Vox Popular: The Surprising Life of Language in the Media
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More About This Title Vox Popular: The Surprising Life of Language in the Media


Our favorite movies and TV shows feature indelible characters who tell us about themselves not just in what they say but in how they say it. The creative decisions behind these voices—such as what accent or dialect to use—offer rich data for sociolinguistic study. Ideal for students of language variation as well as general readers interested in media, Vox Popular is an engaging tour through the major issues of sociolinguistic study as heard in the voices from mass media.

• Provides readers with a unified and accessible picture of the interrelationships between language variation and the mass media

• Presents detailed original analyses of multiple audiovisual media sources

• Includes a broad methods chapter covering quantitative and qualitative methods in a style not available in any other textbook

• All theoretical terms are accessibly explained, with engaging examples, making it suitable for non-academics as well as undergraduate students

• Incorporates pedagogical textboxes throughout and includes sections dedicated to developing practical skills for the field


Robin Queen is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Linguistics, English Languages and Literatures, and Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan. In addition to her research on language variation in the mass media, Queen has extensively researched language, gender, and sexuality; intonation and prosody; and contact-related language change. She is the co-author of Through the Golden Door: Educational Approaches for Immigrant Adolescents with Limited Schooling (1998).


Preface and Acknowledgments vii

A Note on the Linguistic Conventions Used in Vox Popular x

Keywords Found in Each Chapter xiv

1 Language in a Mediated World 1

Mad Men in a Modern Family World 1

Why Does a Linguist Care about Mad Men or Modern Family? 3

Narrative Media as a Site for Linguistic Exploration 12

Language Variation in the Narrative Media 20

2 Exploring Language and Language Variation 25

Introduction 25

Languages and Dialects 27

The Components of a Grammar 32

All the Systems Work as a System 34

Systems of Variation 40

Language Change 47

3 Studying Language Variation in the Media 55

Introduction 55

Formulating a Research Question 56

Turning Narrative Media into Data 57

Analytic Orientation 58

Transcribing Your Data 61

Coding Your Data 66

Constructing a Corpus 69

Quantitative Methods 70

Qualitative Methods 75

Triangulating Your Evidence with Different Analytic Approaches 82

4 Dimensions of Variation 85

Introduction 85

Non-Linguistic/Linguistic 90

Spoken/Written 93

Non-Standard/Standard 97

Informal/Formal 101

Unplanned/Planned 104

Local/Global 107

Private/Public 110

Putting It All Together 114

5 Making Language Variation Meaningful 119

Introduction 119

Meaning 120

Indexical Meaning 124

Ideology 130

Ideology about Language 133

Ideology, Indexicality, and Power 138

6 Language Variation and Characterization 154

Introduction 154

Characterization and Language 156

Realness and Authenticity 160

Identity and Identification 163

Relational Identity 164

Norms and Types 168

Social Personae 172

Indexical Authenticity 176

7 Language as Narrative Action 183

Introduction 183

Performance and Speech Acts 185

Language as a Plot Device 193

Switching as Action 196

Taboo Language as Action 205

8 Connecting to the Audience 221

Introduction 221

Audiences 222

Audience Design 226

Setting Expectations for Viewers 230

Enregisterment 236

Stylization 242

Interacting with Audiovisual Media 246

The End 253

Index 258


"In our times, film and television show America talking in a more realistic way every year, and it's high time someone wrote a book on language and society that puts MODERN FAMILY, BOYZ N THE HOOD and much else front and center as useful sources of discussion on how America talks and why. Robin Queen has done the job." –John H. McWhorter, Columbia University

“Robin Queen's Vox Popular manages to do many things at once, and with finesse: it introduces the study of language in its social context in a way that will be accessible to non-linguists; it establishes an approachable, achievable methodology for the study of language in the media that is theoretically sound; and it provides a treasure-trove of material gathered over many years that will be invaluable for anyone teaching these subjects. There are years of work distilled into a readable, useful whole about one of the least studied and most promising areas of research: the role that mediated language plays in constructing social identities, from Donald Duck to Breaking Bad and beyond.” –Rosina Lippi-Green, author of English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the U.S.

"Not only an important contribution to media studies but the kind of book that makes you want to design a new course specifically in order to use it as a text.  A pleasure to read!” –Barbara Johnstone, Carnegie Mellon University

 “Vox Popular convincingly shows that in our media-saturated world, linguistics and cultural studies need each other. Students and faculty in both fields will learn a great deal from this insightful and engrossing text.” –Mary Bucholtz, University of California, Santa Barbara