Article No. 2
Language Difference in the Telenovela Trade
Kenton T. Wilkinson
University of Texas-San Antonio
Linguistic differences within and across language
groups have challenged program export since the origins of
television. This study examines telenovelas, which, despite an
enduring basis in Spanish and Portuguese, have attracted worldwide
audiences since the 1980s. The conceptual challenges of linguistic
difference and the practical responses of industry participants are
considered at three levels: within nations, among societies speaking
the same or closely-related languages, and across language groups.
More research is needed on how linguistic issues in the creation,
distribution, and consumption of media texts interact with
technological developments that address language differences.
As the staple of Latin American serial television,
the telenovela has deep narrative roots as well as broad popular
exposure in the region. Its history and pervasiveness lend the genre
a multifaceted social influence that researchers have recognized and
begun to study more thoroughly. One socio-cultural facet that
remains woefully under investigated is the linguistic. This lacuna
is both surprising and troubling for reasons I will take up below.
Beginning in the 1980s, the export of telenovelas beyond the
Americas became not only routine, but also profitable causing the
genre to engage forces of globalization that, since the late
twentieth century, have so dramatically shaped transnational
cultural industries and their products. Although language has been
identified as the last formidable barrier to fluid cross-national
and cross-cultural communication (Ferguson, 1992), research on the
topic has been sparse. As a television genre indigenous to a
developing region and which is exported to more than 130 nations of
various development levels, the telenovela represents an excellent
case for studying media transnationalization. One of my objectives
within the limited space here is to situate the telenovela among
broader currents that are transforming contemporary international
mass media. Following a brief outline of key trends since the 1980s,
I discuss linguistic issues surrounding telenovela production and
export both within and beyond the Spanish- and Portuguese-language
A driving force behind the expansion of Latin
American media has been the steady growth of Spanish-speaking
audiences and the efforts of marketers and advertisers to reach them
(Sinclair, 1999; Dávila, 2001). As regards television, increased
numbers of over-the-air channels and pay services has led to the
introduction of "new" program formats, many of which are borrowed
from other language markets, yet do not erode telenovelas’
popularity or ratings dominance. The genre has maintained its strong
presence in the region even as it gained global recognition.
Furthermore, accelerated technological development has improved the
quality and efficiency of traditional language translation through
dubbing, subtitling, and second audio programs while digitization
has enabled multiple audio tracks in new distribution channels such
as direct-to-home satellite transmissions. Rapid growth of the
internet beginning in the mid 1990s has challenged television for
the eyeballs of well-to-do viewers, but also offers synergistic
opportunities as Televisa’s chief, Emilio Azcárraga Jean noted in
calling the internet, "the most important project for Televisa
today…all the Group's resources -- magazines, records, music,
production, radio and television -- will support [the] new project"
(Crane, 2000). Of course new communication technologies like the
internet bring new concerns along with benefits, and a key one in
international communication has been linguistic change. This threat
has been partly responsible for the new urgency focused on a
long-standing problem: how to both protect endogenous languages from
exogenous influence or domination, and promote local languages’
expansion. These were principal motivations behind the First
International Congress on the Spanish Language held in Zacatecas,
Mexico in 1997 where numerous participants discussed the state of
Spanish in a variety of modern mass media[i] (Preston, 1997).
The Spanish and Portuguese Cultural-Linguistic
In bringing together experts from Spain and the
Americas to discuss the contemporary state of the Spanish language,
the Zacatecas congress organizers were underscoring a concept that
communication researchers had been developing for more than a
decade, and which I call the cultural linguistic market.[ii] The
concept is grounded in the notion that culture consists of "webs of
significance" spun over the generations from shared ethnic roots,
political, economic and social histories, languages, religion, and
value systems (Geertz 1973: 5). While diverse local, regional and
national cultural webs clearly exist, so does a broader one that is
shared among subgroups sharing cultural attributes in common. Ithiel
de Sola Pool (1977) was among the first scholars to relate this idea
to mass media by arguing that audiences prefer local or regional
productions to those imported from more distant cultures. Mattelart,
Delcourt and Mattelart (1984) advocated for linguistically-proximate
nations to create and expand ‘Latin’ audiovisual space in order to
counter language encroachment, especially by cultural products in
English. As media multiply and cultural studies gains more
adherents, a growing number of scholars are studying the central
position of audiovisual media in audiences’ interpreting,
reinforcing, and modifying this shared culture. The telenovela is
clearly an influential genre in Latin American media, and its
worldwide influence increases (Allen, 1995; Matelski, 1999).
Language is commonly identified as a key element
distinguishing among broad cultural groupings, such as Nordic versus
Latin, as well as between ethnic subgroups sharing a common cultural
base--like Argentine versus Central American Spanish (Mar-Molinero,
2000). Spanish and Portuguese, the dominant languages of Latin
America, and the Iberian Peninsula, share grammatical structure,
many cognates, and other important elements. This linguistic
similarity, in combination with shared cultural, political and
economic elements, facilitates the trade in cultural products among
Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations, including the U.S.
Spanish-language sector.[iii] Telenovelas are the most commonly
exchanged television programs. Certainly local dialects vary widely
across Portugal and Brazil as they do across Spanish-speaking
countries, but as television markets have pervaded then transgressed
national boundaries, audiences have become accustomed to the
dialects spoken by performers in the principal production centers
which over time accrue competitive advantages within the cultural
This indicates that economics and trade are
significant components of cultural-linguistic markets, especially in
the free trade era of the late twentieth and early twenty-first
centuries which is characterized by foreign direct investment,
privatization, mergers and acquisitions, deregulation, and the like
(McAnany & Wilkinson, 1996). Economic considerations weigh heavily
in production, distribution, and exhibition/transmission decisions,
of course, and media tend to experience exaggerated effects of
macroeconomic fluctuations as demonstrated during the market
"bubble" of the late 1990s and the global economic downturn begun in
2000. It has been argued, however, that the demand for telenovelas
is steadier than for other genres due to their entrenchment in the
daily routines of millions of households (González, 1992;
Martín-Barbero, 1995). The internal trade dynamics of media markets
also influence production, distribution, and exhibition/transmission
decisions, all of which are affected by linguistic considerations
(Wilkinson, 1995). Jorge Serrano (personal communication, January
28, 1993), an international programming sales executive for the
Venevisión network based in Venezuela, described the evolution of
telenovela export: novelas started as a strictly regional product;
they were introduced to Latin countries outside the region such as
France and Italy, and finally were exported to the culturally and
linguistically distant countries of Northern Europe, Asia and the
Middle East. This suggests that penetration of a "Latin audiovisual
space" akin to the one proposed by Mattelart, Delcourt and Mattelart
serves as an intermediate market level between the regional and
global. A valuable attribute of the cultural-linguistic market
concept is its emphasis on regional markets as important
intermediaries between the national and the global. The point I wish
to stress here is that language difference impacts market
participants’ behavior and interactions as well as audiences’
engagement with media texts both within the cultural linguistic
market and across language groups.
Telenovelas and Language Within the
As noted above, in countries having prolific
television industries the dialect spoken in the urban production
center(s) gains national primacy through programs’ creation and
dissemination. Telenovelas are particularly influential in their
position as the region’s predominant form of television fiction
(Larsen, 1990). This places language dominance among a number of
concerns surrounding centralization that have challenged many Latin
American countries, among others, since early in the twentieth
century. While the direct impact on people’s lives of linguistic
difference is less weighty than other centralization issues like
economic opportunity, political representation, access to social
programs, and the like, we must recognize that language is a key
marker that often lies behind those other problems. How language is
situated in a country’s political, economic, and social relations
also varies widely and influences the structure and strength of its
Spain offers an intriguing case as a nation whose
cultural industries, and audiences, are situated within two
linguistic spaces. Spain participates in the Spanish and Portuguese
cultural linguistic market due to its historic economic, political,
cultural, and linguistic ties to Latin America, but is also part of
the polyglot European Union which simultaneously endeavors to
protect the continent’s rich linguistic diversity and knit together
a regional media market among eleven official languages (a number
that would almost double in number if recent applicants to the Union
are admitted). Latin American telenovelas began airing in Europe in
1975 when Gabriela, TV Globo’s first export production, appeared in
Portugal (Marques de Melo, 1988). Surprisingly enough, more than ten
years passed before the Spanish-language novelas, Los ricos también
lloran (Mexico) and Cristal (Venezuela), were broadcast and gained
substantial viewership in Spain (O’Donnell, 2000). Shortly
thereafter television producers began to adapt the genre, which came
to reflect the country’s political and linguistic divisions. As Hugh
O’Donnell (2000) explains, productions in the Catalan and Basque
languages appeared before any in Spanish; they were dubbed into the
majority language and received national distribution before
Spanish-language novela production engaged. O’Donnell comments on an
interesting sociolinguistic impact of telenovela production and
consumption in a minority language:
Though there is no reliable way of measuring the
linguistic impact of productions such as these, there can be little
doubt that they have been important elements in the process of
normalization of Catalan, and there is some evidence of Castilian
speakers learning Catalan in order to follow them better and
participate in the discussions they evoke (p. 300).
Spain’s experience raises some important questions
concerning the relationships among popular culture, language,
politics and notions of community that deserve to be explored at
greater length. A distinguishing characteristic of mass media in
Spain, however, is the existence of dynamic regional production
centers enjoying national, and even international projection. Such
has not been the case in Latin American nations where production
tends to be centered in one city, or two in the case of Brazil,
leading to less internal linguistic variation.
This is not to suggest that language has been
overlooked. The experience of "talkie" films and radio broadcasting
had alerted media entrepreneurs and government officials to
questions surrounding accented language in regional mass media a
quarter century before television began to take hold in Latin
America. The link between accented language and the development of
national television production industries was recognized by some
observers quite early in television’s history and has endured.
América Rodriguez (1999) argues that the Spanish spoken by
journalists on U.S.-based noticieros (news programs) is consciously
"nationality-neutral" so as to be understood by the diverse
audience, and to avoid associating the newscast, and thereby the
network, with a particular sub-group of the U.S. Latino population.
Networks’ recognition of the linkages between language and identity
have not fully masked the political and economic sensitivity issues
of network ownership, network location, and editorial/creative
control of programming as evidenced by the outcry from some Mexican
Americans when the Univisión network announced in 1989 that it would
relocate its headquarters from Southern California to Miami, where
Cuban Americans wield considerable influence (Wilkinson, in press).
During the globalization push from the mid 1980s on, discussion of
neutral accents, dubbing and subtitling quality, second audio
programs, and related linguistic issues became commonplace in the
trade press and among industry representatives (Wilkinson, 1995).
Academic researchers began exploring the linguistic
dimensions of transnational media at about the same time. In a
special issue of Communication Research devoted to television
program flow in the Americas, Antola and Rogers (1984) maintained
that Mexico’s "broadcast Spanish" gained primacy in the region due
to the Televisa network’s barter arrangement with U.S. producers to
dub programming free of charge in exchange for distribution rights
within Mexico. According to this view, the profusion of U.S.
programming dubbed in Mexico combined with Televisa’s own prolific
export of telenovelas to render Mexican broadcast Spanish palatable,
even desirable, throughout the region. There is some evidence in
support of Mexico’s linguistic neutrality from my own research. In
1993 I conducted a region-wide survey of television producers,
distributors and broadcasters (both over-the-air and pay TV). One
question asked broadcasters to write in the most neutral national
accent for dubbed programming among their audiences—Mexico was the
most frequent response. Identified as most problematic were the
accents of Spain and Argentina, and several respondents commented
that "uppity" Spanish should be avoided (Wilkinson, 1995). Before
focusing on Argentina’s response to this long-standing challenge, I
should emphasize that economic influences of language in the
international television trade are intertwined with a broad array of
market-related factors, a point I will return to below.
In the early years of television, some Argentines
familiar with the industry recognized the export potential to other
areas of Latin America, and also the challenges posed by the
country’s linguistic difference from its continental neighbors.
Argentina’s vibrant theatrical and musical traditions were tapped by
the teleteatro (a common synonym there for telenovela) and
musical/variety genres, both of which came to be exported (Silvio,
1972). However, just as the regional trade in programming,
especially telenovelas, was beginning to mature in the mid 1970s,
Argentina’s military government took control of many television
networks and production facilities, with the effect of reducing
domestic production and increasing imports, especially from the
United States (Rogoff, 1984; Santos Hernando, 1977: 306-307).
Telenovelas were particularly hard hit (Mazziotti, 1996). This
intervention put the country’s television industry at a relative
disadvantage to other telenovela exporting nations, especially
Brazil, Mexico, and Venezuela.[v] Argentina re-emerged as an
exporter of novelas during the early globalization years of the mid
1980s when concerns about the transnational appeal of programming
content were reiterated.
Uneasiness regarding language difference in
Argentine television was expressed as early as 1960 when a senator
proposed that all imported programs be dubbed domestically to
protect the country’s linguistic identity. Similar proposals were
introduced through the early 1970s, but all met strong resistance
from the industry and none were promulgated. In opposing such
legislation, U.S. companies whose programming sales stood to suffer
argued that such legislation would harm the industry because the
Argentine accent traveled poorly in Latin America, and dubbing for a
single market was not cost effective (Silvio, 1972). This issue was
revisited in a period of television internationalization, from the
mid 1980s through mid 1990s, following the difficult years of
military control. Nora Mazziotti (1996) documents Argentine
producers’ concerns over neutral accents during this period of
industry reemergence, which was marked by increased co-production,
and local investments by international media magnates such as Silvio
Berlusconi (Fininvest, Italy) and Emilio Azcárraga Milmo (Televisa,
Mexico). Certainly such savvy investors understood the importance of
producing telenovelas and other fare in Spanish that would be
broadly agreeable and readily translatable into other languages. A
national law passed in 1986 stipulated, "dubbing should be executed
in neutral Spanish, according to current national standards, but
understandable to all Spanish-speakers in the Americas" (Petrella,
1998: 979; my translation). Specific changes that were implemented
include eliminating Argentine slang and idiomatic expressions such
as che, modifying intonation to conform more closely to continental
standards, avoiding use of local dialects like the Italian-Creole,
and using the pronoun tu in place of vos (Mazziotti, 1996: 114,
Telenovelas and Language Across Cultural-Linguistic
One of the most engaging cultural phenomena of media
globalization has been the uptake of telenovelas in countries
outside the Spanish and Portuguese cultural linguistic market.
Following two decades of political conflict concerning world media
domination by Western governments and corporations, particularly
from the U.S., the homegrown Latin American genre matured and was
exported to markets outside its native region. By 1997 TV Globo
(Brazil) and Televisa (Mexico) each claimed their telenovelas
appeared in 130 countries; the Venezuelan producers Radio Caracas
Television and Venevisión reached about half that amount (Sinclair,
1999: 161). As this intriguing growth was underway, a handful of
scholars specializing in media economics began exploring language
issues in transnational markets. Unfortunately, their attention
focused on the transnational market for programming initially
produced in English, and largely ignored the emergent "counter flow"
originating in other languages. These scholars’ ideas merit brief
discussion for two reasons: they integrate cultural, linguistic and
economic elements in media markets, and data gathered from Latin
American television representatives suggests some interesting
parallels with the Spanish- and Portuguese-language market.
Collins, Garnham and Locksley (1988: 52) enumerate
the factors contributing to the United States' and Great Britain's
advantaged position in the international film and television program
trade: the size and structure of domestic markets; ready access to
financial, technological, and talent resources; the U.S., Canada,
the U.K. and Australia are among the world’s most profitable media
markets and share a common language; English is the most widely
spoken language in Western media markets. Thus, the argument goes, a
cumulative linguistic advantage accrues among nations that host
strong cultural industries and speak the same language. Wildman and
Siwek (1988) add two more factors to Collins et al.’s list of
benefits: a "natural" advantage in the domestic U.S. market derived
from the productions' close cultural-linguistic fit with the
domestic audience, and high-quality production values that export
well. Certainly the United States’ position as the principal
innovator and exporter of television programming (and hardware) from
the 1950s on contributed to its hegemony, especially in Latin
America where its influence has been strongest (Fox, 1997).
In addressing U.S. products' appeal in non-English
markets, Wildman and Siwek emphasize production values because the
visual content is underscored after the linguistic appeal is
diminished through dubbing or subtitling. Hoskins and Mirus (1988)
introduced the useful "cultural discount" concept in asserting that
audiovisual cultural products rooted in one culture will have
diminished appeal in others because they portray non-native values,
attitudes, behaviors, and social dynamics. Where language barriers
are crossed, a heavier discount is imposed due to the imposition of
over-dubbed speech or the requirement that viewers read subtitles.
In accounting for U.S. preeminence when discounts apply to all
exported cultural products, Hoskins and Mirus cite several of the
aforementioned factors, and also stress the U.S. industry’s long
history of striving for audience maximization through its efforts to
forge a single mass audience in a culturally-diverse nation. They
further argue that the closed nature of the U.S. film and television
market favors Hollywood producers and distributors, a dynamic that
non-U.S. competitors have challenged, and which demands closer
attention by media researchers.
There are some interesting contact points between
the media economic theory I’ve outlined and the market perceptions
of Latin American television executives at a high point of the Latin
television trade. I conducted interviews with a number of such
executives from 1992 through 1994, after which the so called
"tequila effect" from the Mexican peso crisis dampened the vitality
of telenovela production industries, if not the demand for those
programs within and outside the Spanish and Portuguese cultural
linguistic market (Mazziotti, 1996).
The media economists’ argument that the size and
structure of domestic markets offer competitive advantages to
English-language producers must be considered in light of relative
costs and levels of domestic market penetration. Although Mexico,
Brazil and Venezuela are less wealthy national television markets
than the U.S., they are relatively large and wealthy by Latin
American standards, and, as Ana Lopez (1995) reminds us, the
telenovela enjoys generic dominance in the region. Although
executives for the principal telenovela-producing networks emphasize
home market popularity as key to the regional success for their
programming,[vi] we must recall that the cumulative wealth of other
Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking markets is substantial, and
production costs are significantly lower in Latin America than in
the U.S. and other English-language markets. By the same token,
while the collective financial, technological, and talent resources
of Latin American television are limited in comparison with
English-language markets, they have been concentrated among few
competitors located in limited numbers of production centers
scattered throughout Latin America. The position of English as the
world’s most widely spoken language (native and non-native speakers
combined) gives it clear advantages among non-translated media
products. It should be noted, however, that more native speakers of
Spanish are entering the world population than native speakers of
English (Crystal, 1997). This suggests continued growth for the
Spanish and Portuguese cultural linguistic market well into the
future. Furthermore, international viewers appear to be more
forgiving of cultural linguistic differences in telenovelas than
other program genres, a topic I will return to below.
The argument that U.S. programming enjoys a
"natural" advantage based on productions' close cultural-linguistic
fit with the domestic audience has a largely unexplored parallel in
Spanish- and Portuguese-language television. Although more research
is needed on the comparative diversity of domestic markets as well
as producers’ efforts to unify and tap those markets, survey and
interview data I have collected indicate that "fit" with local
audiences is a key consideration in executives’ decisions to air
programming. The factor, "cultural fit with local audience" was
ranked most important by pay television systems and second most
important by broadcasters among eleven factors that influence
executives’ programming decisions. Other high-ranking factors
included production values, audience demand, and price[vii]
(Wilkinson, 1995). Recall that the Anglophone researchers identified
high-quality production values as a trade advantage for
English-language media—it is an important consideration for
participants in the Spanish and Portuguese market as well.
Latin American program producers recognized, and
bemoaned, the closed nature of the U.S. English-language market that
media economists described. The linguistic barrier was, and
continues to be, of particular concern. As Sheila Hall, then of
Coral Pictures, the distribution company for Radio Caracas
Televisión put it, "the U.S. is the only market which has no
tolerance whatsoever for dubbed product" (S. Hall & J. Stone,
personal communication, January 26, 1993). A strategy pursued by
Coral Pictures and others in the early 1990s, though ultimately with
little success, was to enter co-production partnerships with
English-language associates and create programs that would bridge
the linguistic divide. Coral Pictures negotiated with the NBC and
Fox networks to produce novela-like fiction series in English and
Spanish. NBC expressed interest in an English-language version of
the telenovela "La dama de la rosa," but insisted that the actors
have native English accents. A more ambitious joint venture was
Marte TV, a telenovela production project between a Venezuelan
company by the same name and Warner Bros. International Television.
Productions in English were to include movies for television using
U.S. and European actors along with the Latin Americans. The goal
behind the company was summed up in a trade journal article that
described the venture: "New markets for old genre" (1993).
I have argued here that several of the explanations
media economists offer for U.S. hegemony in the international media
trade also apply to Latin American telenovela production—at least
when considered in the linguistic market’s unique context. Within
the industry, recognition of language barriers as impediments to
broader market coverage by television programs (i.e. media
globalization) led to cross-language collaborations that achieved
little success in their first iteration, but are likely to be
enjoined again when economic conditions improve.
This study has discussed the importance of language
in television, especially telenovelas, at three levels: within
national media markets, among nations speaking the same or
closely-related languages, and traversing cultural-linguistic
boundaries. One salient theme across as well as within these levels
concerns the relationship between the commercial imperatives of the
television industry and programming’s linguistic fit with audiences.
The recent experience of Spain’s importation, then production of
telenovelas in different languages reveals the potential for
national-level linguistic diversity within a television genre where
minority-language communities enjoy ample production resources. A
charged political climate surrounding language use may pose an array
of opportunities and challenges for television’s success. In other
national contexts, such as Mexico, language-related risks are
diminished because many variants of Spanish, as well as indigenous
languages that are spoken by the people are seldom heard on the air
(Vilar & Alvarado, 1998).
Argentina’s efforts to increase its productions’
appeal among Spanish-speaking audiences through legislation reflects
a widely held concern for accommodating linguistic difference within
the region. Such policy initiatives to render a nation’s television
programs more broadly palatable underscores not only the regional
programming trade’s economic significance, but also the imperative
of increasing a country’s presence in cultural exchange. I should
convey to the reader a point stressed by television executives
during interviews: television programs produced with the principal
intent of export seldom succeed either domestically or
internationally. Distributors are unlikely to acquire the rights to
programs lacking solid evidence of national-level success, and
cultural-linguistic elements are key to the domestic appeal of a
program. This underscores the central challenge in producing
telenovelas for domestic consumption and export: coming up with the
proper combination of elements (e.g. story, settings, talent,
language use, etc.) to attract and retain a committed viewership in
the home market and garner cross-national appeal.
I noted above that a few Latin American producers
have established solid footholds at the global, cross-linguistic
market level and face similar constraints and opportunities as their
English-language counterparts. A key question underlying the
discussion must be addressed by international television
researchers, especially those specializing in telenovelas, if we are
to achieve deeper understanding of this phenomenon: What makes the
genre so broadly engaging to audiences outside of the Spanish- and
Portuguese-language market? Clearly the novelas hold an allure
extending beyond linguistic proximity and all but the most general
cultural traits. In fact some of the most surprising transcultural
telenovela success stories, like Televisa’ s Los ricos también
lloran in Russia in 1992 transcended poor and uninspired dubbing
carried out by state television employees (Gutterman, 1992). There’s
also a puzzling story of Chinese television contracting with
Televisa to produce a fiction series in which Latin American actors
were made-up to appear Asian and mouthed dialog so that the actual
words, spoken by Chinese actors, could be dubbed in at
post-production (E. Giammarella, personal communication, January 26,
1994). These and other anecdotes suggest an intrinsic human appeal
in telenovelas that industry representatives are quick to point out.
Television executives offered these explanations for telenovelas’
cross-cultural popularity: stories with universal human appeal (M.
Vinay, personal communication, January 27, 1993); engaging stories,
attractive actors and actresses in attractive settings, and happy
endings (S. Hall & J Stone, personal communication, January 26,
1993), and "they speak a world-wide language" (J. Serrano, personal
communication, January 28, 1993).[viii] These ties between novelas
and international audiences have yet to be adequately explicated or
theorized by scholars, yet promise to yield valuable findings when
In closing I should identify a development that has
been influencing the cross-lingual dynamics of telenovelas and other
international television, albeit to limited scrutiny:
language-related communication technologies. Technological advances
associated with digitization have broadened the language-delivery
capabilities of broadcast, multichannel and playback technologies by
offering audiences various language tracks for the same visual
content through second audio programs (SAP), multiple audio streams
via cable or satellite, and viewer-selected audio/subtitling options
in different languages. These technologies, and others under
development, will narrow some of the breaches associated with the
"cultural discount" against cross-lingual media. But they are also
likely to pose new challenges or intensify existing ones, such as
linking a viewer’s ability to pay for services more directly to the
level of her or his access to foreign-language programming. The
point to stress here is that the international spread of popular
cultural products like telenovelas is increasingly affected by rapid
technological change, and vice versa. This indicates that
researchers who are interested in language-related aspects of media
need to be more sensitive to the influences of technological change,
and that technologists should pay more attention to how media
production, distribution and reception are developing in this
[i]Many of the papers presented were published in
the two volumes of La lengua española y los medios de comunicación
(Cortes Bargalló et. al, 1998).
[ii] John Sinclair (1999) uses the term
‘geolinguistic region’ to identify a closely-related concept.
[iii] Telenovela coproduction agreements entered in
2000 among TV Globo (Brazil), Columbia TriStar (U.S.) and Telemundo
(U.S.) as well as SBT (Brazil) and Televisa (Mexico) are evidence of
the increasingly fluid movement of talent and texts between the
Spanish- and Portuguese-language television industries (Cajueiro,
[iv] Vilar and Alvarado (1998) identify six cities
in the Spanish-speaking world: Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Caracas,
Madrid, Mexico City and Miami. In Brazil, Rio de Janiero is most
prolific, but São Paulo is also an active production center.
[v] Wilkinson (1995) identifies these countries as
"first level" industries, Mazziotti (1996) calls them "principal
[vi] Interviews were conducted with the following
industry representatives at the annual meeting of the National
Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) in San
Francisco, CA, January 26-28, 1993: Roberto Campbell (TV Globo),
Sheila Hall and James Stone (Coral Pictures), Jorge Serrano (Venevisión)
and Marcel Vinay (Televisa).
[vii] In the survey, respondents were asked to rank
the importance of factors in their decisions to purchase programming
where 1 = the most important and 4 = less important. Options left
blank were coded with a 5. Among broadcasters (N=32) the results
were as follows: Production values 2.5; Cultural fit with local
audience 2.8; Price 3.1; Quality of script/story/concept 3.7;
Popularity in original market 3.9; Reliability of distributor 4.5;
Distribution arrangement 4.7; Corporate ties to distributor 4.8;
Actors' appearance 4.9 Actors’ accent 4.9; Actors’ talent 4.9. These
were the results among pay television system operators (N=10):
Cultural fit with local audience 1.9; Subscriber demand 2.7; Quality
of script/story/concept 3.6; Price 3.6; Program service's reputation
4.2; Production values 4.3; Actors' talent 4.8; Popularity in
original market 4.9; Actors’ appearance 5; Actors’ accents 5;
Program service's actions 5.
[viii] This quote points up a compelling association
between media genre as its own linguistic system on the one hand,
and the presence and use of verbal, nonverbal and textual language
(in the case of subtitling) within media texts on the other. The
topic merits further investigation, especially genre-specific
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About the Author
Kenton T. Wilkinson is Associate Professor in the
Department of Communication at the University of Texas at San
Antonio. He is an international communication specialist who also
studies U.S. Spanish-language television, media and ethnic identity,
and communication technology. His current research concerns language
difference in electronic media.