Deconstructing Martha Stewart’s style

19 11 2009

Lovely paper by Jennifer Sclafani in the latest issue of the Journal of Sociolinguistics. Sclafani investigates “parodies of a linguistic style that has been attributed to the ideological construct of the ‘Good Woman’ (Eckert 2004), as it is used by lifestyle entrepreneur Martha Stewart” (2009: 615).

Using Lakoff’s list speech elements typical of Woman’s Language (which I am reproducing below, just for the fun of it), Sclafani illustrates how Martha Stewart parodies exploit these features to expose Martha Stewart’s ‘Bad Woman’ alter ego.

1. lexical items related specifically to women’s interests (e.g. dollop, mandolin);
2. hedges (you could, if you like);
3. hypercorrect grammar (British pronunciation of herb with initial /h/ aspirated intervocalic /t/);
4. superpolite forms (double-thanking guests, i.e. ‘thank you, thank you very much’);
5. no joking;
6. speaking in italics (i.e. using emphatic stress);
7. the use of intensive ‘so’ (these are so tasty);
8. empty adjectives (gorgeous, utterly fantastic);
9. wider intonation range; and
10. question intonation in declaratives.

(Sclafani 2009: 617)

Sclafani, Jennifer (2009). Martha Stewart behaving Badly: Parody and the symbolic meaning of style. Journal of Sociolinguistics 13 (5): 613-633.

DiO Workshop day III: final plenaries

18 09 2009

Four, yes four, plenary presentations were scheduled on the Friday afternoon. Two corpus linguistic studies kicked off the written corporate communication theme. Birgitta Meex & Heidi Verplaetse (Lessius/KULeuven) compared German and English corporate mission statements. Berna Hendriks & Margot Van Mulken (University of Nijmegen) then presented an analysis of CEO communication.

The final two presentations were on…journalism. Ha! Martina Temmerman & Els Belsack (Erasmus University College Brussels) talked about positioning and self-representation during televised political interviews. Finally, Ellen Van Praet (Ghent University) and yours truly went the reflective/methodological route. We opted not to present micro data and instead focus on the pros and cons of secondary analysis.

Thank you: Geert, Katja, Craig, Chris, Sylvain, Priscilla and all the delegates for coming out. Hope to see you again at a DiO event.

DiO Workshop day III: PhD colloquium

18 09 2009

Third and final DiO day. The morning slots were dedicated to a PhD colloquium (in collaboration with the Association for Business Communication). Ten people presented their research in five parallel sessions. Each participant was appointed one or two mentors.

I attended four presentations: first up was Kristian Hursti (Helsinki School of Economics). His talk on financial forecasts doubled as Kristian’s maiden speech, but it did not show. Kristian previously worked as a financial journalist at Reuters and has only recently embarked on a PhD project. My future colleague Jasper Vandenberghe (University College Ghent) then gave a presentation on self-justification in press releases.

Sabine Rettinger’s (Ludwig-Maximilians Universität München) talk on competence displays in – to quote Chris Braecke – Socratic coaching interactions illustrate, among other things, how coaches position themselves interactionally vis-à-vis their clients. The final presentation I attended was by Hana Blazkova (University of Birmingham) on involvement strategies in so-called business development network presentations.

DiO Workshop Day II: plenary talks

17 09 2009

The second day of DiO was kicked off by Gerlinde Mautner (University of Vienna). Her presentation showed how (neo-liberal) marketing and entrepreneurial discourses have penetrated both the religious and the secular in organizations. Gerlinde has a book coming out on market discourses.

Next, Sarah Scheepers (KULeuven, Public Management institute) talked about competency discourses in diversity management of the Flemish public sector. Looking at diversity action plans, Sarah found that competency discourses are full of administrative neologisms, do not mention notions like inequality and discrimination and are geared towards homogenizing (and de-politicizing) individual differences.

Three presentations then followed on meetings. Jo Angouri (University of West England) took a Community of Practice approach to how professional identities are performed during meetings – “the practical alternative to work” – at a British multinational engineering company. Harry Mazeland (University of Groningen) took a meticulous conversation analytic approach to Dutch-language business meetings. Finally, Jonathan Clifton (Université Lille 3) and Dorien Van De Mieroop (Lessius University College) focused on identity construction in decision-making talk (based on audio records made in 1962) between President John F. Kennedy and a NASA chief.

The afternoon was organized around two thematic slots: communicative competence in language learning settings and oral interaction in institutions. I took a program break to practice my own presentation and prepare for my ahum ‘mentoring’ role (more on that tomorrow). Birte Pawlack’s (University of Hamburg) talk on ad-hoc interpreters in healthcare settings deconstructed a number of ‘knowledges’ (reflective, interpretive, linguistic). Holger Limberg (University of Oldenburg) concluded the plenary sessions with a presentation on student talk during academic office hours.

IPrA panel on collaborative news writing

14 07 2009

Takeaways from the 11th Int’l Pragmatics Conference in Melbourne:

  • Don Bysouth’s research on ‘teasing’ by American service personnel in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan – oh, the boredom of warfare
  • Val Williams’ inclusive research – empowering people with learning disabilities: feel-good applied linguistics research
  • Conference clichés: “So when did you arrive?”, “That’s really interesting, thank you”, “So what part of the States are you from, Tom?”, “And how’s your PhD coming along?”
  • Daniel Perrin’s social skills and networking expertise – in a class of his own
From L-R: Aloxe Jetlag, Daniel 'I flew business and slept 8 hours on the plane' Perrin, Lut Baten, Val Williams

From L-R: A still jetlagged yours truly, Daniel 'I flew business and slept 8 hours' Perrin, Lut Baten and Val Williams @ the IPrA conference opening reception

  • Marcel Burger’s jaw-dropping data – turning the process of television journalism inside out
  • the thematic coherence of and audience response to our panel on news production – thank you

Collaborative news writing: A discursive perspective on news production
Convenors: Daniel Perrin, Ellen Van Praet & Tom Van Hout

Panel line-up

  • Daniel Perrin – “Let the pictures do the talking” – Investigating TV journalists’ collaborative text production strategies
  • Tom Van Hout & Ellen Van Praet Buy or sell? The role of consumption and authorship in financial news writing
  • Ellen Van Praet & Tom Van Hout – Competence on display: negotiating status during editorial meetings
  • Marcel Burger – Dealing with conflicting journalistic styles to achieve texts: oral negotiation of written media discourse
  • Inés Olza – The role of metaphor in news production: Political metaphors in “preformulated” media texts
  • Jasper Vandenberghe – New Spanish conquistadores? Newspaper articles and press releases on Spanish foreign investments in Argentina.

The indexicality of fake German in Brüno

13 07 2009

The ‘gloriously provocative’ [H/T: Xan Brooks] Brüno is remarkable in at least three ways. First, the film is at times hand-over-mouth appalling yet lavatorially hilarious. Say what you want about Sacha Baron Cohen (infantile, neurotic, bourgeois), but the man has balls (no pun intended). Hasidic hot pants in Jerusalem, anyone?

Second, while some of the scenes were clearly staged, others (like the grande finale) apparently were not. I bow humbly before the producers for gaining access to all those political figures, subcultures and social settings. I also found it quite revealing to learn how Baron Cohen dupes his interviewees. That takes time, practice and preparation. And ignorance, bigotry and prejudice too. Lots of it.

Third, I credit Baron-Cohen’s linguistic performance in Brüno for extending the indexical range of mock German. This is more difficult than it sounds. I normally associate a fake German accent with dispassion, authority and expertise (just ask David Cameron, Herr Flick ‘from ze Gestapo’, Frau Farbissina). Baron Cohen’s umlaut-friendly performance (“vassup?”) in Brüno adds an effeminate, camp flamboyance to fake German.

Put more technically, by endoginizing a “gay electro-Austrian-Germanic” figure of personhood, Baron Cohen makes Brüno socially performable and (instantly) recognizable as an aggressively homosexual Viennese fashionista. Similar processes of enregisterment are brilliantly described in Asif Agha‘s work.

Sacha Baron Cohen as Bruno. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/AP (The Guardian)

Sacha Baron Cohen as Bruno. Photograph: Chris Pizzello/AP (The Guardian)

Articles are indexed and/or abstracted in

16 05 2009

I have just learned that Pragmatics, the journal of the International Pragmatics Association has been indexed in ISI Web of Knowledge, the holy grail of academic publishing. And here comes the kicker: all Pragmatics articles from Vol. 18, 2008 onwards are now indexed. Guess when NT&T’s special issue on news management came out…that’s right, Volume 18, Issue 1. I am a very happy camper. My CV looks a lot better with two additional A1 publications.

“A female jackal is holding my leg”

21 03 2009

The title of this post refers to an Amazigh proverb for calf muscle cramps. It was one of many examples Mena Lafkioui gave during yesterday’s DiO workshop to illustrate how Amazigh identity is (re)constructed online in Dutch and Tarifit (an Amazigh language of North Morocco).

Dr. Mena Lafkioui in action

Mena showed how folk narratives, riddles and expressions are ‘passed on’ in a number of Dutch-based Amazigh websites and how bilingual forum chats recontextualize ‘traditional’ Amazigh group identities. One of my takeaways from this workshop, apart from Mena’s jaw-dropping language skills – she speaks Arabic, Berber, Dutch, English, German, Hebrew, French and Italian – was the almost language-universal currency spelling has in computer-mediated communication. There is something about chat forum interaction that turns people into language police officers.

Read up on it:

Identity construction through bilingual Amazigh-Dutch “digital” discourse. In: M. Lafkioui & V. Brugnatelli (eds), Berber in contac: linguistic and sociolinguistic perspectives, Köln, Rüdiger Köppe Verlag (in Berber Studies, 22), 2008: 217-231.

Negotiating roles in the news interview

2 03 2009

The first job I ever landed in academia was in content management. Commissioned by John Benjamins Publishing Company, the Bibliography of Pragmatics (BoP) is an ambitious (43,500 database records!) but, alas, commercially unsuccessful reference tool for the field of pragmatics, i.e. the cognitive, social, and cultural study of language-in-use. My job was to write entries based on peer-reviewed research drawn from the various traditions that pragmatics encompasses.

I left the BoP position to pursue a research career in applied linguistics, first specializing in educational linguistics, later in discourse analysis and currently in linguistic ethnography. What I took away from my time as IPrA bibliographer was an appreciation of and interest in the various subdisciplines of pragmatics. From time to time, I give back to IPrA by writing ‘book notices’, i.e. short, descriptive reports on monographs and edited volumes for their journal, Pragmatics.

Here’s my latest contribution, a notice of Elda Weizman’s Positioning in Media Dialogue, which offers an empirical account of how interviewers and interviewees negotiate their social personae (e.g. expert on mobility) and interactional roles (interviewer vs interviewee) during television news interviews.

Read the rest of this entry »

No shake, all bake transcription tools

26 02 2009

In discourse analysis, transcribing audio or video data is a necessary evil. In this process of entextualization and recontextualization, recordings become transcripts – the textual simulacra discourse analysts rely on to analyze what and how people ‘do things’ with language.

There are number of commercial transcription tools available but if you’re looking for a basic (Windows only) speech transcription utility, I recommend VoiceWalker (if it’s bells and whistles you want, try Transana). VoiceWalker was designed by University of California linguists John W. Du Bois and Mary Bucholtz and can be downloaded freely.

In addition, a somewhat more ambitious tool is SoundWriter. This (beta) software is designed to link a transcription to the audio source file, “to help the researcher hear and visualize relationships between utterances in conversational interaction”. Download for free here.