LINGUIST List 19.3342|
Mon Nov 03 2008
Review: Sociolinguistics: Johnson & Ensslin (2007)
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Language in the Media
Message 1: Language in the Media
From: Francisco Yus <francisco.yusua.es>
Subject: Language in the Media
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/18/18-2574.html
EDITORS: Johnson, Sally; Ensslin, Astrid
TITLE: Language in the Media
SUBTITLE: Representations, Identities, Ideologies
Francisco Yus, Department of English Studies, University of Alicante, Spain.
This book is a collection of essays on language and the media. One might expect
chapters covering more general or broad issues concerning the language of
specific media (for example chapters on ''the language of advertising'' or
''language in the press''); instead, this book is a collection of essays dealing
with very specific language-related topics within media discourses. In such a
way, the book apparently narrows the range of readers that might be interested
in purchasing it and, at the same time, the overall preliminary effect is that
certain areas of media research will not be sufficiently covered. This is, of
course, a matter of the editors' choice, and has nothing to do with the actual
quality of the chapters included in the book, a quality which should be
underlined. In the introduction (''Language in the media: theory and practice'',
pp. 3-22) the editors point out that the contributors ''bring a wealth of
approaches to the media texts and practices they are scrutinizing, drawing
variously, for example, on conversational/text analysis, critical and multimodal
discourse analysis, corpus linguistics, pragmatics, stylistics and speech act
theory as well as historiographical and ethnographic techniques'' (p. 5). The aim
is explicitly narrow within media studies, focusing mainly on those media texts
and practices where language is itself more or less explicitly thematized (p.
7). As such, two main areas of interests in the book are stressed: (1) the
language used to reflect on language within the media texts that are themselves
the object of study; and (2) the language used by the producers and/or consumers
of those texts when talking or writing about them (p. 6). In addition, as one
possible linking quality, the editors argue that all the analyses in the book
draw upon two general assumptions: (1) that the media are highly diversified
organs of dissemination that incorporate a range of distinctive material
qualities that shape their particular practices of production and reception; and
(2) that there is a clear distinction between 'mediality' in the sense of
abstract and material dissemination and 'modality' (p. 14). Besides, another
quality that all the chapters share, to a greater or lesser extent, is that
their authors are ''variously interested not only in how the media 'represents'
language-related issues but also how media policy and practices with respect to
language are central to the very construction of what we all (experts or
otherwise) think language is, could or ought to be like'' (p. 4).
The book is divided into four parts: (1) ''Metaphors and meanings'' (chapters 2-4)
deals with language issues within the scope of print media in the UK and US. (2)
''National identities, citizenship and globalization'' (chapters 5-7) also
addresses print media but with an emphasis on three language ideological debates
in non-English speaking, western European countries: Germany, Sweden and
Luxembourg. (3) ''Contact and codeswitching in multilingual mediascapes''
(chapters 8-10) addresses multilingualism in the context of broadcast media
(radio and television). Finally, (4) ''Youth, gender and cyber-identities''
(chapters 11-13) studies issues of new media use (the Internet) by the young.
The book ends with a final essay by Adam Jaworski in which he comments on the
issues addressed in the book and on media discourse in general.
The first part is devoted to metaphors and meanings. Chapter 2 (''Metaphors for
speaking and writing in the British press'', p. 25-47, by J. Heywood and E.
Semino) focuses on metaphors as used in the press to refer to acts of
communication: ''communication tends to be metaphorically constructed in terms of
physical scenarios involving concrete objects and physical actions'' (p. 45).
However, the number of these metaphors is (surprisingly) small, that is, there
is quite a limited range of metaphors that the authors draw upon. As such, they
represent a rather simplistic form of communication. Besides, the analysis shows
how the authors tend to use metaphorical expressions which have a more dramatic
or sensationalist connotation.
In chapter 3 (''Journalistic constructions of Blair's 'apology' for the
intelligence leading to the Iraq war'', p. 48-69) L. Jeffries analyzes to what
extent authors of print media (The Guardian and The Observer) attempt to
influence the quality of readers' interpretations in the domain of
language-related issues and in the specific context of political disputes around
the decision to invade Iraq. The main theoretical framework used is pragmatics
and speech act theory (surprisingly treated by the editors as different
theoretical frameworks), which are particularly suitable approaches to address
the most recurrent speech act after the invasion: the apology.
Chapter 4 (''Crises of meaning: personalist language ideology in US media
discourse'', p. 70-88, by J.H. Hill) continues the analysis of print media,
specifically US media and blogosphere, a recent but now popular scenario of
contestation, where people can ask politicians whether they meant what they said
in their speeches and debates.
With chapter 5 (''The iconography of orthography: representing German spelling
reforms in the news magazine Der Spiegel'', p. 91-110, by S. Johnson) Part II
(National identities, citizenship and globalization) starts. As was mentioned
above, this part deals with language and ideology in non-English speaking
European countries. In the first chapter of this part, Johnson describes the
verbal-visual interface of German spelling, that is, how the discussions and
disputes on the reform of German spelling was visually portrayed in the magazine
Der Spiegel (on 14 October 1996). Logically, multimodality and discourse
analysis are brought into the study and for this purpose Kress and Leeuwen's
(2006) book offers a good framework to draw on, with interesting conclusions on
the relationship between national identities, ideology and language. The author
shows how ''the Spiegel image draws on a wide range of meaning-making strategies
in relation to the representation of social actors, modality and image
composition that simultaneously position the intended viewer as both detached
onlooker and actively participating subject in this debate'' (p. 107).
Chapter 6 (''A language ideology in print: the case of Sweden'', p. 111-129, by
T.M. Milani) continues the analysis of this interplay between language and
national identity, with special focus on Swedish print media as a source of
ideology construction and dissemination. The focus of the chapter is on the
potential creation of a law requiring a certain level of Swedish from immigrants
in their process of naturalization, a law on which there was a heated political
and social debate. The textual analysis shows that a premise in this debate is
that immigrants' knowledge of Swedish is deficient because they do not really
want to learn the language of the country to which they have decided to move (p.
In chapter 7 (''Global challenges to nationalist ideologies: language and
education in the Luxembourg press'', p. 130-146) K. Horner analyzes the
relationship between language and ideology, specifically how print media in
Luxembourg produce and reproduce nationalist language ideologies in a scenario
such as a multilingual education system that supposedly favors ''the opportunity
to acquire greater amounts of linguistic capital'' (p. 130). The print media in
Luxembourg is multilingual, with German as the main language used, but with
texts being also published in French, in the local language and even in English.
But the poor results of the country in the PISA report have fueled a number of
discussions which (re)produce ideologies of a nationalist quality.
Chapter 8 (''Corsican on the airwaves: media discourse in a context of minority
language shift'', p. 149-172, by A. Jaffe) is the beginning of Part III (Contact
and codeswitching in multilingual mediascapes). As a general aim of the chapter,
the author explores the way that the media are involved in the public
construction of languages, with ''a focus on the creative, constitutive role of
media practices and representations vis-à-vis the languages/codes of the
community, the audiences/identities/publics indexed by those languages, and the
way that language and identity are assumed to be connected'' (p. 150). More
specifically, the chapter deals with formal and informal Corsican language in
the news and how this language resists the pressure of hegemonic French. In the
context of minority languages, the chapter correctly conveys the depth of the
debate on what counts as proper language use and the extent of language shift.
In chapter 9 ('''When Hector met Tom Cruise': attitudes to Irish in a radio
satire'', p. 173-187) H. Kelly-Holmes and D. Atkinson continue the analysis of
these issues, since Irish is also under the pressure of an hegemonic language in
broadcast media. But this time it is fictional data that are analyzed,
specifically fictional dialogues in a satirical radio show.
Chapter 10 (''Dealing with linguistic difference in encounters with Others on
British television'', p. 188-210, by S. Gieve and J. Norton) addresses how
interactions in a foreign language are portrayed in English television. It is
surprising for the authors that the number of interactions between English TV
presenters and foreign counterparts is either minimized, or distorted, or are
even suppressed under the need to entertain a mainly English-speaking audience.
One of the consequences is that native English speakers will tend to avoid
learning a foreign language, since so few foreign interactions are actually
portrayed. Indeed, since foreign people are ridiculously portrayed in the media
as incapable of speaking English properly, a possible consequence is that this
portrayal may ''make attempting communication across linguistic difference seem
to be something to be avoided, as it is made to appear that attempts to
communicate across linguistic difference are hazardous and potentially
embarrassing. Just as foreign language speakers' attempts to speak English are a
cause for our own amusement, we would be exposing ourselves to similar ridicule''
Chapter 11 (''Fabricating youth: new-media discourse and the technologization of
young people'', p. 213-233, by C. Thurlow) is the first one in Part IV, devoted
to how the young use language in the context of new media such as the Internet.
Thurlow studies the use of several typical communication resources such as text
messaging, email and instant messaging and how this kind of communication is
portrayed in newspapers. Several themes appear frequently: (a) the young as
compulsive consumers or victims of these technologies; (b) the young as failing
to use language properly in new media; and (3) the young as widening the
generational gap. In short, the chapter addresses general fears concerning
language use and the impact of new technologies on different generations of users.
In chapter 12 (''Dreaming of Genie: language, gender difference and identity on
the web'', p. 234-249) D. Cameron explores language use in blogs, specifically
responses to an interactive software called ''Gender Genie''.
The last chapter of this Part, chapter 13 (''Of chords, machines and bumble-bees:
the metalinguistics of hyperpoetry'', p. 250-268, by A. Ensslin), addresses
hyperpoetry and the role of computer programming in generating innovative texts.
Ensslin introduces the term ''aesthetic metalanguage'' that goes beyond current
sociolinguistic understandings of metalanguage and into a more appropriate
environment of fictional reality and decentralized authorship (i.e. within an
increasing role of machines in text generation).
Lastly, chapter 14 (''Language in the media: authenticity and othering'', p.
271-280, by A. Jaworski) is outside the four Parts. The author reviews and
summarizes the issues dealt with in the previous chapters on language in the
media while, at the same time, providing personal insights on what unites the
chapters (basically how language use in the media is metadiscursively
ideologized and a concern with authenticity).
The book ''Language in the Media'' explores language in different media but,
unlike my initial impression, it exhibits several underlying linking qualities
that give the book a desirable level of coherence, which is also enhanced
formally by the fact that there is only one bibliographical section at the end
of the book. The book is not the typical book on language and the media, since
it focuses on very specific and ideology-connoted aspects of the relationship of
language and media, but at the same time it will no doubt draw the attention of
readers from a wide range of research perspectives, including pragmatics,
(critical) discourse analysis, ethnological approaches, etc. As such, the book
is invaluable and no doubt offers interesting insights in a field on which so
much has been published already.
Kress, G. and T. Van Leeuwen (2006) _Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual
Design_ (2nd edition). London: Routledge.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Francisco Yus teaches linguistics and pragmatics at the University of Alicante,
Spain. His main research interests are media discourses (his 1995 PhD was on the
pragmatics of British comics), verbal irony, humor and misunderstandings from a
pragmatic point of view, especially from the relevance-theoretic approach to
human communication (on which he has published the book _Cooperación y
Relevancia: Dos Aproximaciones Pragmáticas a la Interpretación_, 1997). He has
published several books and articles on these subjects, including books on the
pragmatics of Internet communication and on the discourse of comics.
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