In light of the holiday spirit, I thought that we should dedicate this installment of the Sociolinguistics Series to the language of festivities.
I’ll begin by introducing the idea of the Critical Discourse Analysis, which approaches language as a form of social practice. Simply put, the power in a society is established and reinforced by the language use of that society’s members. CDA looks at how language affects the flow and distribution of power in a social hierarchy.
Whether you are traveling across the world or having a staycation, the Critical Discourse Analysis applies to the society you’ll find yourself in. Like the study done by Labov that I discussed in a previous section, people on different rungs of the social ladder speak accordingly. It’s not only with pronouncing the “r” sound in “fourth” and “floor,” though. The language one speaks includes the physical sounds as well as the content found in the dialogue.
For example, at camp this summer, one of my roommates did a study on different Korean dialects found in TV shows and dramas across the Korean Peninsula. She noticed that very few characters spoke with a certain stigmatized accent, and that the only characters who spoke it were people on the lower end of the social scale. These characters included servants and tour guides who only spoke about certain factual events and statistics for the purpose of entertaining the main character (who spoke in the standard Korean accent).
This pattern carries out from behind the scenes and far beyond the television screen. A little over a decade ago, a study was conducted by a team of four researchers at Cardiff University; Adam Jaworski, Virpi YlaÈnne-McEwen, Crispin Thurlow, and Sarah Lawson analyzed the language use of people in holiday programs broadcasted on television to see if they could find a correlation between social roles and speech patterns of the people in these programs. Specifically, they wanted to look at the interactions between a “host” figure and a “tourist” one--basically, whether or not locals (hosts) spoke in a certain way to the visiting tourists.
Between BBC and ITV, the researchers looked at a total of 28 different program clips recorded between 2000 and 2001. These holiday programs included the documentation of trips to many vacation hotspots, such as the Caribbean, Spain, Italy, Egypt, Hong Kong, Maldives, Australia, Dubai in the UAE, Mexico, Thailand, and more. The programs mainly followed the trips of people of Caucasian descent, so the “tourists” in this case were Americans and European (mainly English) people.
The team devised three categories of hosts, or the “local people” of the destinations: Servant/Helper, Expert/Guide, and Other. The Servants included waiters, cooks, receptionists, and the like. The Experts were people like skiing instructors, distillery guides, and park rangers. The Other category consisted of people considered “peoplescape,” or the ones that added to the “natural scene” or “landscape” of the vacation, such as local business owners and shopkeepers in the street.
The programs depicted the destinations as a whole, so they included the local “hosts” as well as the physical and material attractions about a place. The Cardiff researchers looked at each segment with host interaction, specifically focusing on the content and style of their language use.
They found that regardless of whether the host was an Expert/Guide or a Servant/Helper, the bulk of his or her speeches were made of factual information intended only for the benefit of the tourist. Many times, the hosts are ignored completely and regarded as part of the background or landscape; in these cases, the tourists do the talking in opinionated sentences that contrast the factual ones presented by talkative hosts.
Though predictable, it is important to note that hosts use the words “Sir” and “Ma’am” consistently in their speech, while tourists rarely use such address terms at all. This most likely falls under the job descriptions of many hosts, but it still adds to the idea that hosts appear subservient to tourists.
In interactions where hosts speak in the native language and the tourist is unable to respond with more than a few simple phrases, the hosts are painted to look even more like part of the background. The video programs will use effects to incorporate these host-tourist interactions into the so-called “peoplescape” by letting them blend in with panning shots of the actual (natural) landscape.
These types of depictions are what contribute to the social stigmas and images that surround the local hosts of a destination. It helps tourists maintain power over the natives and create a very strange social hierarchy.
This analysis is far from over, as we have only covered the content of language by hosts and tourists. Stay tuned for next week, where we will be looking at language style and grammar of these tourist-host interactions!