Astrid Ensslin

Linguicisms as Markers of Socio-cultural Inequality in Videogames

This paper looks at the underexplored area of language ideologies in game design. It examines how linguicisms (stereotypical, popularly held attitudes toward linguistic varieties) of English are used, perpetuated, functionalized, or indeed flouted by contemporary game designers. A pilot study (Ensslin 2010) looked at how conventional and unconventional oppositions are conflated, e.g. by pairing moral binaries (good and bad) with artificial opposites like Received Pronunciation vs. Black English, and by looking at how Pax Americana (American hegemonic superiority; Bayard et al. 2001) is embedded in and iconized by the voices of heroic characters (Irvine and Gal 2000; cf. Lippi-Green 2012). This paper provides an overview of existing work in this area and maps the coordinates of a larger-scale, content analytical study, which I intend to combine with methods of machine learning.

Works cited:

Bayard, D., Weatherall, A., Gallois, C. and J. Pittam (2001), ‘Pax Americana? Accent attitudinal evaluations in New Zealand, Australia and America’. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 5(1), 22–49.

Ensslin, Astrid (2010) “‘Black and White’: Language Ideologies in Computer Game Discourse”, in S. Johnson & T. M. Milani (eds), Language Ideologies and Media Discourse: Texts, Practices, Politics. London: Continuum, 205-222.

Irvine, J. and Gal, S. (2000), ‘Language ideology and linguistic differentiation’, in P. V. Kroskrity (ed.), Regimes of Language: Ideologies, Polities and Identities. Oxford: James Currey, pp. 35–83.

Lippi-Green, R. (2012), English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.


Dr Astrid Ensslin is Professor of Media and Digital Communication, cross-appointed between MLCS and HUCO. Her main publications include Literary Gaming (MIT Press, 2014), Analyzing Digital Fiction (Routledge, 2013), The Language of Gaming (Palgrave, 2011), Creating Second Lives (Routledge, 2011), Canonizing Hypertext (Continuum, 2007), and Language in the Media: Representations, Identities, Ideologies (Continuum, 2007). She is Principal Editor of Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds, and has led externally funded research projects on videogames across cultures, reading and analyzing digital fiction, and specialized language corpora.