The current essay deals with a very important issue of mass communication impact on modern language. By thorough analysis of mass communication literature and the main facets of media discourse formation, conclusions are made concerning its role in the formation of modern language.
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Media studies are the interdisciplinary domain of research that embraces social psychology, political economy, linguistics, semiotics, discourse analysis and sociology. Hence, there is no denying the importance of the fact that the analysis of mass communication impact on language should be made through a multidisciplinary prism encompassing all measure findings of contemporary social and natural sciences. Two main approaches are conceptualizing the impact of mass communication and mass culture on language formation dominance.
The first approach proceeds from liberal principles in the analysis of mass culture and mass communication impact on the modern language. Its main representative is McLuhan, who is technologically determinist manner claimed that the level of technology determines media messages that are translated to a final recipient.
In the dominant vein of this tradition, media communication and mass culture are regarded as the main factor of language democratization and diversification. Language, according to this tradition, is democratized because it becomes more easy and understandable to ordinary people.
Aristocratic language dominance earlier is not widespread and becomes a historical artefact that can be found in literature and dusty archives. As McLuhan suggests, mass media and mass culture create a ‘global village’ where all people are connected by the same cultural and cognitive value which can be understood by anybody. Besides this, mass culture is described to have a positive impact on language in terms of developing different linguistic patterns for different social and cultural identities for people, which provides the possibility for celebrating diverse lifestyles and orientations. Different underground youth communities, youth organizations and movements, as well as other civil institutions, are heavily indebted to modern media and mass culture, which play an important role in the dissemination of their language vocabulary (Flagan 2001). Youth language is developed by different musical programs on TV, radio, thematic journals, songs, films and other products of mass culture. Hence, the transformation of language can be described as the primary tool for constructing viable identities in postmodern society. Language becomes more and more differentiated and heterogeneous, which postulates heterogeneity of the modern society. Differences among various sociolects are diffused, and all layers of the populace obtain equal access to mass culture products. In this way, mass culture becomes closer to everybody. To sum up, a discussed approach to the abovementioned problems leaves no rule for critical analysis of language transformation as a result of the increasing impact of mass culture in the production of cultural products for the majority of the population.
Within the frames of another tradition, the impact of mass communication and mass culture on language and mass consciousness is analyzed in a different critical way. Adorno and Horkheimer criticize mass culture for its totalitarian impact on language in their work Dialectics of Enlightenment (1979). They claim that mass communication and mass culture is governed by the rules peculiar to a modern monopolist enterprise with mass production of standardized and purified from content mass products which are disseminated on the market. These mass cultural products are as homogenous in their form as the mass consumer products of monopolist enterprises. This standardization of culture results in the inevitable destruction of languages richness and its transformation into a commodity, a tool needed for the functioning consumerist society. The language which was used in culture mainly as the means for finding aesthetic truth now increasingly becomes just an operator of production. The abundance of its meanings is considerably increased, the scope of words used to signify emotions, feelings, abstract notions etc., are replaced by practical words, neologisms which are used not to widen the scope of understanding reality but for its control. Different marketing, PR, business and other dialects contaminate existing languages and reduce them to instrumental tools of communication.
Hence the conclusion is made that mass culture and media communication results in degradation of language, which in its turn leads to degradation of people’s consciousness. Language is inextricably linked to consciousness, and thus its degradation means degradation of people’s perception of reality and their living conditions (Hall 1992, p. 45-67). All this resembles Orwell description of Big Brother policy to exclude all dangerous and ‘revolutionary’ meanings from the language, which is vividly described in his novel 1984. In the vein of this approach to this central problem, the diversification and differentiation of language sociolects as a result of mass culture are sufficiently underestimated, which results in a one-sided method of analysis.
The two concepts described above help us understand the role of mass culture and media in the process of language formation. It should be noted that neither of them presents a comprehensive account of the existing problem, and hence an alternative approach is to be elaborated. There is no denying the importance of the fact that Manichean vision of reality is not an appropriate tool for its cognition. Thus, a more balanced approach to the interrelation between language and mass culture must be developed, which puts primary emphasis on balanced vision.
Flagan, A. 2001, ‘The Language of New Media’, Afterimage, 29(1), 20.
Hall, S. (Ed.). 1992, Culture, Media, Language: Working Papers in Cultural Studies, 1972-79, London, Routledge.
Adorno, T. Horkheimer M., 1976, Dialectics of Enlightenment, Continuum International Publishing Group.
McLuhan, M. 1962, The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man. Toronto, University of Toronto Press.