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Analysis of two texts in terms of concrete and abstract language


The importance of abstract language in constructing academic texts can be shown by the following analysis of two passages of similar length on the same topic. The first is taken from a newspaper read by uneducated people, the Daily Mirror, the second from one read by educated people, the Guardian.




The Daily Mirror (13/03/95)


The father of cancer girl Little B told last night of the heart-breaking moment when she heard about her own case on the radio.


The 10-year-old leukaemia victim did not know SHE was the unnamed youngster denied treatment by the National Health Service.




But her heart went out to the girl in the news. She told her tearful dad: “I think they should give her the operation.”


Today the Daily Mirror launches the “B” Appeal for leukaemia research – and brave Little B begins her last battle for life. She has only a slim chance.


But her father told the Mirror: “I believe she can pull through.”


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The Daily Mirror today launches The B Appeal, named after the brave ten-year-old battling against leukaemia whom Harley street consultant Dr. Peter Gravett insisted in the Mirror on Saturday could be successfully treated.


The appeal is to raise cash for research into the potentially killer disease which affects boys and girls such as Little B.



The Guardian (13/03/1005)


“Name procedures we cannot afford”


The National Health Service should decide which types of treatment cannot be afforded from public funds. Sir Douglas Black, former chief scientist at the Department of Health, says today.


Britain should follow the lead of the American state of Oregon which has declared that more than one in six medical procedures will not be available at public cost, Sir Douglas says.


His comments, in an article criticising the Government’s NHS market policies, show that argument over the case for explicit health care rationing spans the spectrum of political and medical opinion.


Ministers have resisted pressure to “do an Oregon”. They say decisions must be left to doctors at local level, as in the current case of the 10-year-old leukaemia sufferer denied further treatment by Cambridge health authority.


Sir Douglas says the rationing issue needs to be addressed because demand for health care is being driven by the ageing population, the links between high unemployment and ill-health, and the increasing scope and sophistication of available treatments.



  Mirror Guardian
Number of words 169 170
Concrete words 9 3
Nominalisations 16 36
Metaphor 6 9
Personification 6 5
Latin Roots 23 48
Greek roots 2 4



The most striking results of the comparison are:


  1. There are three times as many concrete nouns in the Mirror text as in the one from the Guardian.
  2. There are more than twice as many abstract words created by nominalisation in the text from the Guardian as in the one from the Mirror.
  3. There are more than twice as many words of Latin origin in the Guardian text as in the Mirror text.



Concrete nouns in Mirror text


father, girl, night, radio, dad, Little B, the…. ten-year-old, boys, girls


Concrete nouns in Guardian text


Sir Douglas Black, Britain, Oregon


Nominalisations in Mirror text


Abstract nouns made from verbs: moment, case, treatment, Nation(al), Health, Service, report, operation, research (2), battle, life, chance, Appeal (3)


Concrete nouns from verbs: consultant, killer

Concrete noun from adjective: youngster


Nominalisations in Guardian text


Abstract nouns from verbs: Nation(al) (2), Health (4), Service (2), types, treatment (3), funds, Department, state, procedures, cost, Government, argument, case  (2), rationing (2), spectrum, opinion, pressure, decisions, issue, demand care, population, link, unemployment, scope, sophistication


Concrete nouns from verbs:scientist, sufferer, doctors

Abstract noun from concrete noun: authority


Metaphors in Mirror text


cancer, victim, battle for life, a slim chance, she can pull through, battling


Personificationheart-breaking moment, denied treatment by the National Health service, her heart went out, The Daily Mirror launches (2), killer disease


Metaphors in Guardian text


market, spans the spectrum, resisted pressure, do an Oregon, level, current, issue, links, high (unemployment)


Personification: Britain should follow the lead, The National Health Service should decide, Oregon has declared, denied treatment by Cambridge Health Authority, being driven by the ageing population, the links between high unemployment and ill-health etc.