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7 Comments

  • It’s interesting how often words for groups of people have (or can have) negative connotations. In addition to ‘bunch’, crew, brigade, shower, even ‘lot’ spring to mind. I’m sure there are others. Maybe when we lump people together it is often in order to disparage them?

  • The reference by David Cameron to “a bunch of migrants” must be looked at in the context of the prevailing meaning of the phrase in the present social atmosphere. Migrants are seen or referred to by some as invading armies: people who come here to take advantage of all the good things this country is giving away freely without any questions asked. So when the Oxford-educated politician who has been the Prime Minister of this country for the past 6 years says “a bunch of migrants” he knows exactly what he is talking about. The phrase used is doubly negative in this context.

  • Michael: Thank you; this is a really interesting post, and illustrates how ‘lexis’ and grammar patterns are inseparable. Sense 1 of ‘bunch’ in MEDO subsumes the patterns or collocations ‘a|an adjective bunch’ and ‘a|an bunch of noun’. Yet as you say, you find negative and neutral uses of the first pattern, as well as positive: ‘a good/great/interesting bunch’ etc. The second pattern is more likely to be disparaging – ‘a bunch of control freaks’ etc. It is prosody, it is lexical priming, but what pins the distinction down is the pattern-meaning correspondence. In many cases the pattern helps to shape the meaning – if you hear about ‘a bunch of experts’, the very pattern leads you to expect that these experts are not held in great esteem by the speaker. There must be so many such subtle correspondences between lexical meaning and ‘grammar’ of which we are unaware until someone like David Cameron uses the phrase ‘a bunch of migrants’. Then we totally get it.

    Afterthought: what are the dominant meanings when the two patterns merge: ‘a|an adjective bunch of nouns’?

  • Hello, interesting post and debate, but in this case – and I have not seen or heard a clip of the comments in question – surely tone of voice and body language would also inform us hugely as to what the PM’s attitude really was.
    Does seem to be an unwise choice of words though. If not disparaging, not exactly flattering ether.

    Isn’t priming in this case simply a question of frequent use and therefore, in English at least, ‘right’ meaning/usage?

  • Paddy: I think that as always context is all; not only tone of voice and body language, as you rightly point out, but also the linguistic context. The Prime Minister included the term ‘bunch of migrants’ in a list of three which also included Argentinians (he accused the Labour leader of ‘giving them the Falklands’) and trade unions (he ‘gave them flying pickets’) and then contrasted this with a group (‘the British people and hardworking taxpayers’) who Corbyn ‘never stands up for’. I think his intent to disparage both the three groups of people and his opponent was pretty plain.

  • Compare ‘bunch of migrants’ with ‘group of migrants’. One neutral, one distinctly disparaging. Yes ‘bunch’ has unequivocally negative overtones in this distribution. Would Cameron ever refer to himself and colleagues as a ‘bunch of politicians/ministers’? Suspect not. He slipped up, simple as, unwittingly revealing his real feelings with an instinctive lexical choice. The Oxbridge PR man caught off guard. He has done it before. He will undoubtedly do it again.