Reading Blommaert today I am struck by the resonances with Doug Richardson’s talk to MLC students in the Proseminar last night. Specifically, he talks about 5 theoretical principles that underlie our research tradition as analysts of language. These also happen to resonate deeply with Doug’s observations about what social “work” takes place in the first 20 seconds of a job interview (which we know can be analyzed just like any instance of contextualized “moment of social action” – to quote our dear friends Scollon and Scollon)
Specifically, Blommaert (2006, pp 14-16) tells us that:
1. In analysing language-in-society, the focus should be on what language use means to its users. in the interview context, this means not just that the language you use matters, it is HOW the language you use matters. We need to gain as much access to the “insider’s view” of the culture that we are seeking to enter.
2. We have to be aware that language operates differently in different environments, and that in order to properly understand how language works, we need to contextualize it properly, to establish the relations between language usage and the particular purposes for which and conditions under which it operates. In other words, we need to know as much as we can able the speech event that is a job interview.
3. Our unit of analysis is not an abstract ‘language’ but the actual and densely contextualized forms in which language occurs in society. This is where our skills and training come in. Our awareness of accents and dialects, styles. Our commitment to exposing the ways that framing impacts the reception of messages and shapes our future actions. Our awareness of intertextuality and dialogicality, that all language carries voices and it is our job to be aware of seemingly innocuous word coinings like “ObamaCare.”
4. In interaction [people] are constrained by the range and structure of their repertoires, and the distribution of elements of the repertoires in any society is unequal. It all comes back to power. Remember Doug’s observation that the FIRST thing interactants are evaluating is status. This information tells us how any interaction will go.
5. We have to conceive of communication events as ultimately influenced by the structure of the world system. I think the way that this emerges most powerfully in the work that we are all doing in the Proseminar in our awareness that communication (what it means, what it can do) is shifting because of social media. As we go out in the world and talk about our competencies, we will be expected to have thoughts about this.
I am also really loving Blommaert’s assessment that “a critical analysis of discourse in contemporary society is an analysis of voice…or “the way in which people manage to make themselves understood or fail to do so. In doing so, they have to draw upon and deploy discursive means which they have at their disposal , and they have to use them in contexts that are specified as to conditions of use.” The reason this is important, our “so what” is that “voice is the issue that defines linguistic inequality (hence, many other forms of inequality) in contemporary society” (pp 4-5).