Monthly Archives: October 2013

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National Key Research Center for Linguistics & Applied Linguistics

My visit to Guangdong University of Foreign Studies was featured on the National Key Research Center for Linguistics & Applied Linguistics website, along with a picture of me talking about what I usually talk about – critical discourse studies!

Johnny Unger talking about CDS at GDUFS

Johnny talking about CDS

New media, old power: challenging elite discourse through digitally augmented activism

Hangzhou, China


This paper will discuss how and why activists use digital media such as microblogs and websites to contest and subvert the discourse produced by powerful institutions and disseminated via traditional media. By presenting the results of a discourse-historical analysis of several campaigns aimed at governments and multinational businesses, questions are raised about traditional understandings of how power is enacted and constructed in the contemporary media landscape. In particular, the acceleration of global flows of information via social media, within and between different cultures, is shown to problematize the notion that ‘elite’, static texts are the best objects of analysis for critical discourse studies. Instead, scholars need a new inventory of tools that can handle dynamic, constantly changing texts, often produced, reproduced and recontextualised by multiple authors and interpretable only by considering how meaning is generated through rapid traversal of different semiotic elements, rather than monolithic texts. At the same time, more traditional notions of media power have not become irrelevant, and political and economic elites are undoubtedly still central in framing public discourse. Increasingly, however, traditional media such as newspapers or television interact with digital media in complex, and often also dynamic ways. It is these interactions between ‘old’ and ‘new’ that prove the most fruitful sites of analysis: in particular, through close analysis of which contesting voices and frames are taken up in traditional media, and which are ignored.

Invited paper: Approaching language policy from a critical perspective: the role of discourse studies

Centre for Linguistics and Applied Linguistics, Guangzhou, China

(N.B. This is an updated version of the talk I gave at Leeds LLTPRG last year)


In this paper I will outline some of the main theoretical and methodological considerations involved in applying a critical discourse studies framework to the study of language policies and language attitudes. In particular, I will attempt to show how we can best use critical, discursive approaches such as critical discourse analysis when examining language attitudes and policies. Two case studies will illustrate this point: first, drawing on a previous research project, a study of the Scots language, an autochtonous minority language spoken in Scotland, is used to show how language attitudes pervade the public and private spheres, and how often languages are evaluated positively, but not necessarily valued; and second, I will present the findings from an investigation into attitudes towards the use of English as a Lingua Franca at a higher education institution in France, in which students in a highly multilingual environment hold sometimes unexpected attitudes towards the various languages in their linguistic repertoires. In each case, “top-down” data such as policy documents and debates among power elites are combined with “bottom-up” data gathered from language users affected by policies and attitudes. I will argue that it is not enough to look at the content of language policies and what people say about language. Rather, to fully account for the impact of policy and attitudes on the lives of language users, we must look at how both powerful and affected groups and structure, instrumentalise, and recontextualise discourse on language and language varieties.

My visit to Olashore International School this past June was featured in the School’s magazine, Oasis. I’m about to go again – really looking forward to seeing the students and staff again.


1Welcome to the last edition of Oasis for this academic session, 2012/2013. This has been a busy and exciting term in the school and I hope you will enjoy the photos and stories in the magazine relating our activities. The focus of the magazine this term is on our new prefects and the leadership role that they take on in the school. Prefects are the face of leadership within the school. During the year parents and guests have seen the leading role that prefects played at major events such as Founder’s Day. They also take responsibility for many programmes within the school including the mid-term carnival along with a range of daily duties.

As we have begun to develop our Alumni Association and taken time to reflect on the words of the Founder, it is clear that leadership is one of the key qualities that makes an Olashore graduate standout…

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