Grammar and Agency in U.S. News Media Constructions of Latin American and Latino Populations

William Kakenmaster


Ethnic tensions in the United States reached a fever pitch leading up to the 2016 presidential election, particularly in relation to the rhetoric of President Donald Trump, which explicitly referred to Mexican-Americans as rapists, drug-peddlers, and criminals. How can we understand such rhetoric from the perspective of discourse analysis? Discourse analysis broadly assumes that language matters for defining the limits of acceptable behavior in society, and critical discourse theorists in particular claim that texts’ grammatical structures matter for allocating agency to either subjects of objects. Meanwhile, literature on news media coverage of Latin Americans and Latinos has encompassed a broad range of methodological perspectives, from content analysis to discourse analysis to mixed-methods approaches, although no attempt has thus far been made to understand the grammar of news media coverage of Latin Americans and Latinos. This paper analyzes the grammar of the five most widely circulated U.S. print newspapers’ coverage of Mexican-Americans during the week of Donald Trump’s campaign announcement speech in 2015. It finds that the texts portray Latinos through a process of collective subjectification, in which subject-nouns allocate agency to Latinos and Latin Americans, but their collective nature attributes the responsibility for the actions of individuals to the group as a whole. This process of collective subjectification serves to essentialize an entire group of people based on their ethnic or national backgrounds, conceiving them as monolithic and culpable for social ills.


Collective Subjectification; Critical Discourse Analysis; U.S. News Media; Donald Trump

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