Universiteit Leiden

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Language guardians: The role of mass media in linguistic prescriptivism

Thursday 28 September 2017
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden


The title of a 2014 article published in the Daily Mail reads: “Don’t rely on us for good grammar, says the BBC: Broadcaster is no longer the bastion of correct English, it’s ‘style chief’ admits”. The audience, as the title implies, traditionally attributes the role of the language guardian to the Corporation, which has had an indisputable linguistic influence in Britain. If we look beyond this example, mass media institutions and professionals employed in them everywhere are expected to adhere to prescriptive rules not only by their audience, but also by their community of practice (Albakry 2007, 29; Cotter 2014, 371).

In order to shed light on the role of mass media in linguistic prescriptivism, this paper analyses the interviews conducted with British journalists who act as language authorities, that is, style guide authors and editors. The remaining parts of the paper illustrate what influences the process of accepting changes in usage and lifting sanctions from the linguistic features that have been stigmatised previously and deemed unacceptable in the mass media context.

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