Language is universal. This is a fair and acceptable statement to make. However, I have learnt that language is an extensive process that is endless as time goes by. As we enter the realm of Futuristic New Media Forms, and into a more knowledgeable society; the deconstruction of language through linguists, sociologists, and cultural analysts combines to make a lethal mixture for those simply studying Media. I chose to focus this week’s postage on an article by Lunkin, Annabelle, “Reporting War: Grammar as Covert Operation, (in Dissent)” once I finished reading and carefully analyzing her paper, I then had to delve into a furthered understanding of Discourse along with the study of Semiotics, as I will explain further in this post.
Lunkin’s article emphasizes the importance of language within the context of news reporting. This is explained as Lunkin makes the reader understand through her argument that, “any report of any event is selective because of the nature of language.” Hence fundamentally, a media report and the ways language is used in the report can be interpreted and constructed through many ways. This is most interesting as it forms the basis of semiology and the study of meanings and signs. Before I analyze how semiology becomes part of this, I would like to further Lunkin’s concept in interpreting texts.
Lunkin focuses on three primary factors that explain how a statement can be received and thus how it is also constructed. (I will be quoting Lunkin in both her use of examples and explanations.
- Middle Voice – “ No mention of an external agent who caused (an) event to happen.” (Example used in Lunkin’s article, “Bombs fell on Baghdad”)
- Active Voice – “(The mention in a statement where there is a) Grammatical agent that caused the event to take place.” (Eg used, “Coalition forces dropped Bombs on Baghdad”)
- Passive Voice – “Leaving out the agent of action” (Eg used, “Bombs were dropped on Baghdad”)
Both Passive and Active Voices, Lunkin refers to as the “Effective Voice.” Furthermore, the Passive Voice is received by the audience with “a choice of whether or not to make the agent of action explicit.” In terms of the discourse in news statements, and specifically in the reporting of the Iraq War, these are three ways of “constructing the event.” So essentially, the above explains how a statement is written, or the choices available for journalists to write. The next step is based on the study of meanings and the differing ways the audience can interpret them. This is where Schirato’s and Yell’s article on interpreting meanings comes into place.
Schirato and Yell’s article, “Signs and Meanings” describes the concept of semiology. They write that the study of semiotics was developed by the linguist Ferdinard de Saussare. Through exploring Saussare’s concept, it is evident that language has been formed from a common socio-cultural understanding. The article explores Saussare’s idea of signs. They explain that Saussare was “interested in the linguistic sign which he divided into three aspects. (pg 20).”
The signifier is (put simply) the word, the signified is concerned with how this is “evoked” (p20) or our idea of the word, and sign is what I’ve understood to be as the word per se. In an example from above taken from Lunkin’s article, I’ve deconstructed the word Bomb to describe this. The signifier would be the word Bomb, the signified would be Bombardment, and the sign is disastrous if I have misunderstood the entire article, but theoretically I’d say it would be a Bomb.
The understanding of this word would be termed according to Saussare in Schirato’s and Yell’s article as having an arbitrary meaning, i.e. it is socio-culturally explained. To explain this, we all know what Bomb is. The problem I have with Saussare’s concept is that with the emergence of cultural differences, words such as terrorists and freedom fighters would be quite difficult to adapt within his concept. Therefore, when it comes to studies of the Media and language, Lunkin puts it best. As she questions us to think about Media discourse. She talks about the “coverage of war,” and poses questions such as, “what emphasis is given to the coverage of the impact of war on citizen, versus discussions of technological, military deployments and strategies, versus what politicians have said, ordered, claimed, derued, denounced, reiterated, suggested, abhorred, acknowledged, added insisted etc.?” and ends with stating that these “complex questions can be researched; such research would uncover the covert grammatical operations in reports of war, that is how certain kinds of grammatical selections might be favored over others. The Australian Public would be in a much more informed position to debate the significance and consequence of how the experience of war is mediated for us.” (p.36)
Lunkin, A, “Reporting War: Grammar as Covert Operation” Dissent (2003) pp. 14-20
Schirato T, and Yell, S. “Signs and Meaning.” Communication and Cultural Literacy: An Introduction .Sydney: Allen and Unwin 2000, pp.18-33