Perceptions of Palestine: The View from Large Linguistic Datasets

Cultural norms and trends are often reflected in patterns of language use. This article explores cultural perceptions of Palestine and Palestinians in the Englishspeaking world, through two analyses of large linguistic datasets. The first analysis seeks to uncover current conceptions of participants in the Israel-Palestine conflict, by identifying words that are distinctively associated with those participants in modern English usage. The second analysis asks what historical-cultural changes led to these current conceptions. A general theme that emerges from these analyses is that a cultural shift appears to have occurred recently in the English-speaking world, marked by greater awareness of Palestinian perspectives on the conflict. Possible causes for such a cultural shift are also explored.


Terry Regier is a professor of linguistics and cognitive science at the University of California, Berkeley. The ideas in this article were first presented in December 2013 at the Disputed Words: Palestine, Language and Political Discourse conference, organized by the Institute for Palestine Studies and the American University of Beirut. The author wishes to thank the organizers, participants, and audience of that workshop for their helpful feedback.

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