Martin Schulz’s recent opinion column in the Guardian appears to be an honest account of the prevailing attitudes in Brussels towards Britain’s EU referendum result. Is there more we glean from the article’s phraseology and choice of words that might help us better understand current EU sentiment?
Word choice and the frequency with which words are used can be highly revealing. For example word clusters (the grouping and patterns of similar words), can reveal the nature of an individual’s beliefs and attitudes. Whereas word frequency often reveals the intensity of such beliefs and attitudes. To tease out further insights, we undertook a ‘word cloud’ analysis of Schulz’s column. What were the underlying themes behind the thoughts he overtly expressed? What might Schulz’s choice of words tell us about the covert attitudes towards the UK as a possible Brexit approaches?
For those unfamiliar with word clouds, the concept is relatively straightforward. The more times a word is mentioned, the larger it appears within the word cloud. Don’t be deceived by the simplicity. The power of word clouds lay in their ability to reconfigure each word as a data point and combining them in a powerful visual format. Focussing on Schultz’s column the two most frequent words were EU and UK. The relative size difference between them is telling. For example, the dominance of ‘European Union’ as the most frequently expressed term could be indicative of Shultz’s unconscious priority regarding his own agenda within the negotiations.
“AT THE NEXT LEVEL THE WORDS NEED, MUST, TIME AND LEAVE, COLLECTIVELY REINFORCE THE UNDERLYING BRUSSELS IMPERATIVE FOR GETTING THE JOB DONE QUICKLY AND UNEQUIVOCALLY”.
At the next level the words ‘need’, ‘must’, ‘time’, and ‘leave’, collectively reinforce the underlying Brussels imperative for getting the job done quickly and unequivocally. As the words become less frequent three further insights are apparent. Firstly the words focus, intention, relationship and support, point to an increasingly pragmatic and task orientated stance. Secondly, a distinct lack of emotional vocabulary indicates that the initial shock and awe of Brexit has indeed receded, replaced by a workmanlike attitude that will likely dominate discussions. Finally, the appearance of words such as turn, fresh, reset, forwards and reform demonstrate the EU’s determination to learn from Brexit, in order create a new and reformed vision for Europe.
Martin Schulz in penning his column has allowed us to dispassionately view the conscious and unconsciously held attitudes and beliefs of one of Brussels key players. Word cloud analysis might prove useful in the future to help us uncover the beliefs and insights of the Brussels team during Brexit negotiations. Once article 50 is activated we will be sitting down at a negotiation table with far fewer cards than we have been used to. We will need all the help we can get.