Reviewed by Irene Theodoropoulou, King’s College London
This book is a corpus linguistic study that compares the language of the popular sitcom Friends with the language used in natural American English conversation. In Ch. 1, Paulo Quaglio summarizes the core literature on conversation and television studies and provides the motivation for his choice to focus on a linguistic analysis of TV language—that is, to add to the relatively under-researched interaction between the media and language change.
Ch. 2 offers a description of the comedy series Friends and its characters, which are often illustrated through dialogue excerpts. Ch. 3 provides quantitative (i.e. number of files and words) and qualitative (i.e. interaction types and topics) information on the corpora used in this study, which is supplemented by a discussion on data coding, concordancing, norming, and statistical significance.
Ch. 4 presents the theoretical framework of the study, that of register variation or multidimensional analysis (Biber 1988), as well as the basic findings of the study. The data demonstrate that the shared interactive nature of both natural conversation and the language of Friends are reflected by the high frequency and occurrence of certain devices such as private verbs, first- and second-person pronouns, present tense verbs, contractions, and hedges. However, Friends shows less variation than natural conversation, which can be explained by the restricted range of situations, age groups, and dialectal varieties found in the Friends corpus.
Chs. 5–8 illustrate the functional differences between the Friends corpus and natural American English conversation. Vague language, the focus of Ch. 5, includes conversational hedges, discourse and stance markers, and vague coordination tags. Natural conversation was found to be vaguer than the language of Friends, while the lack of vagueness of the Friends’ language is explained by its need to be understood in a global context, which tends to compromise the naturalness of dialogues
Ch. 6 analyzes emotional language—namely, emphatic forms and expressions. Q finds that the language of Friends is more emotional and emphatic than natural conversation, and this dramatic effect is mostly realized through the cooccurrence of features in the same or adjacent turns
Informal language, discussed in Ch. 7, indexed through expletives, slang, vocatives (i.e. familiarizers), and linguistic innovations (e.g. all plus adjective or gerund, semimodals, and repeats) was found to be much more frequent in Friends, a fact that can be explained by the intimacy among the members of the group, the effort to make the show’s language as authentic as possible, and the construction of humor through idiosyncratic uses of these devices.
Ch. 8 delves into the linguistic expression of narrative discourse and compares the degrees of narratives typifying narrative and nonnarrative discourse in both corpora. The finding is that natural conversation has a higher frequency of the linguistic features associated with narrative discourse.
Finally, Ch. 9 wraps up the findings, accounts for the limitations of the study, and refers to its benefits, which include the use of television dialogue for pedagogical purposes.
In all, this study is presented in an accessible way; nevertheless, it would be better if the index contained the numerous linguistic features that are discussed. This would make the book a useful reference for people who are investigating a specific linguistic feature.
Biber, Douglas. 1988. Variation across speech and writing. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.