Sunday, 20 September 2009

Conference Report: Language and (New) Media

Dean Hardman reports back from The Language and New (Media) Conference that took place at the University of Washington in Seattle between the 3rd and 5th of September.

This was the third conference in a series that has examined the role of the media in relation to the construction or representation of language, with the two previous incarnations taking place in Leeds in 2005 and 2007. While those conferences were built around themes of ideology in relation to how the media represented, constructed and produced language, this conference purported to take a step further and invited delegates to look more closely at the roles that new technologies and ideologies associated with new media play in the construction and representation of language.

As it turned out, the papers presented were an eclectic mix of studies and theories that discussed not only the discourses of blogs, wikis, texting, instant messaging, internet art, video games, virtual worlds, websites, emails, podcasting, hypertext fiction and graphical user interfaces, but also how these discourses affect the world in which we live and how new technologies have changed the ways in which we communicate and live our lives.

In general terms, the conference showed that the analysis of media discourse has well and truly embraced the electronic age, with a number of papers examining the role that social networking websites play in people’s lives and, by extension, how the language of these new genres has developed alongside the development of new technologies. Indeed, this was the thrust of one of the plenary speakers’ presentations, Jannis Androutsopoulos of Kings College London, who discussed computer mediated communication (CMC) and how processes of multimodality, intertextuality and heteroglossia can be used to describe and explain the generic features of web 2.0 sites such as Facebook and Myspace.

Another interesting plenary talk was given by Naomi Baron (American University) who focused upon how mobile phone use has reshaped social encounters. She presented data from a study involving university students from the USA, Japan, Italy, Sweden and Korea, which described how use of mobile phones has resulted in people feeling as though they have lost control of social encounters.

Clearly it is impossible in a blog entry such as this to discuss all of the 60 papers presented, but one other session that was particularly worthwhile was the special panel on the BBC voices project. Bethan Davies (University of Leeds) talked about how the BBC’s voices season had sought to utilise the internet to “stimulate a national conversation about language use in the UK”. She discussed how users had submitted their thoughts about their own languages, accents and dialects, and described some of the limitations of the project, such as the selection of specific languages and the availability of discussion forums. The paper offered evidence of a new way of examining accents and dialects as well as attitudes towards them through CMC.

(photo credit: kendrya, permissions)

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