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Lithuanian language ideals

Language changes in the broadcast media

The Corpus of the Lithuanian Broadcast Media has facilitated the analysis of the changes of public language and public sphere in 1960–2010 and nowadays. The hypothesis was raised that the Lithuanian broadcast has been experiencing similar processes of colloquialisation, or coversationalisation, i.e. the increase of the features of informal talk, as was reported by other European scholars. Among the aspects included in the analysis were the roles of the participants of the public sphere, discourse elements (the forms of address, laughter), the features (mainly lexical) of the informal style, and some phonetic aspects. In the analysis of linguistic changes, three relatively distinguished periods were compared: the Soviet period (1960–1987), the transitional period (1988–1992), and the contemporary period (since 1993).

The research on the participants of the public sphere revealed some contextual changes of the language use in broadcast media. Talk show hosts’ role has significantly increased while the role of the typical and prestigious Soviet TV or radio news reader has decreased. Also, vox populi has been presented somewhat more frequently and the expression of expert opinions has become more authentic. Also, we observe an increase of ‘celebrity’ type speakers and a decrease of ‘hero’ type speakers through time. Accordingly, the public speaking, which in Soviet period was rather staged and monologic, has become more spontaneous and dialogic as well as opened up for a wider range of speakers and become more commercialized (see Nevinskaitė 2012). All this has stimulated the diversity of linguistic expression.

The analysis of the discourse features has confirmed the shift towards informal and interactive discourse as well as towards a wider variety of linguistic expression. There have been changes in the use of the prevalent forms of address. In Soviet period, interlocutors almost without exception were addressed formally whereas in the contemporary period we find significantly greater variety. The changes in use of the forms of address can be illustrated by the typical formulas such as Soviet comrade and contemporary mister or polite plural and the first name (see Girčienė 2012). Another discourse aspect which was analysed and which shows the shift towards informal speaking is laughter. The analysis of laughter has also revealed the increase of the instances of laughter and of its functional variety. In Soviet period, the dominant laughter was ideological and demonstrative, whereas in the independent broadcast media it has become an integral part of the discourse which can be both spontaneous and staged. Partly it can be viewed as serving contemporary ideology, though obviously not in the same sense of institutional power as in the Soviet period, but as a tool for constructing an image of modern, friendly, and intimate media (see Aleksandravičiūtė, Vaicekauskienė 2012).

One of the most salient manifestations of the spread of the ordinary language is the use of informal lexis in TV and radio broadcasts. For example, the analysis of the use of the stronger discourse markers and swearwords has shown that such words has begun to spread in the broadcast media since the transitional period (see Tamaševičius 2013). We have also tested how accurate is the view adopted by some contemporary gatekeepers that in Soviet times the broadcast media used to follow the codified linguistic norms and that the language which is heard nowadays is utterly non-standard. The research has revealed that in spite of speech monitoring, monologue and generic uniformity, untrained speakers in Soviet times hardly managed to follow the conservative linguistic norms (see Girčienė, Tamaševičius 2012).

The phonetic analysis of the speech of news readers has not shown any significant change of the pronunciation of the standard Lithuanian. In news broadcasts, the number of the instances of the lengthening of the stressed short vowels (this feature shows the influence of the Vilnius dialect on the standard Lithuanian) has been slowly but gradually decreasing, which may be explained by the effects of the prescriptive official language policy (see Čičirkaitė 2012a). However, the use of vowel o suggests that the norm-setters’ requirement to keep this vowel long in all word-positions has not been realised in any of the periods of the Lithuanian broadcast media. Clearly, during all three periods the conservative norms has been realised just by a handful of specially trained individual speakers (see Čičirkaitė 2012b).

In general, it can be said that the Lithuanian broadcast media has been undergoing the processes on informalisation and that they are determined by the changes in public sphere and mass media institutions. The transitional period should be treated as the major point of shift as during this period practically all analysed aspects has revealed the mix of Soviet and contemporary features and emerging new tendencies of language use.