Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 8 : 9 September 2008
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         K. Karunakaran, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.



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Language of Mass Media -
A Study Based on Malayalam Broadcasts
A Doctoral Dissertation

K. Parameswaran, Ph.D.

Introducing the Dissertation

The language of mass media is a protean phenomenon, with an amazing variety of character. From the four - sheet evening dailies to major players like Mathrubhumi or Malayala Manorama to umpteen numbers of TV channels, each media caters to particular audiences and so each media develops its own language and idiom.

Mathrubhumi is a primier Malayalam newspaper published from Kozhikode, the principal seat of administration and commerce in the Malabar region of Kerala. They have editions from various other centers of the state as well as in other centers like Chennai. Malayala Manorama has its headquarters in Kottayam in central Travancore region of South Kerala. Malayala Manorama also has multi editions being produced at various centers inside and outside the state of Kerala. Both the newspapers also have a set of specialized publications aimed at niche audiences like children, women, job seekers etc.)

But mass media in itself is formulated out of and is governed by certain particular characteristics. These characteristics form the justification for positing a ‘language of mass media’.

This thesis tries to identify these characteristics and describe one particular type of mass media – the radio – with reference to these characteristics.

The introductory chapter defines the concept of mass media and describes the various genres available therein.

In the second chapter, the evolution of the radio as a potent mass media is described, with emphasis on the history and development of All India Radio.

The third chapter posits the existence of a variety called ‘the language of radio’ and defines its central characteristics.

The fourth chapter validates this with examples from Malayalam radio news broadcasts.

Approach to Mass Media

It has to be noted here that the concept of ‘language of mass media’ and the ‘language of radio’ are approached in this thesis from the point of view that they are ‘discourses’. The thesis posits that a particular discourse exists in the mass media and that the radio uses a discourse that is a variety of the discourse of mass media.

Mass Media

Mass Media has been defined as “means of communication designed to reach and influence very large numbers of people”. (Encyclopaedia Britannicca, 1980). Defleur and Ball – Rokeach (1996) defines mass communication as a technology which helps a message to be transmitted among a large number of people at the same time. Thus, it includes newspapers, magazines, television, radio, cinema and the now ubiquitous internet.

Defleur et al (1996) have also placed the value of mass media at a high premium by arguing that the history of human existence itself can be explained solely in terms of distinctive stages in the development of mass communication technologies. They content that these communication systems represent critical points of change in human history.

According to them, the various stages of the development of communication systems are as follows – age of signs and signals, speech and language, writing, printing, mass communication and finally computers and the internet. It has also to be noted specially that the nature of any society’s communication process is necessarily linked to virtually every aspect of the society’s daily life.

Some Theories

Various theories have been floated about the study of mass communications. Defleur et al (1996) says that the study of mass communications should be able to throw significant light on a, the impact of the society on a medium, b, the various processes involved in the working of mass communication systems, and c, the influence of medium on society. Many studies done hitherto concentrate on ‘c’, because a significant portion of criticism against mass communication media has concentrated on the way in which they have influenced the society or significant sections of society.

The present study shifts the focus of study to ‘a’ and ‘b’ and tries to understand the dynamics of media – society relationship from the view point of the society However, in order to understand the nature of the dynamics of the media – society relationship i.e., ‘a’ or ‘c’, it becomes necessary to have a clear understanding of ‘b’, i.e., the nature of the functioning of the media or mass communication systems.

The society has to function in the context of social reality and one of the significant tools that the society has at its command to achieve this is language. From another point of view, language is the medium used by the society to exchange or explain the understandings and standpoints of one section of the society to its other sections. Hence, it can be concluded that language plays an important role in realizing ‘a’ and ‘c’ and that language is an important ingredient of ‘b’

Language and Mass Media

It is in this context that this thesis attempts to analyze mass media against the background of language. Most attempts to analyze the language of mass media have concentrated on finding out formal mistakes committed with a critical view.

Chovva dosham, a weekly column appearing in Mathrubhumi is a case in point. It is an attempt to find out mistakes committed in various editions of the paper in the previous week and either justify them or correct them. Books like Panmana Ramachandran Nair’s Nalla Malayalam (2001), etc., have also made such prescriptive approach to the language of media.)These criticisms view broadcast language or the language of mass media as a formal system – a grammar.

But language can also be seen as a functional system – a system in use, i.e., a discourse system. One of the features of such a system will be a continuous evolution which will make criticism solely from the point of view of grammar irrelevant. Mistakes will form part and parcel of such systems; and at many points, the evolution of the system will change what was once termed a mistake into an acceptable usage.

Analysing media language

The next question that naturally arises in this context is the relevance or necessity of analyzing the language of media as discourse.

Fairclough (1985) discusses why the analysis of media language from the point of view of discourse differs from the analysis of media language from the point of view of linguistics.

In pages 16 and 17 he says that “analysis of media language as discourse can help in reaching a detailed understanding of the nature of media output. While linguistic analysis focuses on texts, discourse analysis is concerned with both texts as well as practices – discourse practices as well as socio cultural texts. It is an attempt to correlate texts, discourse practices and socio cultural practices.”

Adam Jarowski and Nikolas Coupland have explicitly referred to the necessity of considering language from the point of view of discourse in their introductory essay in Jarowski et al 2004.

In their own words,
Rapid growth in communications media, such as satellite and digital television and radio, desktop publishing, telecommunications (mobile phone networks, video conferencing), email, internet mediated sales and services, information provision and entertainment, has created new media for language use. It is not surprising that language is becoming more and more closely scrutinized….. while simultaneously being shaped and honed (for example by advertisers, journalists and broadcasters) in a drive to generate ever – more attention and persuasive impact. Under these circumstances, language itself becomes marketable and a sort of commodity, and its purveyors can market themselves through their skills of linguistic and textual manipulation…….Discourse ceases to be ‘merely a function of work; it becomes work, just as it defines various forms of leisure and, for that matter, academic study. The analysis of discourse becomes correspondingly more important – in the first instance for those with direct involvement in the language economies, and second, for those who need to deconstruct these new trends, to understand their force and even to oppose them”.


Language of Mass Media: A Study Based on Malayalam Broadcasts - A Doctoral Dissertation | Resisting Change through Individual Heroism - Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart | Social Semiotics as a Tool for Visual Literacy | Mastering Tenses Creatively | History of Growth and Reforms of British Military Administration in India, 1848-1949 | Communication and Inarticulation -
Symbols and Images in the Plays of Eugene O'Neill
| The Impact of Gender on Proficiency, Attitude and Social Class of Pre-University Students in Mysore within the Framework of Learners' Multilingualism | HOME PAGE of September 2008 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR

K. Parameswaran

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