Robin Queen is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Linguistics, German and English, and currently serves as the chair of the Department of Communication and Media at the University of Michigan, USA. Her research focuses on different strands of sociolinguistics, including language and identities, language contact, and language as social action. Her 2015 book, Vox Popular: The Surprising Life of Language in the Media (Wiley-Blackwell), explores the many ways that language variation proves integral to the unfolding of fictional audiovisual media. When not acting as an academic, she lives on a small farm with her spouse and a lively band of critters large and small.
The performance and performativity of taboo language in fictional audiovisual media
In this talk, I focus on the fluidity between the regulation and the occurrence of taboo language within the fictional audiovisual media in the United States and show that tabooed lexical items in the fictional media are simultaneously performative and performed. First, I illustrate a range of functions fulfilled by taboo terms in the fictional media, including their various grammatical functions and their place within the narrative flow. Second, I show how the regulation of taboo usage highlights an interative, dialectic tension between performance and performativity. This tension is uniquely visible in the fictional media because, on the one hand, regulation occurs within the fictional material itself (e.g. a character admonishes another character with “that’s a bad word”) and, on the other, formal regulation occurs through external institutions (such as, in the United States, the Federal Communication Commission or the Motion Picture Association of America). Finally, I discuss specific cases involving disputes between producers/broadcasters and the institutions that sanction taboo language. These disputes show how regulation is framed primarily as ideological protection for children and engages the dialectic between performance and performativity by implicating cultural norms and ideologies, mechanisms of prohibition, commercial interests, freedom of expression, artistic/poetic expression, and entertainment.
Joe Trotta is an associate professor of English Linguistics at the Department of Languages and Literatures, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. Joe is a lapsed Chomskyan, his research focus has shifted over time from theoretical approaches to English syntax toward the use of English in pop culture. Most of Joe’s recent publications deal with issues of identity and linguistic representation in mediatized language such as TV dialogs, music lyrics, ads, tabloids, online games, social media, and others. He has recently co-edited the volume Broken Mirrors: Representations of Apocalypses and Dystopias in Popular Culture (Routledge, 2019).
Scripted speech: The data speaks, but what does it say?
Analyzing language through the lens of popular culture is an inherently broad, intersectional, and often heterodox approach to linguistic study. Even with an express focus on sociolinguist topics, there is considerable variety in research perspectives, theoretical/methodological assumptions and, of particular importance for present purposes, underlying beliefs about the nature of the data itself.
In this talk I focus on the ways in which scripted speech, primarily dialogs from TV/movie scripts, has been regarded as an object of linguistic study and how, over time, this kind of data has become more relevant and accepted in sociolinguistic research. I review the prevalent issues, e.g., the question of the validity/legitimacy of such data for sociolinguistic research (Coupland 2016; Androutsopoulos 2016); the debates on media influence (or lack thereof) on actual language use (Trudgill 2014; Stuart-Smith 2012), as well the increasing interest in understanding how media representations of sociolects either accurately reflect linguistic diversity or promote stereotypes (Lippi-Green 2012; Trotta 2016).
Additionally, I touch upon the question of whether scripted speech can be meaningfully used as data for studies in interactional linguistics and/or emergent grammar, paradigms which explicitly emphasize the importance of ‘naturally occurring data’ from social interaction.
Androutsopoulos, J. (2016). Theorizing media, mediation, and mediatisation. In N. Coupland (ed.), Sociolinguistics: Theoretical Debates, 282-302. Cambridge University Press.
Coupland, N. (2016). Introduction: Sociolinguistic theory and the practice of sociolinguistics. In N. Coupland (ed.), Sociolinguistics: Theoretical Debates, 1-34. Cambridge University Press 1-34.
Lippi-Green, R. (2012). English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States. Routledge.
Stuart-Smith, J. (2012). English and the media: Television. In A. Berg & L. Brinton (eds.), Historical Linguistics of English, 1075-1088. Mouton de Gruyter.
Trotta, J. (2016). Dealers and discourse: Sociolinguistic variation in The Wire. In K. Beers-Fägersten (ed.), Watching TV with a Linguist, 40-65. Syracuse University Press.