Conversationalization: Definition and Examples

Seth Meyers
Television talk-shows (such as Late Night with Seth Meyers) have taken the lead in the conversationalization of discourse in the media.

Gary Gershoff / Getty Images


Conversationalization is a style of public discourse that simulates intimacy by adopting features of informal, conversational language. It is also known as public colloquial.

Building on the concept of the public colloquial (Geoffrey Leech, English in Advertising, 1966), British linguist Norman Fairclough introduced the term conversationalization in 1994.

Examples and Observations

  • "The restructuring of public and private domains is visible in the development of a distinct style of communication in the media, a 'public colloquial' language (Leech 1966, Fairclough 1995a)... While the context of broadcasting production is the public domain, most people listen or watch in the private domain, where they do not necessarily want to be lectured, patronized, or otherwise 'got at'..."
    "In contrast with the stiff formality of early BBC broadcasting, a huge amount of effort goes into giving an impression of informality and spontaneity in a lot of contemporary programming. People who may look as though they are having an 'ordinary' conversation on a television 'chat show' are in fact, of course, performing in front of the cameras and as much in the public domain as you could possibly imagine."
    (Mary Talbot, Media Discourse: Representation and Interaction. Edinburgh University Press, 2007)
  • Fairclough on Conversationalization
    "Conversationalization involves a restructuring of the boundary between public and private orders of discourse—a highly unstable boundary in contemporary society characterized by ongoing tension and change. Conversationalization is also consequently partly to do with shifting boundaries between written and spoken discourse practices, and a rising prestige and status for spoken language which partly reverses the main direction of evolution of modern orders of discourse... Conversationalization includes colloquial vocabulary; phonic, prosodic, and paralinguistic features of colloquial language including questions of accent; modes of grammatical complexity characteristic of colloquial spoken language...; colloquial modes of topical development...; colloquial genres, such as conversational narrative..."
    "Conversationalization cannot convincingly be simply dismissed as engineering, strategically motivated simulation, or simply embraced as democratic. There is a real democratic potential, but it is emergent in and constrained by the structures and relations of contemporary capitalism."
    (Norman Fairclough, "Conversationalization of Public Discourse and the Authority of the Consumer." The Authority of the Consumer, edited by Russell Keat, Nigel Whiteley, and Nicholas Abercrombie. Routledge, 1994)
  • Adorno's Critique of Pseudoindividualization
    "The conversationalization of public discourse has its critics. To some, media-simulated conversation is simply another name for media without conversation. [Theodor W.] Adorno provides such a critique in his notion of pseudoindividualization, that is, of false intimacy, a fake personal address based on statistical guesswork. Adorno attacks not only the loudspeaker blasting away at stupefied publics, but also, more subtly, how being let in on the trick is often the trick itself. By being clued into the deception, audiences are flattered into thinking they can see through the phony spell of the commodity, whereas all the others are duped. If everybody's somebody, nobody's anybody (as Gilbert and Sullivan put it), and if everyone is privy to the trick, the exposé of mass deception is the vehicle of mass deception itself."
    (John Durham Peters, "Media as Conversation, Conversation as Media." Media and Cultural Theory, ed. by James Curran and David Morley. Routledge, 2006)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Conversationalization: Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). Conversationalization: Definition and Examples. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Conversationalization: Definition and Examples." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).