Anthropology Language and Media
Karl Swinehart
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0193


Language and media have been central to the mediation of social relations of all sorts throughout millennia, from the earliest cuneiform to LOL cats and the meme, making their relationship of interest across subfields of anthropology. But as objects of study, questions emerge, both of type and of scale, regarding what counts as language and what counts as media. All linguistic interactions are mediated in some way. Signs of spoken language are perceivable through the medium of vibrating air, a medium often excluded when considering “media.” If it is unusual to consider vibrating air a “medium,” what of the differences between a note on a bar napkin and a news broadcast? Both convey linguistic messages beyond the limits of physical copresence through visual media, but clearly mobilize social orders of different scales. And what counts as language? Is language speech? Languages of the Deaf prove otherwise, as they are also complete linguistic systems operating within a visual-manual modality. Speech is language, but language is more than speech. While spoken language has often been privileged within linguistics at the expense of other modalities, language has alternately been a metaphor (“visual grammar,” “the language of film,” etc.) or simply left unexamined within scholarship on visual and aural media forms. Both Media Anthropology and Literacy are subjects of extensive bibliographies within this series. This bibliography brings together studies adopting theoretical and methodological approaches including linguistic anthropology, variationist sociolinguistics, sociology of language, media and discourse studies that address the study of language and media, media here understood as textual (writing, print), aural (radio, music, sound), visual (television, film), and digital (computer-mediated communication), and that address questions such as the following: What are the affordances and constraints of different media for linguistic expression? How do media figure into the standardization of linguistic norms? Despite expectations to the contrary, the spread of radio broadcasting did not erase regional linguistic variation in the 20th century. Whether and how new communicative technologies intervene in contemporary processes of linguistic innovation is a promising arena for research.

General Overviews

General overviews of language and media published in recent years have largely focused on online discourse and computer-mediated communication (CMC). Many of these are edited volumes with individual contributors offering case studies, including Danet and Herring 2007, Tannen and Trester 2013, Johnson and Milani 2010, Thurlow and Mroczek 2011, and Cutler and Røyneland 2018. Cohesive single-author general overviews of language and CMC include Baron 2010 and Deumert 2014. Bell 1991 provides an early example of linguistic research focusing on television and radio and news discourse. An overview of the social dimensions of writing, script, and orthography can be found in Sebba 2007.

  • Baron, Naomi. 2010. Always on: Language in an online world. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    A comprehensive overview of the history of CMC and synthesis of her own and others’ research on how developments in communication technology, including instant messaging, mobile phones, multitasking, Facebook, are impacting linguistic practices in the United States and cross-culturally.

  • Bell, Allan. 1991. The language of news media. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

    Focusing on radio and television news production and broadcasting, Bell’s book examines news media as both a resource for sociolinguistic research and a site for theorizing communication and stylistic variation through concepts like “audience design” and “referee design.”

  • Cutler, Cece, and Unn Røyneland. 2018. Multilingual youth practices in computer mediated communication. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    This volume documents hybrid multilingual practices and linguistic innovations in the digital sphere across varied digital media platforms and a broad range of languages and global contexts including South Africa, Senegal, Europe (France, Germany, Norway), South America, Korea, and the United States/Mexico.

  • Danet, Brenda, and Susan C. Herring. 2007. The multilingual Internet: Language, culture, and communication. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195304794.001.0001

    Focusing on multilingual linguistic practices online, this edited volume is organized into five sections addressing writing systems, discourse features, gender, code-switching, and language diversity.

  • Deumert, Ana. 2014. Sociolinguistics and mobile communication. Edinburgh: Edinburgh Univ. Press.

    Deumert’s book introduces concepts from linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics like intertextuality, heteroglossia, stylization within an overview of mobile communications technologies and their impact on linguistic practices. The book incorporates discussions of multilingualism and multimodality and includes data from African contexts.

  • Johnson, Sally, and Tommaso M. Milani. 2010. Language ideologies and media discourse: Text, practices, politics. New York: Continuum Books.

    This edited volume is organized into five sections: standards and standardization; language planning and policy in media programming; ethnicity and racialization in media; language ideologies; and new media technologies.

  • Sebba, Mark. 2007. Spelling and society: The culture and politics of orthography around the world. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511486739

    Discussing the history of and debates about orthography in fifty-nine languages from across the globe, this title has a particular focus on the orthography of European minority languages and regional dialects. The development of writing systems for Caribbean creoles (Jamaica, Haiti) as well as other postcolonial contexts (Indonesia) is also discussed.

  • Tannen, Deborah, and Anna Marie Trester, eds. 2013. Discourse 2.0: Language and new media. Washington, DC: Georgetown Univ. Press.

    This edited volume brings diverse methodological approaches (Conversation Analysis, social semiotics, sociolinguistics) to the study of varied Web 2.0 practices including video gaming, instant messaging, and blogging.

  • Thurlow, Crispin, and Kristin Mroczek. 2011. Digital discourse: Language in the new media. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

    DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199795437.001.0001

    This edited volume brings together contributions from scholars in linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics, and communication studies with contributions organized into five sections that address discourses about new media (metadiscursive framings), genres, stylization, stance, and methodology.

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