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Review of  Mediatization and Sociolinguistic Change

Reviewer: Dave Sayers
Book Title: Mediatization and Sociolinguistic Change
Book Author: Jannis K. Androutsopoulos
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 27.3301

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Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


With 22 chapters across six sections, Mediatization and Sociolinguistic Change would be a monumental accomplishment for a team of editors, let alone just one. Accessible to senior undergraduates yet useful to researchers at all levels, Jannis Androutsopoulos’ book gives a comprehensive overview of research in this emerging field. Section I ‘Framing the Issues’ has three chapters which effectively make up a tripartite introduction. Androutsopoulos begins Chapter 1 by describing a few mill stones familiar to the neck of anyone researching language and the media: that researchers in subdisciplinary silos don’t talk enough; that many linguists simply deny any substantive role for the media in language change; and that, by contrast, the public at large basically assume that language change is driven in whole or part by the media. To these challenges Androutsopoulos offers up his book. This chapter further explains the rationale for the six sections of the volume. The overall purpose of the volume is to argue, by mobilising a diverse set of methodologies, that understanding the link between sociolinguistic change and media needs to include influence at multiple levels. Because of space considerations, I confine my discussion to ten chapters: five consecutive chapters, then five chapters taken at random. I also combine summary and evaluation of those chapters below.


Chapter 2 (I give chapter numbers here for reference; they are not actually numbered), ‘Mediatization: A panorama of media and communication research’ (Andreas Hepp) aims to “outline the present status of mediatization research and its relevance for sociolinguistics” (p.49). Hepp reviews some terminological matters (mediatisation, medialisation, mediation, etc.) and related epistemological debates. A particular strength is the comparison of how research in different countries, with different linguistic makeups, can contour the use of alternative terminology. The chapter relates various milestones in the history of mediatisation research, focusing on the “institutionalist” and “social-constructivist” perspectives. Hepp raises a fundamental point, always worth reiterating, that despite such differing viewpoints, all “reject an understanding of “mediatization research” as “effect research”” (p.52); that is, nobody assumes a linear beaming of linguistic change from the TV into people’s minds, and mouths. Perhaps one criticism is that the chapter is slightly dry. This is a contentious area of research, and any history of ideas can be enlivened with some details of the more heated debates. The chapter ends with the most important overture of all, for further collaboration “between media and communication studies on the one side and sociolinguistics on the other” (p.62).

In Chapter 3 ‘Sociolinguistic change, vernacularization and broadcast British media’, Nik Coupland contrasts two broad types of language change: ‘standardisation’ and ‘vernacularisation’. He sees the latter as much less well defined than the former, but that the two have “always existed in a tension with” each other (p.86). Destandardisation indicates only the “weakening … of standard language ideology” (ibid.). To this, vernacularisation adds “a more positive valorization of vernacularity” (p.85). And it is this ideological shift that brings the discussion around to the media. Coupland focuses on British broadcast media and changing attitudes towards, and use of, regional and non-standard varieties on the BBC. The discussion is not awash with primary empirical data, and this could be seen as a shortcoming, but Coupland develops such an intriguing range of searching questions that the chapter makes for a substantive contribution just by spurring new thinking and opening new avenues for research. For example: “It would remain true that most class-linked British accents are deemed non-viable in “serious” news-presenting roles. A more productive focus might be on … correspondent roles … where “seriousness” and professional expertise are … prerequisites … but where accents are more variable and dialect indexicality seems to be increasingly less salient” (p.89). The chapter is almost like a catalogue of fascinating possible PhD ideas.

Section II ‘Media influence on language change’ begins with Chapter 4 ‘Does mediated language influence immediate language?’ (Tore Kristiansen). He contrasts “immediate language” and “mediated language”: the former “occurring in the context of face-to-face interaction”, the latter “based on some technology that ‘liberates’ the transmission/construction of meaning from the contextual constraints of face-to-face interaction” (p.99). The chapter compares the role of writing and media (especially TV) in contouring attitudes and influencing language change in Denmark and Norway: countries with “very different standard–dialect constellations” (p.101). For Denmark he concludes “that writing has had limited direct influence on immediate language” (p.110), though more on language ideology, and consequently on “ordinary everyday language” (ibid.). He goes on to ask: “Does speech mediated by broadcast technology have an influence on people’s immediate language?” (ibid.). He reviews the conspicuous correlation of the rise of TV and social and geographical mobility alongside reduced dialect diversity and increased standard language ideology since the 1960s, and ends up asking: “How on earth (including the western-most small town of Vinderup) does that happen – if not by exposure to broadcast media?” (p.118). The Danish case is contrasted with the increased use of dialects in Norwegian national broadcast media. He concludes that “the broadcast media have beyond doubt made a crucial contribution to strengthening ‘dialect ideology’ in the Norwegian population” (p.121) – backed up by attitude surveys on dialects. This is all knowledgeably argued, and he makes an engaging side argument urging “a less Anglo-world focused discipline” (p.113). His discussion also includes various little gems like the long-established convention that it is “forbidden by law for Norwegian teachers to correct the speech of their pupils” (p.109). But, even though his argument is cautiously limited only to indirect influence of media on language change, for sceptics of media influence the evidence may still feel a little too circumstantial. Compelling though the various sociohistorical correlations are, correlation is not causation.

A firmer empirical bite into the media engagement cake is provided in Chapter 5 ‘Media models, ‘the shelf’, and stylistic variation in East and West: Rethinking the influence of the media on language variation and change’ (Jane Stuart-Smith and Ichiro Ota) which compares possible forms of media influence in Glasgow (Scotland) and Kagoshima (Japan). The authors give a brief but comprehensive historical overview of research into media effects generally, and develop a more nuanced interdisciplinary methodology for understanding the partial role of mass media in language change (answering the interdisciplinary overture from Chapter 2). In Kagoshima, reading tasks based on texts from different media genres (e.g. news reporting) demonstrate respondents’ abilities to deploy different aspects of e.g. Standard Japanese, but also media genres such as anime. The Glasgow section explores “the diffusion of a set of consonant features associated with London English, including TH-fronting … and L-vocalization” (p.151). Evidence is reviewed of increased dialect contact with London over the 20th century, as a precursor to the contemporary changes under discussion. A multi-methodological exploration then shows that viewing – but more particularly emotionally engaging with – London-based TV had an impact on use of some (by no means all) London-based variants, principally those that already had some presence in (and compatibility with) the existing local sociophonetic context. This ultimately delivers most of the explanatory power back to the speech community, and face-to-face interactions. Further details are explored about how different repertoires might be used for different stylistic purposes. Generalised conclusions are drawn comparing the two case studies, about the partial role of media engagement. This seems the closest that sociolinguistics has come, methodologically, to empirically demonstrating the role of media engagement. It is perhaps frustrating that data collection in these two case studies was limited to within Japan and the UK respectively. If and when these methodologies are applied to more conspicuously global innovations (such as quotative ‘be like’), exciting new insights will doubtless arise.

I move ahead now in my random sample to Section III ‘Media engagement in interactional practice’. Chapter 9 ‘Multilingualism, multimodality and media engagement in classroom talk and action’ (Vally Lytra) examines “the intersection of multilingualism, multimodality and media engagement in classroom talk and action in a Turkish complementary school in North London” (p.245). The chapter reports a micro-level ethnography of one 10-year-old student, investigating his communications with friends and his participation in classroom activities. The link to the media comes from the ubiquity of mobile phones, and the consumption of, and discussion about, global music genres. This broadens the empirical scope of the volume beyond mass media and into the more personalised consumption, distribution, and adaptation of media using mobile devices and the internet. Anyone who has recently met a child capable of operating a phone will justifiably anticipate a chapter awash with rich ethnographic insights, exploring the interface between the linguistically conservative expectations of a school designed to reproduce an ethnolinguistic group, and the expansive creativity of online communication. Moment to moment, these children take their own linguistic background and meld it together with contemporary Turkish and American rap music, mashing them up to make something linguistically and culturally new, turn by conversational turn. This is the strength of Lytra’s chapter. Another strength is a healthy deference to data (quoted at length), and clear, accurate analysis.

Moving on to Section IV ‘Change in mass-mediatized and digitally mediated language’, Chapter 13 ‘Tweets in the news: Legitimizing medium, standardizing form’ (Lauren Squires and Josh Iorio) “examines the tensions between “new” text-based digital media and “old” text-based mass media” (p.331), and a “major tension” between the “vernacularity” of the former and the “heavily-enforced language standards” of the latter (ibid.). They focus on the way tweets are used within mainstream media reporting. As the chapter title succinctly foreshadows, although they find increasing acceptance of Twitter as a legitimised source of e.g. political endorsements, nevertheless broadcasters still cling to enforcing editorial standards, “with the vernacularity of the medium [Twitter] more commonly erased, rather than highlighted, over time” (p.334). The authors note trends in the way tweets are used as sources in different reporting domains (sports and entertainment), and how, over time, tweets became a less “novel and exotic” source of information (p.340). A range of examples shows journalists variously apologising for the “funky punctuation” (p.344), “misspellings” (ibid.) and so on in tweets, illustrating the twitchy embrace of tweets alongside persistent standard language ideologies. The authors go on to assemble “a diachronically organized corpus of reported tweets in both the entertainment and sports domains” (p.345), showing a decrease over time in the number of nonstandard features in reported tweets – also breaking this down into different types of nonstandard features, and again comparing sports and entertainment reporting. Explanations are ventured for these patterns. It might have been useful to include research interviews with a sample of sports and entertainment reporters, or even just one each, since these explanations are empirically less well supported than the identification of trends. Another limitation, not acknowledged at the outset or flagged as an area for future research, is the geographical and linguistic scope, namely “U.S. newspapers and newswires from 2006 through 2011” (p.338). One is reminded of Kristiansen’s call for more cross-linguistic research (Chapter 4). Nevertheless, the chapter constitutes a stimulating corpus analysis.

Moving ahead again in my random sample to Section V ‘Enregisterment of change in media discourse’, Chapter 15 ‘Revising the “journalist’s bible”: How news practitioners respond to language and social change’ (Colleen Cotter) examines the Associated Press Stylebook to understand journalists’ own views of language change, style and usage. Editions in three different decades are compared to track the changes in these views. One minor caterwaul is a rather frustrating semi-quantitative phrasing throughout the analysis, e.g. “Some things do not change”, “Most of the Stylebook changes I note in my corpus” (p.382), “relatively few” (p.383), “Taken together, the examples indicate” (p.393). These hint at quantitative trends, and the overall suggestion is of generalisable results, concluding: “The data show the degree to which there is an ongoing conversation or metatalk about language within the news profession” (p.392). But the analysis is never actually quantified. The chapter is an interesting exploration of a sample of professional discussions about media language use, but its claims are a little over-stated at times. The same nagging concern as in Kristiansen’s chapter heaves back into view here: that language and media research can fall short of providing precise empirical evidence for the actions of real people. A related issue is that, though the author claims that the Stylebook is “at the elbow (or on the screen) of every mainstream news practitioner” (p.380), this is not really backed up. There is information about subscription levels, the Stylebook’s own promotional messages (e.g. that it is “the self-described “journalist’s bible””, p.372), and a few testimonials from editors; but it would have been helpful to see more substantive evidence that individual journalists actually pay the Stylebook any mind, day to day. Still, part of the data involves the “Ask the Editor” section of the Stylebook (a kind of dialogue with journalists), which provides something of a link with the everyday profession.

Chapter 17 ‘The objectification of ‘Jafaican’: The discoursal embedding of Multicultural London English in the British media’ (Paul Kerswill), brings us back to firmer empirical territory, with a corpus analysis of online commentary surrounding Multicultural London English (aka ‘Jafaican’). There is a (very slightly questionably motivated) section focusing only on the user-generated website, followed by a more robust analysis of newspaper content using Nexis UK to generate a corpus spanning 2006-2012. Some terminology is a little opaquely defined – e.g. “discourses, put simply, are ‘ways of talking about something’” (p.428) – but mostly readers are treated to “a case study of the mediatization of a language variety in real time” (p.428) delivered in Kerswill’s usual judicious and informed style. Analysis centres on the way “Jafaican” (variant spelling “Jafaikan”) is used, including concordance testing to examine contexts of use. There follows more fine-grained analysis of the way Jafaican is discussed in these newspapers in relation to the older non-standard London variety Cockney, perhaps being displaced by MLE, amid familiar conflations of language with migration, displacement, race, authenticity and so on – one might say dog-whistle journalism, though Kerswill is more diplomatic. Other sections include media enregisterment of Jafaican and its peculiar absence outside “media discourse and readers’ online comments” (though this point is not strictly backed up), as well as moral posturing over language decay and educational hindrance. These latter sections of the chapter are based on more isolated media quotations, but provide a lucid qualitative elaboration of the corpus analysis.

My random sampling finishes in Section VI ‘Mediatized spaces for minoritized languages’, and Chapter 18 ‘Circulation of indigenous Sámi resources across media spaces: A rhizomatic discourse approach’ (Sari Pietikäinen). She examines “new types of crossings, mixtures, and norms for mediated indigenous language practices” (p.515), deploying an interdisciplinary philosophical-sociolinguistic analysis of Sámi languages in “a range of media spaces, including Sámi television news, Sámi television comedies, press coverage on Sámi programmes, and social media discussions of these programmes … complemented by ethnographic data” (pp.515–516). Pietikäinen begins by briefly charting the history of Sámi language revitalisation, and the role of Sámi media, before laying out the way “[m]ediated Sámi spaces can … be understood as a complex set of spaces and their relationships” (p.519). The emphasis is on the way such media spaces can spur linguistic creativity, innovation, “new language practices, and even users” (ibid.). The chapter is part empirical investigation, part intellectual treatise centring on nexus analysis: “a form of transdisciplinary, multidimensional discourse analysis that emphasises the simultaneous coming-together of experiences of participants, circulating discourses, and interactional normativities in any moment of language use” (pp.521–522). As this quote suggests, the chapter is partly a hike through some rather dense academic prose. But rich understandings emerge of, for example, the ideological stance of subtitling vs. dubbing, language purism, essentialism, linguistic threat and protection – followed by the way some of these tropes are sent up in a popular Sámi comedy TV show (an illuminating complement to the prior analysis). Analysis of social media usage, though a little sporadic, adds intriguing further insights on new spaces for minority language use. One difficulty with the chapter is the occasional hint that mediated uses of Sámi languages might increase their use in certain ways (e.g. “new language practices, and even users” as noted above – p.519). Pietikäinen cannot be unaware of the perennial concern to increase the use of not only Sámi but many other minority languages around the world, so it is a little tantalising to infer such a possible positive effect without really delving into it. Still, overall the chapter offers a fascinating window into these “[m]ediated Sámi spaces” (p.519).

In my sample of reviewed chapters, some felt a little under-integrated into the book as a whole, perhaps particularly 9 and 15, not least because they do not mention ‘mediate/ise/ation’ at all (terms so painstakingly defined in Chapters 1-3). Overall the book and its sections are tightly arranged, but terminological coherence just sometimes felt a little lacking. Given the large number of chapters accepted into the volume, perhaps the editorial knife could have been wielded more liberally to produce a leaner and more focused volume. But then, what harm in delivering more than was promised on the cover? These are enriching extras in a way.

Sections II-V each end with a ‘Commentary’, a little like a conference panel discussant. This is deftly arranged, and the calibre of the commenters is without doubt: in order, Isabelle Buchstaller, Ben Rampton, Jürgen Spitzmüller, Barbara Johnstone, and Helen Kelly-Holmes. Their commentaries are invariably meticulous; and although mostly designed to summarise and inter-relate the chapters of each section, they also provide plentiful fresh insights. At first glance Section I (the three-chapter introduction) appeared to be missing the customary summary of all the book’s chapters, but these commentaries provide a refreshing alternative.

The challenges noted at the beginning of this review should be reason enough to congratulate Androutsopoulos for attempting to gather research on this topic. But there are more reasons, namely the exquisitely high quality of most chapters, from some of the foremost experts in the field. One should never forget that an edited book does not edit itself, and the scope and quality of the chapters owes a great deal to its editor. Naturally there remain some issues to grouse about, some of which are discussed above, but mostly I have been playing devil’s advocate. This book is an outstanding contribution to the field.
Dr. Dave Sayers is a Senior Lecturer in Sociolinguistics at the Department of Humanities, Sheffield Hallam University, and Honorary Research Fellow in the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, UK. His ORCID number is 0000-0003-1124-7132; his website is