Having just finished my first year at university, I embarked on a week of work experience with Stratton Craig. During my week here, I have learnt an enormous amount. From the everyday (using the franking machine) to the exciting (creating the front cover word cloud for PSMG magazine), each experience has been valuable. Something that I came back to again and again was the concept of the ‘word cloud’. This is a piece I wrote using word clouds generated from two interviews with Tony Blair.
By putting the transcripts of two interviews with Tony Blair through the generator I came up with some interesting results. The cloud below represents an interview with Jeremy Paxman about the early days of the Iraq war and the second cloud was generated from a recent interview with Martin Kettle, concerning the recent publication of Blair’s memoirs.
As one would expect, this cloud contains some fairly brutal language: 'war', 'regime', 'weapons', 'aggression', 'threat', 'destruction' and 'terrorism'. It’s raw and clinical, not to mention defensive: 'effectively', 'agree', 'believe'. There’s even a small indication of frustration on the right hand side in the words ‘done’ and ‘talking’, surreptitiously sat together below a beacon of apparent ‘resolution’. Surprisingly, ‘inspectors’ crops up more often than ‘war’, perhaps Blair was unintentionally trying to shift responsibility onto the sources of what was perceived to be false intelligence.
Blair regularly identifies people and countries: 'George' (Bush), 'Saddam Hussein', 'Iraq', 'Korea' and 'Afghanistan' to name but a few, pointing an invisible finger at the many facets of the situation he found himself in. The lack of this direct language in the latter interview with Kettle shows how Blair is now distanced from his former political situation, aside from the smaller yet undeniable presence of ‘Gordon’. The language is softer and retrospectively vague: 'end', 'support', 'reason', 'time', 'welfare', 'respect', 'reforms', 'public', and 'explain'. However, a lasting strain remains in the former prime minister’s words, perhaps a hint towards the public’s continued interest in him, and the incessant criticism which follows: 'difficult', 'argument', 'danger', 'problem', 'changes', 'completely', 'absolutely', 'never'.
What becomes clear from comparing these two images is that the insightful phrases in fact lie in the periphery of the clouds. Political language is permeated irretrievably with words such as ‘think’ and ‘people’, and so the larger words, in these clouds, don’t really tell us much about the particulars of the person or situation. Further evidence of this can be seen in the word clouds that were produced from the televised political debates during the election earlier this year, where ‘think’ was the predominant choice of word for both Nick Clegg and David Cameron. The truth therefore lies in the words that sit outside of the main bulk of political jargon. There’s still hope then, for those that can squint hard enough at the first cloud to see the ‘sorry’ that sits pitifully between ‘country’ and that ubiquitous end goal: ‘resolution’.
If you’d like to discuss work experience or internship opportunities, please email Harriette Hobbs at firstname.lastname@example.org.