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1 Introduction The Linguist’s View of Television Kristy Beers Fägersten Why TV? Should anyone ever dare to make the claim “I don’t read books!” it would, in many social circles, be met with disbelief and disdain. Reading books is the most widely recognized sign of accomplished erudition, intellectual accountability, and, of course, basic literacy. Indeed, this volume wouldn’t exist if books were not the de facto medium of academic exchange. Isn’t it curious, though, that each of the glowing qualities associated with bibliophiles can just as effectively be implied by substituting the predicative proposition ‘read books’ with ‘watch television’? In other words, to announce, “I don’t watch television!” is to assert, albeit not explicitly, that one is pursuing or has already achieved sublime sophistication, having excised the basest form of entertainment from one’s cultural repertoire and devoted oneself entirely to higher forms of intellectual activity. The message is clear: television is lowbrow with no cultural or educational value. Disparaging comments about television also tend to subject it to discriminating qualifications that serve to establish a hierarchy among television genres and series. Those who claim to eschew television can thus probably be expected to qualify their position by specifying either that they do not watch ‘lowbrow’ television or that they watch exclusively ‘quality’ television. Exactly which kinds of television programming or specific series count as one or the other is, however, somewhat open to debate 2 | Kristy Beers Fägersten (see for example Claessens and Dhoest 2010). Scholars themselves grapple with both popular and academic evaluations of television as, for example, significant, worthy, quality, serious, or highbrow (Attallah 1984; Claessens and Dhoest 2010, 50–51; Thompson 1997, 11–12; Tulloch 2002, 3–5). The authors of Watching TV with a Linguist reject the belief that television is devoid of value, and in their chapters they refrain from engaging in the discourse of quality. First, when television is summarily dismissed, not only does it go unrecognized for its social, political, and cultural influence , but it is also denied its value as a legitimate field of academic study. Second, although the quality and seriousness of television content can be critically evaluated and measured, they should not serve to exclude any content from academic study. This volume, based on the authors’ shared belief that all television content has value and is thus a potential target of scholarly research, thus joins the growing number of scholarly publications devoted to championing the value of television and to advancing critical approaches to television content. By including linguistics in television scholarship and, simultaneously, incorporating television into linguistic scholarship, the volume aims to raise awareness about how language is used, represented, and mediated in the television context. The focus throughout the volume is on what many of the authors refer to as linguistic identities, the speech patterns of particular characters or the typical language use of a particular series. Watching TV with a Linguist is thereby not proposed as an example of theoretical television research. As the title indicates, the authors are not television scholars but linguists, who wish to acknowledge the considerable progress of the relatively young field of television scholarship and to contribute to further advances by highlighting linguistic approaches to television language. The volume’s authors understand television series as media artifacts that potentially serve as mirrors of society, forums for social and political commentary, and influential vehicles for change, but also, significantly, as multilayered examples of language in action. Each chapter thus aims to provide both television scholars and viewers with the tools required to characterize and (de)construct television language. The choices of fictional television series featured in the chapters have not been informed by critical acclaim, nor do the contributing authors   Introduction | 3 attempt to offer evaluative critique with regard to the place of the various series in the larger television landscape or within television scholarship. Instead, the series were specifically selected because the language used by one or more characters deftly illustrates certain linguistic concepts and phenomena. However, it is also the case that all of the featured series were or currently are popular, long-running, award-winning programs. While such indicators of commercial or cultural success were not criteria for being selected, it may be that successful series have a distinct linguistic fingerprint. Watching TV with a Linguist is an educational product, and it capitalizes on television as an educational resource. However, the authors do not focus on educational television content, news broadcasting, or...


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