Language: It’s what we use every day, in written, oral or verbal forms in order to communicate with our fellow human beings. The 6th International Language in the Media Conference put into focus a no longer novel but still rapidly growing space in which we use language: the media. Newspapers in print or online, social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook or YouTube, the radio and other platforms have been reinventing what it means to find information about current political, cultural or economic issues, and how we communicate with each other. In all these different outlets of language the latter changes, adapts, transforms itself into something new, its function depending on the specific environment. However, the intent remains the same: to reach an audience, to convey one’s message.
From September 7-9, I was a member of the Conference Team that made sure the conference ran smoothly – and that conference participants always had enough coffee to process all the new ideas of media-related language use. And to be honest, I believe we did a pretty good job. Everyone looked comfortable and relaxed – unless they were about to present (then anxiety took over), but there was nothing that a little piece of cake in the afternoon couldn’t solve.
Fortunately I got the chance to listen to a couple of great lecturers that I want to briefly introduce. First though I simply need to point out that I am by no means a linguistics geek and thus I walked into these lectures with pretty much no expectations of understanding anything at all, seeing as I had just finished writing my BA in English Literature (I feel like a traitor, but hey) a few days prior to the conference, giving you an idea where my talents (*cough*) lie.
Nevertheless I thouroughly enjoyed the presentations and would even go as far as saying I was able to follow the lecturers. Maybe because the talks turned out to be more than just linguistic code language, but talks dealing with topics I am interested in by nature such as Twitter and its significance for political movements (Ana Deumert, University of the Western Cape), how ‘a mediatized world’ changed the way we tell ‘(news) stories’ (Colleen Cotter, Queen Mary University London), the way we can challenge debates about language or dialect authenticity in film (Robin Queen, University of Michigan), and last but not least that the use of a language, computer language or code to be precise, should be taught to students simply because we should know what surrounds and records us all day, every day (Rodney H. Jones, University of Reading).
To give you more insight into these four key notes and the other fantastic talks I had the chance to listen to would need another 1000 words at least, so instead let me tell you this: linguistics is so much more than just the “scientific study of language” as Wikipedia tells you; it means engaging with what surrounds the human species and has a direct interaction with the way we are communicating; it’s the attempt to explain why science magazines now let pictures tell the story (Pflaeging, Schildhauer, Stöckl, Uni Salzburg); it means examining the way online communities manifest moral codes in their comments about video players on YouTube (Amanda Potts, Cardiff University); how the prevailing mediatization changed traditional media and their work policies and politics (Burger and Merminod, University of Lausanne).
So while I was afraid not to grasp any of the ideas presented to me, in the end I walked home every day anew with new ideas about language in a mediatized context.
I guess I’m still not the biggest linguistics nerd, but I feel like I’ve seen a whole new side of it – a side I definitely wish to see more of.
If you now feel driven to join the next, the 7th conference, unfortunately you need to wait another two years, but at least it will give you not only enough time to save some money to get tickets to get to Cape Town but also to emerge youself deeper into the world of linguistics and prepare yourself for new revelations (and thus circumventing the fear of not understanding anything at all like me).
Maria was listening to The Head and the Heart’s ‘Let’s Be Still’ while writing this article.