A word frequency check run on about a hundred and ninety thousand words in more than 300 editorials and more than 20 essays published in New Age in 2018 brings up ‘government’, ‘people’, ‘election’, ‘Bangladesh’, ‘law’, ‘student’, ‘commission’, ‘reported’, ‘situation’ and ‘political’ as the 10 most frequent words, which speak of what happened in the year and how New Age thought about them.
THE definite article ‘the’ — which makes almost a half of the hardest part of the English grammar, the almost other half being indefinite article ‘a’ or ‘an’ — is the most frequent word in English. But for mostly the words such as articles, prepositions and conjunctions that frequently appear in text but do not count as components of lexical density, the word ‘government’ has appeared atop a list of about 10,000 unique word forms in a frequency check that I have run on all that I wrote, about a hundred and ninety thousand words in 303 editorials and 22 opinion pieces and essays, that got in print in New Age in 2018.
The word ‘government’, which also came up as the most frequent in a frequency run on my one hundred and sixty thousand words that got in print in 2017, suggests that I have, or New Age has, not deviated from the role, which every newspaper should play, of mostly being critical of the government. We have also welcomed government decisions and action with notes of caution so that nothing goes awry and largely tried to take up issues in the form of the newspaper’s voice about what the government should or should not do.
But the collocations, or other words associated with the word ‘government’, show that in a significant number of instances, both singular and plural, of a total of 1,359, ‘government agencies’ have come in conversation. Failures of ‘successive governments’ have also been talked about. In some instances, teachers of government educational institutions have come to be discussed. In a few instances, local government elections have been referred to, especially when it is an argument about the election authorities, who failed so badly that the strings of local government elections of 2016 came to be known as ‘a macabre celebration of deaths’. In a few instances, the word ‘unrepresentative’ has followed the word ‘government’, which refers to the legitimacy crisis that the government fell in after the 2014 national elections where more than a half of the members of parliament from the incumbent political party ran unopposed.
The next word that has come up to be most frequent is ‘people’, as was the case in the frequency check run on all my words of 2017. But this time, it has occurred 838 times while the count for the 2017 text was 594. It as usual proves the bias of New Age towards people. The reason the word has come up such a high number of times is perhaps because the newspaper, which stands for the people, had to talk more about them, especially in 2018 which was the election year when democratic space only continued to shrink.
Other words that have gone with the word ‘people’, fore and aft, markedly feature the cases of traffic accidents, as is evident in words such as ‘dead’ and ‘died’, and cases of extrajudicial killing, flagged by the word ‘killed’, of people suspected of trading in drug substances in a drive that began in the middle of May 2018.
In the third place is the word ‘election’, or its plural ‘elections’. 2018 being the election year, it is no exception. Its neighbouring words are mostly ‘authorities’, ‘atmosphere’, ‘campaigns’, ‘commission’ to mean the Election Commission, ‘manifesto’, ‘observation’, ‘observers’, ‘schedule’, ‘symbols’ and ‘year’. With 680 instances of the word, and that too mostly in the latter half of the year, the newspaper appears to have dedicated a significant portion of its editorial words to elections.
The word ‘Bangladesh’ came fourth in the ranking, which was the third in the 2017 count. The use of the word this time marked up by 145 times on the 2017 count of 588. And the reason for such a high number of use could be the conversation about the repatriation of the Rohingyas, who in the latest spate started entering Bangladesh in October 2017 and in about a year, the number of the refugees crossed seven hundred thousand. Editorials dealing with the repatriation issue needed to name Bangladesh quite often in opposition to Myanmar. The word ‘country’, with the articles ‘the’ and ‘a’ and the demonstrative adjective ‘this’, has come up 77 times, in all but a few cases referring to Bangladesh. The plural form ‘countries’ have appeared 66 times, mostly in discussion on labour migration, regional affairs and global surveys on various socio-economic issues.
The word ‘Bangladesh’ has also been used notably with the word ‘bank’ in 23 instances, to mean the central bank, often referring to poor governance in the banking sector which remained badly hurt throughout the year because of misappropriation and loans in default. In 60 of the cases, the word formed the name of the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which has also been referred to 97 times as the BNP, mostly in adjectival positions. The collocation further shows that Bangladesh has been named five times along with India on issues of the Rohingyas or bilateral matters.
Bangladesh has been named once along with Pakistan, in the translation of an interview that the famous Bangladeshi Urdu short-story writer Zainul Abedin, who had also been a journalist all his life, with the Karachi-based Akhbar-e-Khwateen in 1987. The interview was published in March 9, on the first death anniversary of the writer. Tanzania has also been named once alongside Bangladesh in an editorial on the efforts of the Myanmar authorities to have failingly used of photographs of Tanzania for misinformation and propaganda to deflect international pressure that was intensifying on the Rohingya issue.
In the fifth place is the word ‘law’, used 636 times. In more than 200 instances, the reference was made to the rule of law, the law enforcement agencies and law enforcers. The reference suggests that while the rule of law was at bay, the law enforcement agencies and the law enforcers were at large, in violating citizen’s democratic rights and even in committing crimes.
The point brings to the fore issues of rights violation, extrajudicial killing, enforced disappearances, and an intensified state of harassment and arrest of leaders and activists of parties and alliances in the opposition running in the electoral fray.
In the 2017 count, the fifth place was, however, that of the word ‘court’ because of the court orders that the government hardly complied with, the issue of the independence of the judiciary, the disciplinary rules for the subordinate court judges and the use of court against the opposition.
With about 550 instances, the word ‘student’, as well as its plural form, has come to be ranked sixth, This time, issues of students have come in strongly on three counts. The first two reasons were protests — one that students just off or about to complete their bachelor’s courses seeking reforms in the quota in public service recruitment and the other that students of schools and colleges seeking road safety after two of their fellows died in an accident. The word has also been used to mean student wings of ruling parties, mostly the Awami League as it has been in power, who often came to make the headlines for wrong reasons.
The next word, in the seventh position, with 471 instances, is ‘commission’. The reason for the word featuring prominently is obvious — the national elections, supervised by the Election Commission, which miserably failed to ensure a level playing field for all the contestants and had the holding of the elections mired in controversy because of what mostly happened on the polling day. The word ‘commission’ has been used before the word ‘election’ 148 times. The word’s other collocations have meant the ‘University Grants Commission’ and a yet-to-be-effected ‘banking commission’ a significant number of times.
Hedging on the bet featured prominently. The most frequent word in the eighth position is ‘reported’, having 433 instances in the year in all. In 116 cases, it was a verb in the past in a phrase referring to New Age owning up to news stories. I am certain that the phrase initially appeared in more of the editorials but was then left out to adjust to the wordage reserved for the editorial slot and in some cases, it may have been inserted to make up for the shortage. Yet, ‘reported to have’ plus the past participle of verbs as a means of hedging on the bet appeared 194 times, along with its cousins ‘alleged to have’ 5 times and ‘said to have’ 19 times. ‘Reportedly’ occurred 23 times and ‘allegedly’ 3 times, as a hedge word variant, clearly showing a personal predilection for ‘reportedly’ rather than ‘allegedly’.
The word ‘situation’, which is a count noun but has not been used in its plural form in my writing for 2018, has come in the ninth position, with 411 instances. The adjective ‘fearful’ has been used 24 times before the word ‘situation’ on the political scene. In some cases, as it appears from the co-occurrences of words, it seems to be a weasel word and in many other cases, it has mostly had an antecedent, already said in preceding sentences.
The last of the 10 most frequent words is ‘political’, with 384 instances. The prominent contextual neighbours of the word are ‘party’ or ‘parties’, ‘considerations’, ‘will’ and ‘arch-rival’. At least 168 times, it has been the adjective for party or parties. In my editorials, I mentioned ‘political will’ 16 times and ‘political considerations’ 11 times. The word has also been used 12 times to define the Bangladesh Nationalist Party as the ‘political arch-rival’ of the ruling Awami League.
My printed text for 2018 has ‘Dhaka’ mentioned most, with 285 instances, followed by Chittagong with 33 instances, including in three instances as the recently respelt Chattogram, Sylhet 27 instances, Rajshahi and Khulna both with 20 instances, Barishal with 16 instances, including once as the respelt Barishal, Rangpur with 8 instances and Mymensingh with 6 instances. The names are referred to both as cities, districts and divisions. The instances of Dhaka far outweighs the instances of six other places combined, hinting at a hypothesis that newsworthy events happen mostly in the capital and other areas are given short shrift alike by the government and ordinary people.
Time defines the meaning of words as days fly by, on a larger scale. The word ‘rival’ — etymologically ‘one who shares the same “brook”,’ which is ‘rivus’ in Latin — in Shakespeare’s time meant ‘partner’, as Bernardo tells Francisco: ‘If you do meet Horatio and Marcellus,| The rivals of my watch…’ in the opening scene of Hamlet. The word in the present-day English means ‘competitor, with the same goal as another.’ But the repeat of certain words in a certain period also defines time, the duration with all its happenings, major and minor. A little bit of text analysis brings up what happened in a year. In the text analysis of my words for 2017, the major events concerned court, Myanmar and the Rohingyas. For 2018, the text statistics has brought to the fore issues of elections, law and student, or the protests that the students held.
In the end, it is time for a standard disclaimer. New Age needs about three hundred and sixty-five thousand words to fill the editorial slot in a year. My editorials, spanning about one hundred and sixty thousand words, account for a little less than 44 per cent of the yearly wordage, other editorials being written by others on the editorial team. The analysis of words in my 2018 editorials should not, therefore, provide an absolute picture. Yet the word frequency and other words in context, or augmented context, might provide an insight into what prominently happened in 2018 and what New Age thought about them, as what the leaders profess to say is not that of the members on the editorial team but also of the editor and the newspaper.
Abu Jar M Akkas is deputy editor at New Age.
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