with other people around the world. However, social media and the internet do not feature only positive attributes, as people might encounter insults, humiliation, hate, and bullying threats. (cf. Rezvan et al., 2020, p. 1)

2.3. Characteristics of bullying

Characteristically, verbal and nonverbal language is used in a bullying process. Har­assing language, which is typical for bullying, has different variants. Hate speech, abusive language, offensive language, aggressive language, and harassing (cyber­bullying) language can be found. However, they are not easy to define, since they are subjective and overlapping in most cases. (cf. Rezvan et al., 2020, p. 2)

Moreover, different types of harassment have to be distinguished, when it comes to bullying, since the victims are often threatened because of perceived differences (cf. Xu et al., 2012, p. 657) and an imbalance of power. Firstly, sexual harassment, usu­ally concerning women, can be defined. Secondly, racial harassment, which is aimed against race and ethnicity characteristics, contributes to bullying. Other types like ap­pearance-related harassment, intellectual harassment, and political harassment, are commonly used by offenders. (cf. Rezvan et al., 2020, pp. 2-3)

Harmon (2006, p. 87) defines many other discourse modes, which are often used for bullying acts. These include in-group talking negatively behind someone's back, si­lencing and exclusion of the target, gossip and lies, friends in private and no friends in public, and secrets. Additionally, there are some forms where there is no need for offenders to face the victim, and these are often found in cyberbullying. Amongst them are anonymous notes that are often shown publicly, e-mails and instant mes­saging, and phone calls. Denigration, where fake information is spread, flaming, where extreme language is used to start a fight, stealing someone's identity, and sending explicit pictures are other forms of cyberbullying. (cf. Williams & Pearson, 2016, p. 10)

2.4. Roles

The roles of participants in bullying are well-defined. (cf. Xu et al., 2012, p. 657) Vic­tims are often found among ethnic minorities, homosexual people, religious groups, females, the poor, and disabled people. These targeted people are often seen as “others” by their offenders. (cf. Harmon & Wilson, 2006, p. 68) However, there are not only offenders, who intentionally hurt their victim, but also other roles. Salmivalli (1999, pp. 453-455) states that roles include a bully (or more bullies), victims, by­standers, assistants to the bully, defenders, and reinforcers. Bystanders saw the bul­lying, but did not do anything to stop the process, and reinforcers encouraged the bullying process. While defenders support the victims, assistants to the bully do not initiate but go along with the bully. Other roles include sympathizers, who do not act out their hate directly, but indirectly by using slurs, symbols, or code words. Specta­tors could be a synonym for “bystanders”, because they do not speak out against hate language, but they listen passively and are silent. (cf. Harmon & Wilson, 2006, pp. 71-72)

2.5. Language use

Words have the power to be constructive or to be destructive, (cf. Harmon & Wilson, 2006, p. 34) while the latter is the case for peer victimization. The language of bully­ing makes use of different techniques to intensify the meaning. Parma et al. (2016, pp. 699-700) came up with different forms that appear in verbal contexts. Character attacks, competence attacks, malediction, physical appearance, insults, teasing, threats and mockery are among them. Verbal abuse like false accusations, criticism and judgements about other people, as well as name-calling by using denigrating and abusive names, are also characteristic of the language of bullying. Negative comments, nicknames and irony are also popular amongst bullies. (cf. Stavridi, 2020, pp. 3-4) Especially naming, like the misspelling or mispronunciation, and making fun of someone's name, is common, and can hurt deeply. (cf. Harmon & Wilson, 2006, pp. 45-46) The same is the case with labelling, since it reduces and dehumanizes the individual, and gives the offender power over the victim. (cf. Harmon & Wilson, 2006, p. 47)

Moreover, different types of so-called “noise using techniques” can be found in the context of bullying, especially in cyberbullying. These include word variations (e.g., Goodn8), multi-word abbreviations (e.g., ROFL), word capitalization (e.g., YOU for emphasis), word emission, and slangs (e.g., wanna instead of wanting to). (cf. Parma et al., 2014, pp. 4-5)

Furthermore, fifteen linguistically distinct groups can be defined, which build catego­ries in bad language, and that are often part of bullying practices. They include pre­dicative negative adjectives, adverbial boosters, cursing expletives, destinational us­age, emphatic adverbs or adjectives, the figurative extension of literal meanings, general expletives, idiomatic set phrases, literal usage denoting taboo referents, im­agery based on literal meanings, premodifying intensifying negative adjectives, pro­nominal forms with undefined referents, a personal insult referring to defined entities, reclaimed usages with no negative intents, and religious oaths used for emphasis. (cf. McEnery, 2006, p. 27)


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Changes in the portrayal of bullying language. A discourse analysis of two young adult novels
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Christina Binter (Author), 2021, Changes in the portrayal of bullying language. A discourse analysis of two young adult novels, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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