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Journalists about language

The findings

The study of the attitudes held by the typical (as well as experienced and well-known) Lithuanian TV and radio presenters revealed a whole range of attitudes with the extreme individual attitudes represented on both ends. Nonetheless, the general trend is that the views expressed during the interviews essentially correspond to what is happening in the public use of language. Most presenters welcomed the variation in style and a motivated use of colloquial features. In their view, informal linguistic expressions, such as colloquialisms, slang, or dialect, help to create a livelier atmosphere characteristic to the contemporary media and an informal setting necessary for some talk shows as it facilitates interaction and encourages the participants to reveal themselves. It is evident from the interviews that the variation in style is a conscious intellectual play that demands a great deal of effort from both the host and the guests of the show; it is not merely a straightforward transfer of the private lexis into the public sphere. Interestingly enough, the need to accommodate the linguistic code to the addressee was more often expressed by informants with a degree in journalism.

The interviewed TV and radio presenters essentially agree that casual and not necessarily strictly standard language can be used in today's media, but their attitudes vary depending on the type of the program that they host and its audience. Liberal attitudes are mostly held by informants who work with younger audiences and popular entertainment shows, especially by those who have a degree in journalism or acting. Those TV and radio hosts who work mainly with older audiences and ‘serious’ programs tend to give priority to the official standard language in their programs. However, within the latter group of presenters, either with or without a degree in journalism, the attitudes vary significantly: some informants clearly favour the strict standard while others barely differ from the presenters of youth and popular talk shows who support the use of casual language. In fact, such variety of attitudes makes this group of presenters even more interesting to study because it suggests that this type of broadcast media is likely undergoing change.

The informants also expressed a variety of opinions which could (and should) be valuable to consider in language policy making. Language policy and the role of the so-called gatekeepers were considered controversial: the need for standard language norms was recognized by almost all informants but some specific norms and practices adopted by the gatekeepers received a lot of criticism. In the interviews, among other things, we aimed to identify the attitudes of informants towards the predominant motives of language policy in Lithuania – threats to the language and the relationship of language with national identity. Most of the interviewed respondents saw no threats to the Lithuanian language. They perceive the current situation as a natural language change, because of which the language stays alive as long as there are people speaking it. However, at the same time most of the informants at least partially support the need of language supervision. A consistency of attitudes was observed from the interviews: those who believe that there are threats to the Lithuanian language at least partially support language supervision and those who see no threats do not support it. Interestingly, there was a small group of informants that at least partially supported language supervision but did not indicate any threats to the language. Thus, the image of the threatened language works as a motivation for language supervision but the support to language supervision is often motivated not just by the perceived threats. It appears that the TV and radio presenters prefer positive motivation of language supervision, i.e. supervision which creates additional value, to the negative motivation based on insecurity, one that is aimed at protecting or isolating the language. Some presenters think that language policy should be more comprehensive and not limited to mere language supervision. The attitudes towards the instruments of language policy were similar: the informants said that policy instruments have to be creative and encourage participation instead of being conservative, controlling or regulating. Analysis of TV and radio presenters' attitudes towards language policy according their targeted audience and education in journalism has not revealed any substantial differences.

In Lithuania, TV and radio presenters themselves are the target of language regulators, therefore, the interviews enabled us to look at the effects of public language control and administrative measures (financial fees) on the linguistic confidence of professional language users. We compared the notion of 'good language' as perceived by the TV and radio presenters to the 'good language' as described in language policy texts. It is clear that these two notions of 'good language' are based on very different value systems. The official Lithuanian language ideology advocates the use of pure and correct standard language and employs a powerful institutional apparatus as well as legal instruments in order to implement these ideological attitudes. The TV and radio presenters' understanding of 'good language' is based on their professional arguments. This conception rests upon classical rhetoric and the efficiency of communication. Altogether the TV and radio presenters mentioned several dozen features of 'good language'. According to them, in order to be comprehensible to the viewer or listener, 'good language' must be clear, well-articulated, logical, coherent, and smooth. In order to attract and maintain the attention of the audience, it has to be rich, expressive, eloquent as well as lively, natural, and convincing. Correctness was also mentioned among the features of 'good language', however, it was understood somewhat differently than described by the official language policy. In the TV and radio presenters' opinion, correct language is a language with no slang, no swear-words, and no shades of dialect that would make it less comprehensible to all. That is the notion of correct language among ordinary language users as well. Besides, the interviewed journalists emphasised that correctness should not conflict with the regular norms of communication. However, later in the interview, when asked to assess the quality of their own language, the TV and radio presenters (with a few exceptions) seemed to have forgotten about their previously expressed values and judged themselves in accordance with the requirements of the language inspectorate. They claimed not to be able to get rid of the 'terrible' grammar and accentuation mistakes, the influence of their native dialects, and colloquial words; they also talked about the bad influence of the every-day environment, the use of Russian, English, and urban varieties. These were completely standard answers, typical to the Lithuanian language community, and only in few cases they were spiced up with a pinch of irony. The linguistic confidence of the broadcast professionals – native speakers with fifteen years of work experience – was actually lower than the linguistic confidence of pupils, students, or workers, included in other studies. Of course, cultural and ethical norms during interviews prevent one from over-rating one's skills but the rejection of one's own system of values and extremely low self-assessment are an obvious consequence of the Lithuanian language policy. The Latvian strand of the project led to different findings – most of the Latvian informants assessed their linguistic competence as excellent or very good. Thus, a particularly strict language policy and control may have completely opposite effects: instead of serving the public, it may pose a conflict of values and cause a lack of linguistic confidence.