Scholarly article on topic 'Integrating Corpus Linguistics in Critical Literacy Pedagogy: A Case Study of Lance Armstrong's Transformation from a Titleholder to a Fraud'

Integrating Corpus Linguistics in Critical Literacy Pedagogy: A Case Study of Lance Armstrong's Transformation from a Titleholder to a Fraud Academic research paper on "Languages and literature"

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Abstract of research paper on Languages and literature, author of scientific article — Raith Zeher Abid, Shakila Abdul Manan

Abstract The study examines the integration of corpus linguistics in critical literacy pedagogy. It stems from the Multiliteracies approach that advocates the need for technologically advanced strategies of teaching to complement the knowledge of present day tech-savvy generation of students. Backed by the various theoretical breakthroughs that have been established by critical linguistics and critical discourse analysis, critical literacy pedagogy has gained substantial momentum in recent decades. To demonstrate how corpus linguistics, which typically employs substantial data, can be used in a critical literacy classroom, the representation of Lance Armstrong in media discourse before and after his admission of doping is examined. The analysis of the corpora demonstrates how the computer-based methods of corpus linguistics can be used to conduct a systematic analysis of the different linguistic features that are fundamental in divulging ideology in discourse.

Academic research paper on topic "Integrating Corpus Linguistics in Critical Literacy Pedagogy: A Case Study of Lance Armstrong's Transformation from a Titleholder to a Fraud"


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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 208 (2015) 128 - 137

3rd International Conference on Linguistics, Literature and Culture (ICLLIC 2014)

Integrating corpus linguistics in critical literacy pedagogy: A case study of Lance Armstrong's transformation from a titleholder to a

Raith Zeher Abida*, Shakila Abdul Mananb

aSchool of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Pulau Penang 11800, Malaysia bSchool of Humanities, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Pulau Penang 11800, Malaysia


The study examines the integration of corpus linguistics in critical literacy pedagogy. It stems from the Multiliteracies approach that advocates the need for technologically advanced strategies of teaching to complement the knowledge of present day tech-savvy generation of students. Backed by the various theoretical breakthroughs that have been established by critical linguistics and critical discourse analysis, critical literacy pedagogy has gained substantial momentum in recent decades. To demonstrate how corpus linguistics, which typically employs substantial data, can be used in a critical literacy classroom, the representation of Lance Armstrong in media discourse before and after his admission of doping is examined. The analysis of the corpora demonstrates how the computer-based methods of corpus linguistics can be used to conduct a systematic analysis of the different linguistic features that are fundamental in divulging ideology in discourse.

© 2015 The Authors.PublishedbyElsevierLtd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/).

Peer-review under responsibility of The English Language Studies Section School of Humanities Universiti Sains Malaysia Keywords: Critical Literacy; Corpus Linguistics; Lance Armstrong; Multiliteracies Main text


Throughout the decades, the conception of literacy has been revolutionized from being essentially confined to reading and writing (Baguley et al, 2010) to a term that denotes digital literacy, visual literacy, information literacy,

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1877-0428 © 2015 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Peer-review under responsibility of The English Language Studies Section School of Humanities Universiti Sains Malaysia doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2015.11.189

critical literacy, media literacy, and so on. Thus, literacy is perceived today in its plural form as literacies to reflect the "diverse repertoires of knowledge and language learning" needed in today's educational contexts (Kaur and Sid hu, 2007, p.115). learning" needed in today's educational contexts (Kaur and Sid hu, 2007, p. 115). The current technological advances and the continuous interconnectedness of diverse cultures, that the world experienced and still experiencing, transformed the basic conception of teaching. This is evidently observed in today's globalized classrooms whereby "teachers and learners are challenged to confront existing realities of cultural and linguistic diversity with the rapid development of technology" (Kaur and Sidhu, 2007, p.113).

One of the fundamental literacies that emerged as indispensible in the pedagogy of today's classrooms is critical literacy. However, critical literacy, according to Kaur (2013), is relatively difficult to acquire by students because it embraces different context-based and multifaceted perspectives. Consequently, this study examines the incorporation of corpus linguistics, a computer-based method of analysing discourse, in the teaching of critical literacy to ease the integration of its major principles in the students' frame of thought. The media's reaction to Lance Armstrong's confession of doping is used in this study to examine how corpus linguistics can be used to systematically analyse discourse to reveal the ideology of the discourse makers.

2. Critical literacy

Although the conception of critical literacy has been defined diversely in literature, it is unanimously established that critical literacy is fundamental to create awareness among students regarding the diverse linguistic strategies that discourse makers utilise to control readers by manipulating their frame of thoughts. Critical literacy, Shor (1999, p.1) indicated, is crucial to be part of the teaching pedagogy as it "connects the political and the personal, the public and the private, the global and the local, the economic and the pedagogical, for rethinking our lives and for promoting justice in place of inequity". Hence, it is vital for students to have the capacity to deconstruct texts. This, in turn, will make them conscious of the selections that writers make because every selection "foregrounds what was selected and hides, silences or backgrounds what was not selected" (Janks, 2000, p.176). The importance of critical literacy is especially highlighted in today's context because text retrieval is not only limited to conventional mass media, but it also comprises the internet and its diverse manifestations that include blogs, YouTube channels, and so on. Therefore, students must be able to critically process discourse because failure to do so can result in them being "marginalised, discriminated against, or unable to take an active and informed place in life. In short, the student will not be in control of his or her social future" (Anstey and Bull, 2006, p. 37).

An interconnected framework to critical literacy is critical discourse analysis (CDA). CDA is commonly combined with critical literacy to facilitate language awareness among learners via providing them with the fundamental tools for the critical analysis of texts (Pennycook, 2008). This interrelation is resulted from the connected objectives of both frameworks whereby, similar to critical literacy, which addresses "social, economic and cultural injustice and inequality" in language (Luke and Dooley, 2011, p.856), CDA is perceived as the analysis of "opaque as well as transparent structural relationships of dominance, discrimination, power and control as manifested in language" (Wodak, 2001, p.2). There are three concepts that learners must acquire to be able to critically analyse a text, these concepts are discourse, ideology, and power. Discourse is interrelated to language because language is an immaterial set of patterns and regulations that function together on different levels of the system (e.g. syntactic, semantic, phonological, pragmatic levels). Discourse, however, is the materialization of these patterns in a real life language use. Consequently, discourse functions "above the level of grammar and semantics to capture what happens when these language forms are played out in different social, political and cultural arenas" (Simpson and Mayr, 2009, p.5). Ideology is an abstract set of a person's views and perceptions that are modelled by certain institutions or group members in society in which the person lives, and these dogmas are manifested to dominate and control the person's frame of thought. To Van Dijk (2009), Ideology has the capacity to control and organize the societal depiction of social groups and their members which is typically manifested in discourse. Power denotes the notion that in any social context, powerful social groups exercise their dominance and control on the less powerful members. Power is intertwined with language because language manifests power, conveys power, and also is used to defy power. Powerful discourse is able to reshape the way a public defines a phenomenon, or the way they comprehend society through their beliefs, understandings, and opinions (Weiss and Wodak, 2003). Generally, discourse functions as a fundamental vessel that discourse makers use to transmit power and ideology. According to

Wetzel et al. (2013), the use of CDA in the pedagogy of critical literacy can assist students to better comprehend the manner language operates in the different genres of discourse. Consequently, this research will implement two commonly used linguistic tools in CDA research, which are transitivity and pseudo titles.

3. Corpus linguistics

The field of corpus linguistics existed for virtually a century. It was initially used by lexicographers who used small slips of papers to record the way a word is used in real life language (MacEnery and Wilson, 2001). Corpus linguistics, in the recent decades, was revolutionized by the creation of computers that allowed researchers to create and navigate a substantial corpus with ease. Corpora in their initial stages were restricted to only few thousand words. This, however, is altered as today's corpora can range from millions to hundreds of millions as in the case of the corpus of contemporary American English (COCA) (Davies, 2008) which consists of 450+ million words. This study implemented two major tools from corpus linguistics, which are concordance and collocation. Concordance is a computer-based method that displays "every instance of a specified word or other search term in a corpus, together with a given amount of preceding and following context for each result or 'hit'" (McEnery and Hardie, 2012, p.241). Collocation is defined as a "co-occurrence relationship between two words" whereby "words are said to collocate with one another if one is more likely to occur in the presence of the other than elsewhere" (McEnery and Hardie, 2012, p.240).

3.1. Integrating corpus linguistics in class Syllabus

The importance of integrating the technologically-advanced methods of corpus linguistics in the syllabus is presented when diverse corpora are used to formulate teaching materials that can facilitate the creation of new approaches to "syllabus design and to methodology" (Hunston, 2002, p.137). The use of such technology in classroom is in line with the Multiliteracies approach which aims at implementing contemporary technologies and their different manifestations in classroom pedagogy. This pedagogical practice provides learners the motivation to learn through the various creative activities because today's learners are more interested to learn in a classroom that is oriented to employ technology in its teaching (Kaur and Sidhu, 2007). This phenomenon is evidently interrelated to today's tech savvy students who are constantly engaged, inside and outside the school, with technology via their mobile phones, IPods, portable tablets.. .etc.

According to Chen (2004), the integration of corpus linguistics in class syllabus is beneficial as it "provides high speed searching tool" because of its capacity to analyse substantial corpora in short periods of time, "provides better quality of language samples" as corpora are typically structured from real life language use rather than artificial instances, and "encourages active and student-center learning" since corpus analysis requires the students to be active participants in comprehending and inferring information. This is substantiated by Carter and McCarthy (1995: p.155) who emphasized that learning using corpora no longer becomes a 'presentation-practice-production' activity rather it transforms it to 'illustration-interaction-induction' activity whereby

illustration stands for looking at real data-which may be the only option since grammar books and current materials so often fall short; interaction stands for discussion, sharing of opinions and observations; and inductions stands for making one's own, or the learning group's, rule for particular feature, a rule which will be refined and honed as more and more data is encountered.

4. Methodology

To demonstrate how corpus linguistics can be used in critical literacy pedagogy, the researchers examined the representation of Lance Armstrong in Western media discourse before and after his admission of doping.

4.1. Data

The data of the study was retrieved from the online news websites of the Guardian, Huffington post, AOL, USA today, and Telegraph. The search term 'Lance Armstrong' was used to retrieve all the articles related to it from 1-January- 2013 to 9-February-2013. These particular dates were chosen by the researchers to represent the period that marks Lance Armstrong's admission of drug use and the public reaction to such confession. The created corpus consisted of 115714 words. To analyse the way Lance Armstrong was depicted before his admission of doping, COCA was used. COCA is a monitor corpus (constantly growing and evolving) that consists of 450 million words from different genres of discourse, including newspaper and magazine, from 1990 to 2012+.

4.2. Corpora analysis

Concordance and collocation were used to analyse the formulated corpus of this research. Concordance was used to examine the preceding and receding words to the search term. Furthermore, the overall picture of the dominant discourse surrounding the subject can also be revealed via concordance. Next, collocation was used to observe pseudo titles that are associated with the research's search term 'Lance Armstrong'. A 3 -word window to the left of the search terms was used to retrieve the relevant data. Anthony's (2011) AntConc (version 3.2.4w), a free software, was utilised to carry out the analyses this study's corpus.

5. Analysing data using corpus linguistics methods in a critical literacy class

To integrate corpus linguistics in a critical literacy class, the instructor can apply the subsequent activities to guide his/her lesson:

I. Before analysing the concordance and collocation lists:

• Provide a context in which certain discourses, for instance political and media discourse, represent as well as misrepresent certain social actors in society.

• Provide a background to the subject that will be examined in the class. II. During the analysis of the concordance and collocation lists:

• Guide the students attention to certain aspects in the lists to aid them formulate their deductions. III. After analysing the concordance and collocation lists:

• Divide the students into groups and allow them to discuss and present the results they have reached in the class.

• Encourage the students to provide examples to substantiate their deductions.

• Entice student participation by asking questions about the matter at hand, as in:

a. How the social actor(s) or entity(s) is represented in discourse?

b. What is the intention of such representation?

c. Who benefits from such representation?

• If the lists are retrieved from two contrasting corpora, ask the students to explain how each corpus represents the same social actor(s) or entity(s).

5.1. Example

To demonstrate how the above class activities can be applied in classroom setting, the researchers implemented media discourse to examine the manner in which Lance Armstrong is depicted before and after his confession of doping. In this example, the researchers focused on transitivity and pseudo titles.

I. Before analysing the concordance and collocation lists:

In this part of the lesson, the instructor can ask the students about Lance Armstrong, as in "who is Lance Armstrong?" and "what is his profession?" Furthermore, the instructor can also allow the student to use information websites, as in Wikipedia, so that they can acquaint themselves with the social actor as well as develop the necessary background knowledge that will aid them in the analysis.

II. During the analysis of the concordance and collocation lists:

In examining transitivity as well as pseudo titles, the instructor can either provide the concordance and collocation lists that surround the search term 'Lance Armstrong' to the students or allow the students to perform the corpus analysis themselves so that they can produce their concordance and collocation lists. The former diminishes the integration of technology in the classroom context because the lists are provided to the students. However, since all the students will have the same set of lists, consistency will be achieved. The latter is effective because it allows students to use computers to analyse the provided data and produce their concordance and collocation lists. However, the level of consistency will be affected as the students will produce inconsistent lists that need to be unified. It is crucial to note that both techniques are effective in different contexts.

At this stage of the lesson, the instructor can help the students in making their deductions. However, it is fundamental for the instructor to encourage the students to provide their own descriptions.

III. After analysing the concordance and collocation lists:

The students are allowed to form groups to discuss their deductions with regards to the set of concordances and collocations. The instructor, at this stage, should also encourage the students to use examples of the different transitivity and pseudo titles as a way to substantiate their interpretations.

In this stage, it is also crucial for the instructor to hone the students' explanations for the various transitivity processes as well as pseudo titles. Hence, the instructor can guide the students to realise that, for instance, the material processes that were used to depict Lance Armstrong before his admission represent him positively, as in:

• Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France in July

• Lance Armstrong opens a bike shop

• Lance Armstrong has put a famous face on the fight against cancer

• Lance Armstrong won the 83-hour-long Tour de France by 61 seconds

• Lance Armstrong entered his first distance running race at the age of 10

• Lance Armstrong sealed his record-breaking sixth tour de France victory

• Lance Armstrong created a buzz in the pedaling community

• Lance Armstrong survived advanced testicular cancer

• Lance Armstrong won four Tours de France

• Lance Armstrong has worked closely over the past 6 years with Michele Ferrari

• Lance Armstrong kicking butt on the Tour

• Lance Armstrong led the peloton inexorably toward Paris

• Lance Armstrong win the world championships

• Lance Armstrong helped thrust Austin onto the radar screen of great cycling cities

• Lance Armstrong was winning the world road championship

• Lance Armstrong is going to put his pedal to the mettle.

• Lance Armstrong took the overall leader's yellow jersey for the first time

• Lance Armstrong pedal his way into the history books,

• Lance Armstrong will be trying to tie the record for five consecutive Tour victories

• Lance Armstrong was fighting for his life

Hence, the discourse of the media concurrently allocates Lance Armstrong in material processes whereby the agent is capable of a quantum of change in the physical world via some input of energy. Moreover, the categories of verbs that were typically associated with lance Armstrong before his admission portrays a prevailing figure with the

aptitude to win any competition, survive any conundrum, create a buzz, lead to victory, seal his record of victories, pedal his way into history, and most importantly to kick butt at any challenge thrown at him.

There are only 2 instances in COCA where Lance Armstrong is presented with mental processes. In both these instances, Lance Armstrong is depicted as a dominant social actor who wants to win and with the authority to decide whether to participate in the next race or not. These instances are:

• Lance Armstrong wants to win a seventh-straight tour de France so badly

• Lance Armstrong will decide in April whether to ride in this year's Tour de France

The relational processes represent Lance Armstrong from the point of view of the media as an astounding social actor. The relational processes identify Lance Armstrong as 'the most tested athlete' which eliminates any suspicion of doping and of his extraordinary power. Moreover, he is attributed to be in an epitome physical shape. The

following table represents instances of relational processes used before Lance Armstrong's confession:

• Lance Armstrong became the first person to push a ski bike

• Lance Armstrong is an extraordinary physical specimen

• Lance Armstrong had a lot on the line at last April's Liege-Bastogne-Liege race

• Lance Armstrong has a chance to pedal into cycling's most elite circle

• Lance Armstrong became the second-youngest world road champion ever

• Lance Armstrong is the most tested athlete in the history of sports

• Lance Armstrong is a part-owner of the Discovery Channel team

• Lance Armstrong was male athlete of the month

In COCA, verbal processes have never been used to depict Lance Armstrong before his admission of doping.

The instructor can also inform the students about the affected position of social actors whereby the action is done to the social actor by another entity. Even in the affected position, before his admission, Lance Armstrong still maintains his revered status of greatness in the eyes of the media, as in the following examples:

• I'll never forget watching Lance Armstrong

• One of Agassi's heroes is Lance Armstrong, the Texas cyclist and cancer survivor

• I'd be witnessing Lance Armstrong pedal his way into the history books

In examining the collocation list, the instructor can guide the students to make their deductions regarding the pseudo titles that were used before and after Lance Armstrong's confession. The pseudo titles that were implemented before his admission represent him as a winner, champion, survivor, legend, etc. This is all in line with the image of a hero that Lance Armstrong was perceived to be because he is not only a titleholder and a celebrated figure but also a celebrated survivor of testicular cancer. For instance:

• Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong

• Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong

• Tour de France legend Lance Armstrong

• Cancer survivor Lance Armstrong

• Bicycling legend Lance Armstrong

• Top U.S. rider Lance Armstrong

In examining the representation of Lance Armstrong after his confession, the students can compare and contrast as well as make focused analysis on the differences of each transitivity structure and pseudo title in both corpora. For instance, the material processes that are used in the corpus after Lance Armstrong's admission portrays a social actor who is endowed with the capacity of wrong doing, for instance:

Lance Armstrong began the process of trying to make amends to those Lance Armstrong can shell out some of the $125 million Lance Armstrong cheated in a sport that very few people in this country Lance Armstrong has backpedaled in a confessional interview with Oprah Lance Armstrong has been named the "most disliked" athlete Lance Armstrong has tarred every cyclist

Lance Armstrong offered to re-pay the U.S. government $5 million Lance Armstrong sealed his fate as an international symbol of lying Lance Armstrong similarly sat atop the world of cycling Lance Armstrong sued The Sunday Times Lance Armstrong was waving the U.S. flag Lance Armstrong will not be paying back the millions he collected Lance Armstrong will not face criminal charges from US prosecutors Lance Armstrong is disgraced The above examples represent Lance Armstrong to be one of the most hated athletes who cheated, doped, backpedalled, tarred, and sealed his position as a symbol of deceit. Moreover, the media is endeavouring to instil the notion that Lance Armstrong was an active force in descending himself via negatively depicting him as a tainted individual.

Stark differences, in terms of frequency and themes, between the two corpora can also be noticed in the mental processes whereby Lance Armstrong is depicted as a social actor who is planning to admit his wrong doing and also a social actor who is endeavouring to alter his image as a disgrace to the sport of cycling. Such as:

Lance Armstrong does not intend to repay a Texas company

Lance Armstrong might be regretting that interview with Oprah

Lance Armstrong plans to make an admission about doping

Lance Armstrong seeking restitution of $11.7 million in bonus money

Lance Armstrong wants to assist in the effort to clean up the sport of cycling

Lance Armstrong wants you to forgive his doping

The relational processes also portray the significant difference between the two corpora as now the media is defining the character of Lance Armstrong to the reader in a negative manner. Consider the following examples:

Lance Armstrong is a liar, a cheat, a doper, a flawed character Lance Armstrong is a liar, or at least was a liar Lance Armstrong is a sad example of what sports has become today Lance Armstrong is in crisis Lance Armstrong is not a writer

Lance Armstrong is not a high priority for the new leaders of the Senate Lance Armstrong is on a contrition tour

Lance Armstrong is reportedly now under federal criminal investigation Lance Armstrong is the subject of an active criminal investigation Lance Armstrong is the target of a class action lawsuit Lance Armstrong was a systematic doper

Lance Armstrong doesn't have any plans to repay as much as $12 million

Lance Armstrong is now deemed a liar, a systematic doper, a flawed, and so on. Moreover, he is considered a sad example of the sport of cycling, thus, not only did he devastate his image as a hero, but also impaired the sport of cycling as a whole.

Unlike the news before his admission, verbal processes are implemented concurrently in the news articles, which signify his act of confession. The verbal processes that are used to depict Lance Armstrong's admission vividly expound the media's stand toward his declaration of doping as it is one of the frequently used processes in media discourse after his confession. Consider the following examples:

Lance Armstrong admits to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing Lance Armstrong Admits to Doping In an interview with Lance Armstrong admits using performance-enhancing drugs Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah that he is a cheat, a liar and even a bully Lance Armstrong admitted to doping during his professional cycling career Lance Armstrong also rightly said that cycling is a completely different Lance Armstrong confessed to using all sorts of performance enhancing substance Lance Armstrong confessed to doping charges in his Monday night Lance Armstrong has admitted using banned substances Lance Armstrong has confessed to doping Lance Armstrong lied to SCA in shocking fashion Lance Armstrong now denies all charges of intimidation Lance Armstrong admits doping to win cycling titles Lance Armstrong admits: I viewed this situation as one big lie.

The positive stance of media towards Lance Armstrong in the affected position is harshly altered as the instances of being allocated in the affected/beneficiary position is increased because Lance Armstrong is now condemned, investigated and sued by various organizations, from the Department of Justice to insurance companies. Consider the following examples:

• The Serb was more passionate about ripping former cycling champ Lance Armstrong

• A Dallas-based sports insurer says it will sue disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong

• A team of legal experts are considering mounting a legal case against Lance Armstrong

The pseudo titles after Lance Armstrong's admission reveal a social actor that is disgracefully perceived by the discourse of the media. This is depicted in the negatively oriented pseudo titles that are part and parcel of Lance Armstrong's character in media discourse after his confession, such as a liar, doper and disgraced cyclist. This phenomenon is represented in the following examples:

• Disgraced U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong

• Admitted doper Lance Armstrong

• disgraced liar Lance Armstrong

• former cycling champ Lance Armstrong

The questions that could be asked by the instructor to encourage active participation of the students in the class include, for instance:

> How do the material processes before Lance Armstrong's admission represent him?

> Why verbal processes are used only after Lance Armstrong's admission of doping?

> How do the pseudo titles represent Lance Armstrong before and after his admission?

6. Conclusion

Critical literacy is fundamental to encourage learners of all levels to be critical thinkers. Although critical literacy is challenging for the students to acquire, the researchers believe that with the implementation of corpus linguistics in the critical literacy class, students will be motivated to learn in a technologically-innovative setting. Furthermore, with use of specific linguistic features in discourse, corpus linguistic can provide a systematic analysis

that learners can use to critically examine a predetermined phenomenon or a social actor. This systematicity, the researchers believe, can be achieved in any critical literacy class as long as instructors consider the previously stated class plan as well as the following general points:

• Choose an interesting subject.

• Provide the students the corpora needed to examine the topic, or you can implement an already constructed corpus that can be accessed online for free, for instance, COCA.

• The students should be allowed to get acquainted with the various corpus linguistics tools because once "learners become familiarised with corpora, they tend to find corpus work and corpus-based.activities both interesting and beneficial" (Mukherjee, 2006, p.21).

• Focus the analysis on certain linguistic features, such as prenominal adjectives, transitivity, aggregation, passive agent deletion, and so on.

• Allow the students to discuss their findings in a collaborative group work activities. This is because learning "does not only occur as a result of the instructor-student interaction, but rather through the collaboration of all individuals involved in the learning process" (Khosrowpour, 2007, p.626).

• Encourage the students to express their opinions and attitudes based on their findings.

It is fundamental to note that these points should not be perceived inflexible, but rather teachers/lecturers can use these points adaptably based on their own pedagogical objectives that they are endeavouring to accomplish in class.


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