The Sociolinguistics of Media Discourse in Zambia: The Case of Television Advertising

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The Sociolinguistics of Media Discourse in Zambia: The Case of Television Advertising

John Simwinga

University of Zambia

Department of Literature and Languages


The nature of human languages, their fluidity and the uses to which they can be put have been subjects of extensive scholarly investigation in linguistics, anthropology, psychology, and related social and human sciences. Language as we know it is a multi-faceted phenomenon. Sociolinguistics, concerned with investigating language in its numerous social manifestations and uses in society, consider it as a social phenomenon that forms an important part of people’s culture, and is key in social (intra-and inter-) group relations. At one level language identifies and brings together people who share certain attributes and therefore ‘belong together’ (such as people belonging to the same ethnic group, profession or social group); while at another it separates one group of people from another – separating ‘us’ from ‘them’. At national level, language can be a means to active involvement and participation in national activities, or one of exclusion from them. Language can therefore be a unifier or a barrier to societal integration.

These observations are particularly pertinent in multilingual and multiethnic environments where the desire for self-identity may make one ethnic (or social) group draw closer to or further away from others. In linguistic terms, depending on the circumstances, one or more languages may stand out as ‘official’ or ‘national’ languages, usually with the sanction of the (political) leadership or the elite. This means that in most multilingual nations, languages do not usually enjoy equal rights and privileges, even in instance (as is the case with the official languages of Zambia) where they may presumably be equal. In a nutshell, the languages are unequal and this is manifested in the way they are utilized in the key arenas of the lives of individual nations.