what lies ahead?

Power of Mass Media

How much inflluence does the media really have on the way we speak?  Apparently,   almost none.

Talk the Talk?
Media is pervasive. So why don't we all  sound  like announcers?

Are Dialects Fading?
Dialect differences will never die no matter how much TV we watch.
pbs newshour anchor jim lehrer

The Vanishing Verb
A PBS NewsHour report on the changing language of TV news.

Most people assume that television and other media change the way we speak, but linguists have searched in vain for supporting evidence.  According to Jack Chambers, what researchers find instead when they look at communities where the media loom large and its reach is the most obvious, is speech that is actually untouched.

Groups such as inner-city African-Americans, with an average daily media exposure of eight hours, use dialects and accents that are becoming less like the standard accents heard on TV. Language changes spreading rapidly around the globe are in fact way ahead of the mass media, to be heard only later when sitcoms and movies catch up.

Deaf parents with hearing children maximize their children’s exposure to television in hope of giving them verbal stimulation — only to discover that children do not gain any language skills from talking heads. To acquire language, children need face-to-face stimulation with real people. If they are deprived of that stimulation beyond their first few years, their speech will be profoundly impaired.

The idea that TV and other mass media shape language probably comes from the easy observation that the media are very good at spreading buzzwords. Someone says, “You got punked if you sent your credit card number to that e-mail address,” and suddenly almost everyone in earshot thinks of punk’d, the now-cancelled TV series in which celebrities were suckered into embarrassing situations as hidden cameras recorded their embarrassment.

Our implicit assumptions about media and language overrule common sense when the facts show that the media only spread words and phrases, but do not invent them. Learn More

J. K. Chambers is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Toronto. He is the co-editor, with Peter Trudgill and Natalie Schilling-Estes, of The Handbook of Language Variation and Change (Blackwell 2002) and co-author, with Peter Trudgill, of Dialectology (second edition, 1998). He has written extensively about Canadian English, beginning with Canadian Raising in 1973 and including Canadian English: Origins and Structures (Toronto: Methuen, 1975), the first book on the topic. He works extensively as a forensic consultant and maintains a parallel vocation in jazz criticism, including the prize-winning biography Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis (1998). More at http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~chambers .

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