Media, language ideology, and language use in Norway and Denmark

Tore Kristiansen

Copenhagen University, Denmark

WS156: Interfaces between media, speech, and interaction

As Jannis Androutsopoulos points out in his presentation of the panel theme, the mainstream variationist position has always been that the media impact on language use is negligible. I find it likely that this position to some extent reflects the language use situation in the long-standing strongholds of variationist sociolinguistics, i.e. the US and the UK. The fact that variationist studies mainly focus on linguistic variables rather than language varieties is probably also of some importance. I definitely see myself as a variationist – nevertheless I do believe that the media have a considerable impact on language use. This ‘ideological profile’ may be more likely to appear when you, like me, have lived and worked in Norway and Denmark. I shall argue for my ‘profile’ by drawing on experiences with and research on language use and language attitudes in these two countries.

(1) In Norway and Denmark the language use situation throughout the 20th century evolved very differently in terms of the relative strengths of language varieties: the Norwegians kept their traditional local dialects very much alive and developed only a weak, if any, spoken standard language; the Danes abandoned their traditional local dialects in favour of Copenhagen speech and thus developed a very strong spoken standard. I want to argue that the media and their language policies have played a most decisive role in this very different development of the language situation in the two countries.

(2) Nationwide macro level studies of language attitudes among Danish adolescents have revealed the existence of two opposite evaluative hierarchizations of the three accents of the standard language (Modern, Conservative and Local) that are relevant to social identifications in any Danish community (other than Copenhagen). In conscious evaluations (i.e. when subjects are aware of offering language attitudes), the hierarchization is Local–Conservative–Modern. In subconscious evaluations (i.e. when subjects are unaware of offering attitudes), the hierarchization is Modern–Conservative–Local. As the average result of the young local community, both hierarchies are consistently reproduced in every corner of Denmark. The consistency of the consciously offered hierarchy may be straightforwardly explained with reference to the impact from the overt elite discourse about these matters in the educational institutions, and the Danish society in general. As to the subconsciously offered hierarchy I want to argue that its consistent spread to the Danish adolescents as a whole can only be understood as a media effect.

Session: Workshop (part 1)
Interfaces between media, speech, and interaction
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 04