Linguistic Anthropology

The study of language has been part of anthropology since the discipline started in the 1ate 1870s. This site is a place for linguistic anthropologists to post their work and discuss important events and trends in the field.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Media modality and word choice. Or: Is an 'emergency landing' a 'crash'?

Megan Garber, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, notes an interesting difference in the words used to describe the... event involving US Airways flight 1549 on 15 January.

Garber quotes the Washington Post as saying the flight "went down in the Hudson River," and the New York Times saying it "landed on the river." In contrast, CNN, MSNBC and Fox television anchors and commentators frequently referred to the event as a "crash" or "plane crash."

Garber allows that crash "simply flows more easily in speech," but argues that the usage here is nonetheless inappropriate. She writes, "Any event that combines the terms 'plane' and 'New York City' and 'crash' is bound to create panic, even if, in the next moment, the real situation—apparently-casualty-free water landing—is revealed."

By contrasting two newspapers with three television news outlets, Garber seems to suggest that television journalists are being more sensationalist than print journalists. This may be an unfair implication, however. The majority of online publications cited by Google News use the word crash, and most of these appear to be newspapers or wire services - though some are undoubtedly blogs or even the web pages of television stations.

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