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Language and Media

Language and Media
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  C:/ITOOLS/WMS/CUP-NEW/4903776/WORKINGFOLDER/KOCK/ 9781107030077C22.3D  539  [539–556] 2.4.2014 3:27PM 22 Language and media Ilana Gershon and Paul Manning  If we begin to think about the relationship of language and media, materi-ality is often at stake. Why? Media as a category has in the past often only been visible as an analytical object when one moves away from a co-present situation, and thus when media’s materiality helps distinguish itfrom language. In the “default” case of a putatively pure spoken language,language is materialized in only one medium or channel, that is, acousti-cally. It is primarily when language is materialized in some other materialmedium that we begin to speak of “media” (with spoken language being treated sometimes as unmediated, at other times as one unmarked mediaamong others). In turn, the fact that the mediality of language is rarely explored in media studies, Eisenlohr notes, is partially an inheritance of a view of language in which “language becomes a seemingly transparentmediumofsense,notbecause . . . thelinguisticsoundwasconsideredtobethemost‘immaterial’ofallmedia”(Eisenlohr2011:267).Thiscanleadoneto think of the semiotic “essence” of language as belonging to whatever isleft over when analysts factor out these materializations in differing media, as belonging exclusively to a dematerialized Saussurean  langue ,Peircean types or  legisigns , or Jakobsonian  code . Media in this sense thusmight be reduced to an epiphenomenal or accidental issue of differing material realizations of the code, Saussurean  parole , Peircean  sinsigns , and Jakobsonian  message .For media scholars, media, not surprisingly, is not treated as an epiphe-nomenal manifestation of code. Indeed, media is so polysemous that formedia scholars as well as contemporary linguistic anthropologists, mediais only occasionally taken to be the opposite of language. As Spitulnik notes, while media can be defined in the sense of a “transmitter”/ ”medium” as mentioned above, it currently has such a wide range of additionalmeanings –including“communicationchannels,technologies,formats, genres and products” (Spitulnik 2000: 148) – that it becomesdifficult to delineate a coherent object. Yet what all these uses have in  C:/ITOOLS/WMS/CUP-NEW/4903776/WORKINGFOLDER/KOCK/ 9781107030077C22.3D  540  [539–556] 2.4.2014 3:27PM commonisthefactthatmediacanmoverapidlyfrombeingavisible,evenintrusive, part of communication to an invisible and taken-for-grantedelement. As Eisenlohr points out “If one abandons the simple transmittermodel of media, there is perhaps one key characteristic that unites themanifoldobjectsandtechnologiesthathavebeendesignated‘media.’Thisis their oscillation between highly obvious, visible and creative roleson one hand, and their tendency to vanish in the act of mediation on theother hand.” (Eisenlohr 2011: 267). Eisenlohr persuasively argues that thispropensity towards “simultaneous salience and disappearance” appliesequally to language. 1 The problems of studying media (and other infra-structures), and the relation of language to media, then, are at least partly coterminous with the problem of studying the materiality of language,an area where linguistic anthropology has been particularly fruitful inrecent years.Materiality in some form often becomes the basis for analytically dis-tinguishing language from media for many theorists, even when thesescholars disagree over the basic definitions, including what language is, what media is, and thus, inevitably, what materiality is.For example, for Charles Pierce, materiality denotes all that is “outside”ofthesemiotic.Whendefiningthematerialqualitiesofthesign,hewrites:“Since a sign is not identical with the thing signified, but differs from thelatterinsomerespects,itmustplainlyhavesomecharacterswhichbelong to it in itself, and have nothing to do with its representative function”(Peirce1868).Thematerialityofthesign,accordingtoPierce,isthatwhichis not part of the process of representing, the leftover that is unique to the way that specific sign exists in the world. The “material qualities” of anobject are precisely those real qualities  not yet   significant semiotically, forexample, for the word “man” as written down, the fact that the letters areflat and without relief (Peirce 1868).By contrast, Frederick Kittler, a German media theorist, begins with aradically different conception of language and media than Peirce does. And yet materiality (albeit a Kittlerian materiality) is also at the heart of how language and media are counterposed in Kittler’s theoretical frame- work. For Kittler, humans ontologically are cyborgs, existing in terms of how what they communicate is transmitted and stored. Humans are one with the media they use to communicate, and thus ontologically differentselves when new technologies are introduced. The people who wrote withpens prior to the introduction of the typewriter were different selves thanthepeoplewhotyped.Inlargemeasure,thedifferenceforKittlerliesinthe ways that the pen and the typewriter store information: the materialstructures of each transforms how people can exist within discourse net- works. What people communicate is not as relevant for Kittler as thematerial structure of the tools they use to communicate. He writes:“What counts are not the messages or the content with which they equipso-called souls for the duration of a technological era, but rather (and in 540  I L A N A G E R S H O N A N D PA U L M A N N I N G  C:/ITOOLS/WMS/CUP-NEW/4903776/WORKINGFOLDER/KOCK/ 9781107030077C22.3D  541  [539–556] 2.4.2014 3:27PM strict accordance with McLuhan) their circuits, the very schematism of perceptibility” (Kittler 1999: xl–xli). Kittler, in short, by beginning withmedia and only turning to semiotic representation as an afterthought,ends up taking the representational aspect of language to be a leftover in what is important in communication, an almost exact inverse of Peirce. Yetforboth,materialityplaysacentralroleindistinguishinglanguageandmedia, although in ways that depend entirely on their starting points. What, then, are the questions we are encouraged to ask when, as WebbKeanerecommends(2003),oneplacesthematerialityofthesignfrontandcenter as the focus of analysis? In the first section, we examine the topicsthat one studies when focusing on the materiality of the medium itself,aspects such as entextualization, participant structure, and remediation.In the second section, we discuss analyses that result when one takesmediated communication to be the opposite of immediacy, when thecentral analytical dichotomy is between mediated communication andco-presence. In our third section, we discuss how a focus on materiality has the potential to transform who or what counts as a mediator, framing in unexpected ways the roles humans and non-humans might play inmediating communication. 22.1  Materiality of the Medium  Attention to materiality can allow scholars to ask: to what extent arescholars analyzing how people separate texts from the contexts for circu-lation, and what ideas about authorship, authenticity, and circulationaccompany these processes of producing intertextuality? Entextualizationistheprocessbywhichatextisboundandmadeavailableforcirculationinother contexts (see Bauman and Briggs 1990, Silverstein and Urban 1996,Bauman 2004), serving to “objectify it as a discrete textual unit that can bereferred to, described, named, displayed, cited  and otherwise treated as anobject  ” (Bauman 2004: 4, emphasis added). While the materiality of themedium in no way exhausts the different processes involved in entextual-ization, it remains that different media allow this binding to take place inmedium-specific ways. An audiotape prepares its content to circulate indifferent ways than a handwritten text does. As a result, the circulationitself can be strongly affected by the medium, or media used (one can now photocopy a handwritten letter or scan it and post it on the web to ensurebroader circulation). The process of removing the text from its srcinary context,decontextualization,relies heavily onthe structureofthe mediumused to move a text from one context to another. The structure of themediumalsoaffectsthepracticesusedtointroducetextsintonewcontexts,the techniques of recontextualization. By turning to materiality, one canbegintofocusonsomeaspectsofentextualizationasaprocessinwhichthe ways in which a text is a material form is integral to how a text can be Language and media  541  C:/ITOOLS/WMS/CUP-NEW/4903776/WORKINGFOLDER/KOCK/ 9781107030077C22.3D  542  [539–556] 2.4.2014 3:27PM separated from its context and integrated into other contexts. Whether theutterances are spoken or written, typed or scribbled, recorded on analog tape or a digital MP3, all this shapes the ways in which entextualizationtakes place. When texts enter into new contexts, they both are transformed andtransform the contexts. The process of recontextualization alwaysrequires that texts be calibrated anew to a particular context and inter- wovenwiththediscursivestrandsavailableinthatcontext(Bauman2004).Thedegreetowhichrecontextualizationaltersthetextvaries–sometimesthe gap created is a major one, sometimes a minor one. These intertextualgapsareoftenaffectedbythematerialstructureofthemediumusedintheprocess of entextualization. A half-remembered lyric repeated stentori-ouslyduringapoliticalrallycanbeawiderintertextualgapthanakaraokeperformance of the same lyric. The degree to which the gap exists, how-ever, is not something an analyst can determine simply by comparing thetwo contexts in question. As Eisenlohr persuasively illustrates in his 2010discussion of why Mauritian Muslims take audiotaped prayers to be moreauthentic and closer to the srcinal than written prayers, participants’semiotic ideologies are crucial in understanding the implications anddegree of the intertextual gap (Eisenlohr 2010). When people are choosing which medium to use for a communicativetask, they might pay attention to how a medium enables decontextuali-zation. Some communicative technologies allow texts to be removedfrom their context more easily than others. Some of the work on entex-tualization has focused on how people use different grammatical struc-tures to enable decontextualization or prevent it (Silverstein and Urban1996). People can pay the same kind of attention to their media choices,deciding that emails can be forwarded too easily and a phone call mightnot allow conversational turns to be removed from the larger context(ignoring wire taps).People’s understandings of a particular medium contributes to whetherthose involved are focused on the texts’ boundaries, as well as the inter-textual gaps at play. When a king’s messenger announces his sovereign’sproclamation, the text is clearly demarcated as a text with srcins else- where.Indeed,thisrecontextualizationispartofthetext’smetapragmaticregimentation. By contrast, when someone posts song lyrics on theirFacebook status update, it is not always clear to readers that this is poetry  written by someone other than the manager of that Facebook profile. TheFacebook poster might need to insert additional information to indicate wherethetext’sboundariesareandwheretheposter’sownphrasesbegin.Goffman’s participant framework (Goffman 1974, 1981) is the secondaspect of communication that focusing on the materiality of a mediumencourages analysts to unpack. The materiality of the medium/channel of communication helps determine both the pragmatics of an interaction’sparticipant structure or framework and how this framework or structure 542  I L A N A G E R S H O N A N D PA U L M A N N I N G  C:/ITOOLS/WMS/CUP-NEW/4903776/WORKINGFOLDER/KOCK/ 9781107030077C22.3D  543  [539–556] 2.4.2014 3:27PM  will be understood. Goffman (1974, 1981) suggests that the folk categoriesof“speaker”and“hearer”canbeanalyticallydecomposed,soforexample,the “production format” of the “speaker” consists minimally of the  prin-cipal  ( “someone whose position is established by the words that arespoken,” 1981: 144), the  author of the words  (“that is, someone whohas selected the sentiments that are being expressed and the words in which they are encoded,” ibid.), the  animator   (“the talking machine, thebody engaged in acoustic activity,” ibid.), and (sometimes) the  figure (a role which we argue usually complements the animator, namely thecharacter animated by the animator). Similarly, the “participation frame- work” (1981) decomposes the hearer into a similarly subtle range of rati-fied and unratified recipients, though Judith Irvine (1996) and SteveLevinson(1988)pointoutthattheserolesover-simplifythemanydifferent ways in which people relate to utterances in any context.For our purposes what is most interesting is that the medium can affectthese multiple ways in which person and utterance are linked (see Agha2011 for links between a variety of participant frameworks, media, andcommodification).Forexample,themediumwillinfluencewhocanbetheauthor of a statement, how many people can be the author, aswell as whois likely to be considered the author. The medium also helps determine who can even participate in the first place, and what the value of theirparticipation is,asstudies ofdifferent formsofliteracy aswellasdifferenttypes of digital divides have demonstrated As Inoue (2011) shows, initially the (male) stenographer (as male skilled worker) plays a constitutive,co-producing, role in the rise of Japanese public speaking, as  transcriber   virtually sharing authorship with the (male) public orator as  performer  :“The rise of ‘the man who speaks’ was simultaneously the rise of thestenographer, the man who listened to and copied him in writing”(Inoue 2011: 184). However, as stenographic writing came to be seen as a“mere”mechanicalcopyofanteriorspeech,stenographybecamedevaluedas another form of routinized, unskilled, feminized labor, a mechanically repetitive, metaphorically reproductive, “labor of fidelity.” As Inoueargues, “all mechanical labors of fidelity (including dictation, typing, mes-sage taking, telephone operating) are predominantly female jobs. Modernasymmetries of labor in the workplace diagram traditional asymmetriesinvolved in human reproduction” (Inoue 2011): 181).Participant structure can be applied both to show the mediation within co-present interactions (for example, the many laminationsinvolved in a simple quotation), as well as to explore the way that the various roles normally laminated into the unitary speaker are displacedonto different actual persons in non-copresent interaction (as when Billasks his best friend Ted to break up with Ruth on Bill’s behalf). Sometechnologies allow many more listeners than speakers to engage in aconversationalexchange,someallowtextstocirculate overlongperiodsor to people far from the srcinal exchange’s location, yet others allow  Language and media  543
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