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Study of media language standardization gains traction

YANG PEI and CAO WEI | 2021-05-27 | Hits:
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)

China’s National Language Resources Monitoring and Research Center released the top 10 media buzzwords of 2020 on Dec. 16, 2020, including “work and production resumption,” “COVID-19 pandemic,” “asymptomatic infections,” “makeshift hospitals,” “health QR code,” “digital RMB,” “service trade fair,” “dual circulations,” “Tianwen-1,” and “contactless delivery.” Photo: CFP

Media language is a crucial presenter of culture, politics, and social life, shaping as well as reflecting the ways these phenomena are formed and expressed. Research on the standardization of media language is thus of great significance for promoting the standardization of Chinese language and characters through society as a whole. In recent years, academic studies on media language norms have become more comprehensive and in-depth, generating prolific results.

Key to social development
Due to the advancement of media technology, China’s media industry is flourishing, providing an easily accessible source of language data for research and teaching purposes. In particular, since the Law on the Standard Spoken and Written Chinese Language of the People’s Republic of China was adopted on Oct. 31, 2000, the amount of research on the standardization of media language has multiplied, and scholars are beginning to group research of this kind into categories.
In the continuous development of media, researchers have come to realize that media language has great influence. Through early stages of its study, most scholars emphasized the role of standard expressions in media to improve the effect of media programs, teenagers’ learning, and the correct use of Chinese language and characters. Research also emphasized the necessity of standardizing media language in regard to innovating media forms, creating a strong media language environment, formulating laws and regulations, and promoting the healthy development of Chinese language and characters.
Nowadays, there are four major media language categories: newspaper language, broadcast language, television language, and network language. Due to the different modes of communication, there are also differences in the non-standard use of language. Specifically, language used in newspapers and journals mainly focuses on written expressions, while radio language is mainly spoken language, and television and networks tend to use both. 
Overall, non-standard language usage includes but is not specific to: blindly following suit, excessive use of internet slang, vulgarization, ignoring grammar, ambiguous semantic orientation, the misuse of or invented words, and the overuse of foreign words. In addition, an unprofessional attitude and poor pronunciation of some media practitioners can also be problematic. 
The reasons are twofold. On the one hand, blame can go to the multiple forms and fast growth of media communication, the low intellectual, cultural, and professional ethics of some media practitioners, as well as the unregulated emergence of new media, and the influence of social media. On the other hand, there are regulatory factors such as the inadequate implementation of relevant policies and regulations, and insufficient monitoring of the use of loanwords and dialects.  
Existing literature has proposed a variety of solutions to the problem of non-standard use of media language. Measures such as formulating and perfecting relevant laws and regulations, promoting Mandarin to enhance people’s awareness of standard modes of expression, standardized language education to improve the public’s literacy, and academic research on linguistic regulation and character usage are proposed. In summation, researchers’ main focus is to criticize and correct non-standard media language over time, and offer guidance or corrections to distinctive and characteristic media expressions, so as to enhance the vitality of standard media language.
It is evident that over the past 20 years, as the quantity of research on this subject has grown, its content has also diversified. On the whole, the research shows a gradual shift from abstract to concrete, from generalization to detailed studies, while taking into account the de facto social background.
Interdisciplinary studies
In recent years, research on the standardization of media language has begun to exhibit three characteristics: consistent research approaches, comprehensive research content, and diverse research perspectives.
A review of articles and monographs on media language norms in recent years would reveal that though contents of the studies are different, their approaches are somewhat identical. A range of research departs from social reality, and through specific language materials, analyzes the characteristics, causes, and adverse effects of a certain type of non-standard media terms. Then, these studies put forward suggestions for the standardization of media language from different perspectives, or even from a macro perspective.
Whether it is radio, television, newspapers, or the internet, each medium covers a wide range of content. Therefore, the content of media language standardization research is comprehensive, and this comprehensiveness is multi-faceted. First, the research involves many disciplines. The standardization of media language is not only closely related to language and writing itself, but also involves all aspects of social life. In recent years, the number of articles published have expanded to cover 11 different disciplines, including journalism and communication, Chinese language and literature, foreign languages, publishing, and even primary education. In this list, the first two disciplines are the most talked about. 
At the same time, research content is extensive. Due to the diversity of communication modes, temporary spoken expressions, written expressions, the use of foreign words, the influence of dialects, and internet slang all fall under the purview of media language norms. This also includes linguistic research on journalists, anchors, hosts and other media practitioners, as well as news language, advertising language, and other aspects of language.
Some researchers explored media language anomalies from the perspectives of media, practitioners, and specific content, while others studied how to regulate media language from different perspectives such as social civilization, law and regulation, and the rules of language itself. Some of the articles delve into the historical background, such as the advent of media convergence, social media, new media, and We Media. All these perspectives have brought a comprehensive process to the study of media language standardization. 
In addition, there are a few articles which record and categorize interviews of leading media language scholars, which to some extent reflects academia’s views on the phenomenon of media language anomie, and advances many practical suggestions from different perspectives.
Problems remain
These achievements cannot be overlooked, but the problems are also prominent in the study of the standardization of media language.
First, most scholars hold the same view on the study of media language standardization. Previous studies have jointly expounded on the importance of media language norms in all aspects of social life, and analyzed the causes of language anomalies from multiple perspectives. In terms of how to solve the problem, their suggestions are nearly identical. In particular, when it comes to internet slang, most scholars have shifted from an initial complete rejection towards a partial acceptance, which emphasizes positive guidance. However, viewpoints with a high degree of similarity are not conducive to effectively solving the non-standard problem of current media language in multiple and creative ways.
Second, the language material is abundant, but theoretical studies are insufficient. Most researchers resort to collecting, categorizing, and classifying a large number of non-standard phrases in media language. In addition to the repetition of typical materials, the materials in various articles and monographs are unique and diverse, which provides a strong body of support for the study of media language standardization. 
However, so far, the vast majority of articles lack in-depth theoretical discussion, and have made few achievements in theoretical research and innovation.
Third, research methods are also haunted by a lack of innovation. Most studies conducted have selected typical language materials as examples and analyzed them. Inductive reasoning is often introduced to describe the common features of non-standard media language. Other researchers summarize the characteristics of a certain type of media language and discuss the specific manifestations of language anomalies. The lack of innovation in research methods is likely to take a toll on the long-term study of media language standardization.
Finally, media language is evolving so quickly, especially network language, that some research fails to keep pace with the times. Non-standard expressions in media language tend to disappear over time or evolve into other forms of standard expressions. Also, some non-standard expressions have been accepted by the public and are no longer considered to be terms in need of standardization. However, our research usually lags behind and lacks foresight.
All in all, the study of media language standardization involves a wide range of aspects and has great room for improvement in both theory and practice.
Yang Pei and Cao Wei are from the School of Chinese Language and Literature at Soochow University.
Edited by YANG XUE