The Sinclair Lecture 2022: Professor Monika Bednarek, University of Sydney

Monday 4 July 2022 (11:00-12:00)


Photo of Monika Bednarek

‘Language and characterization in television series: What corpus linguistics tells us about the construction of social identity in the media’

The Sinclair Lecture this year will be delivered by Professor Monika Bednarek (University of Sydney) during our Corpus Linguistics Summer School 2022  

Television characters are an important part of televisual narratives, not just because they are crucial for plot and narrative development, but also because they are vital for audience engagement, including the formation of parasocial relationships. Further, television characters mediate sociocultural attitudes and language ideologies, with certain characters associated with certain ways of speaking. Their analysis thus also informs us about the construction of social identity in the media. From a stylistic perspective, linguistic analysis of television characters can provide insights into televisual characterisation – how characters are constructed and revealed to the televisual audience through linguistic and other cues. In other words, the linguistic analysis of television characters is of clear interest across linguistic fields, from sociolinguistics to media linguistics to stylistics, and beyond. As a linguistic sub-field, linguistic analysis of television has grown exponentially in the last decade, with a current bibliography having doubled from 15 to 31 pages within just 5 years.

In this talk I focus on what insights a corpus linguistics approach can offer to the construction of character identity in fictional television series. I will do this by bringing together multiple corpus linguistic studies of televisual characterisation that I have undertaken over a period spanning more than a decade. I am currently ‘revisiting’ these studies for a book project, having extended them by incorporating new corpus linguistic analyses. Here, I will use these updated studies to present the insights gained into televisual characterisation through a corpus linguistic approach, with its focus on repeated and attested patterns of textual occurrence as championed by John Sinclair. The talk will range across different television series and different character dimensions, including character differentiation and character stability as well as individual and social aspects of identity. It aims to systematically synthesise what this research has discovered about the nature of television characters, and to critically reflect upon the types of insights that are typically obtained through corpus linguistic methods and different types of corpus data. This reflection on methodology will have implications for corpus linguistic studies of social identity in other types of media as well as in other types of corpora.


Monika Bednarek is Professor of Linguistics at the University of Sydney and Director of the Sydney Corpus Lab. Her research uses corpus linguistic methodologies across a variety of fields, including media linguistics, discourse analysis and sociolinguistics. She has a particular interest in the linguistic expression of emotion and opinion as well as language use in the mass media. Monika is the editor/co-editor of three special journal issues and two edited books, and the author/co-author of six books and two short volumes, as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters. She is on the steering committee of the Asia Pacific Corpus Linguistics Association and tweets @corpusling.