Language and society in cinematic discourse
Based on a thematic panel at Sociolinguistics Symposium 18 in Southampton (2010), this double special issue of Multilingua explores cinematic discourse as an under-examined field of sociolinguistic inquiry. Drawing on film and television data from various countries and languages, the seven articles that follow ask how cinematic discourse represents linguistic heterogeneity, what conceptual and analytical tools in sociolinguistics are adequate to its study, and how this might challenge and further sociolinguistic theory. It would be inaccurate to speak of a neglect of media in current sociolinguistics. An increasing number of scholars are turning to objects of study that are usually thought of as the ‘territory’ of disciplines such as literary, film and media studies. ‘Postvariationist’ sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, social semiotics and critical discourse studies all contribute to this turn, and media data have been pivotal for the theorising of notions such as stylisation, linguistic flows or performativity within the discipline (e.g. Coupland 2007; Pennycook 2007; Alim et al. 2009). We think that cinematic discourse ought to figure large at this intersection due to its popularity as a site of sociolinguistic representation and its complexity as a multimodal semiotic artefact. However, we feel that film has not yet found due attention as a sociolinguistic site of inquiry, though of course important predecessors do exist. The contributors to this issue are spread around the world in terms of their academic homes and objects of study. They examine American films (Bleichenbacher, Higgins & Furukawa, Petrucci) and television series (Bednarek) as well as European productions from Cyprus, France and Germany (Tsiplakou & Ioannidou, Planchenault, Androutsopoulos). Ranging from comedy and drama to post-modern satire, these films and series tell stories of everyday life and intercultural encounters in urban or rural settings. They stage style-shifting and code-switching between a number of dialects and languages, including varieties of English (Hawai’i English, African-American Vernacular English); French (Parler banlieue and Patois), German (‘Interlanguage German’); Greek (Cypriot-Greek dialect); Hawaiian and Hawai’i Creole; and Turkish. The Multilingua 31 (2012), 139Ϫ154
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analyses offered are mostly qualitative, though with some instances of quantification (Bednarek, Bleichenbacher). Together, these seven articles offer snapshots of the diversity of sociolinguistic representations in contemporary audio-visual fiction, and by so doing, they reveal some common themes in theory, method and analysis, which I attempt to outline in this introduction.
Setting the scene
A couple of conceptual clarifications on film, cinematic and telecinematic discourse are in order before we proceed. ‘Cinematic discourse’ is a term in current usage, though apparently not a firmly established academic concept. I do not use it here as a quasi-synonym to ‘language in film’, but rather in order to delimit the site of inquiry in a more inclusive way. Its difference to ‘film’ can be conceived along the lines of discourse theory and Critical Discourse Analysis. Following the distinction between text and discourse practices (Fairclough 1995), I think of cinematic discourse as the ensemble of film-as-text and processes of its production and consumption. ‘Cinematic discourse’ pinpoints a contextualised approach to film as a site of sociolinguistic representation, including its relations to production and/or reception and the sociolinguistic knowledge that it articulates and presupposes. This is not trivial...
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