Frequency and specificity of referents to violence in news reports of anti-gay attacks

Nancy M. Henley, Michelle D. Miller, Jo Anne Beazley, Diane N. Nguyen, Dana Kaminsky, Robert Sanders

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Two studies were conducted to test the hypotheses that: (1) news reports of anti-gay attacks would use fewer and vaguer referents to the violence than similar stories about attacks against straight persons; and (2) this milder use of referents would cause readers to perceive less harm done and to blame the perpetrator less. A content analysis of two newspapers found that one used far fewer, less specific nominals to refer to anti-gay than to anti-straight violence, whereas the other, based in a more gay-friendly community, did not differentiate significantly by sexual orientation. An experimental study in which frequency and specificity of referents were systematically varied in mock newspaper stories found that greater referent frequency, but not specificity, caused readers to perceive greater harm to victims. The results are interpreted in terms of cognitive processing and within the context of the use of linguistic variation to encode and enforce power differences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-104
Number of pages30
JournalDiscourse and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2002


  • Anaphor
  • Discourse
  • Homophobia
  • Mass media
  • Nominalization
  • Reference
  • Sexual orientation
  • Violence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language


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