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Unity in disunity: Centripetal and centrifugal tensions on the BBC Voices website

Journal article
Authors Tommaso M. Milani
Bethan Davies
Will Turner
Published in Journal of Language and Politics
Volume 10
Pages 587-614
ISSN 15692159
Publication year 2011
Published at
Pages 587-614
Language en
Keywords Critical Discourse Analysis, Language ideology, Multimodality, National identity, New media
Subject categories General Language Studies and Linguistics, Media and Communications


This paper takes as a point of departure the website of the "Voices" project, a large media enterprise on languages in the UK conducted by the BBC in 2003-2005. With the help of the notions of language ideology and the analytical tools of multimodal critical discourse analysis, the paper shows how representations of languages on the website are a discursive terrain on which negotiations of national identities are played out. Essentially, the argument is that there is a constant tension between centripetal (unifying) and centrifugal (particularising) forces which strive for the production of different, concomitant and often conflicting national identities. Whereas the BBC seeks to represent the UK as a happy and unified multilingual nation, the many postings on the website show how multilingualism is not always perceived by speakers as a happy and unproblematic phenomenon, but is a politically-fraught issue that creates strong disagreements about the values of different languages in British society as well as their functions as markers of different national identities. © John Benjamins Publishing Company.

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