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Broadcasting the skeptron: the upset of sociolinguistic closure in Swedish public service television



This article explores upset reactions to purportedly deviant language use in the newsroom of the Swedish public service television company SVT. Adopting a historical gaze to contemporary struggles, it focuses on the news anchor Dina Haddad (an alias selected by me for the sake of anonymity) and the injurious, bigoted complaints she receives from detractors by virtue of speaking Swedish with a foreign accent. Through historical contextualization, the article casts Swedish public service television as a system of sociolinguistic closure, sustained through individual and institutional efforts of correction. Conceptually, it invokes the image of the skeptron to illustrate how linguistic authority is exerted through an interplay between delegators and holders. Against this backdrop, drawing on interview data and a selection of scornful emails, Haddad’s broadcast appearance is grasped as indexing the symbolic recognition of unsolicited change. Her foreign accent is perceived as revealing the countervailing upset of sociolinguistic closure, sanctioned by the establishment. For detractors, this is at once a critique against the skeptron-delegator, SVT, and the skeptron-bearer, Haddad. While the verbal attacks she receives are more about social change than language per se, I argue that the efficacy of producing linguistic complaints pertains to SVT’s historical role in sustaining doctrines of correctness.
Linus Salö*
Broadcasting the skeptron: the upset of
sociolinguistic closure in Swedish public
service television
Received April 6, 2021; accepted December 6, 2021
Abstract: This article explores upset reactions to purportedly deviant language
use in the newsroom of the Swedish public service television company SVT.
Adopting a historical gaze to contemporary struggles, it focuses on the news
anchor Dina Haddad (an alias selected by me for the sake of anonymity) and the
injurious, bigoted complaints she receives from detractors by virtue of speaking
Swedish with a foreign accent. Through historical contextualization, the article
casts Swedish public service television as a system of sociolinguistic closure,
sustained through individual and institutional efforts of correction. Conceptually,
it invokes the image of the skeptron to illustrate how linguistic authority is exerted
through an interplay between delegators and holders. Against this backdrop,
drawing on interview data and a selection of scornful emails, Haddads broadcast
appearance is grasped as indexing the symbolic recognition of unsolicited change.
Her foreign accent is perceived as revealing the countervailing upset of sociolin-
guistic closure, sanctioned by the establishment. For detractors, this is at once a
critique against the skeptron-delegator, SVT, and the skeptron-bearer, Haddad.
While the verbal attacks she receives are more about social change than language
per se, I argue that the efcacy of producing linguistic complaints pertains to
SVTs historical role in sustaining doctrines of correctness.
Keywords: linguistic authority; public service television; skeptron; sociolinguistic
*Corresponding author: Linus Salö, Centre for Research on Bilingualism, Stockholm University,
Stockholm, Sweden; and Division of History of Science, Technology and Environment, KTH Royal
Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden, E-mail:
IJSL 2022; 275: 4364
Open Access. © 2022 Linus Salö, published by De Gruyter. This work is licensed under the
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
1 Introduction
In the spring of 1938, Swedens national radio news broadcast was for the first time
read by a woman, Astrid Kindstrand. This historical event caused indignant
reactions from a fraction of the audience men and women alike whom I shall
here refer to as detractors. They starkly opposed the decision of delegating to a
woman what in ancient Greek mythology is called the skeptron the authoritative
symbol of a persons legitimate right to speak, and to be heard and listened to. The
broadcaster was showered with upset telephone calls, which were recorded,
archived and, later, made publicly available. While some preserved reactions are
politely negative, it would be pleasant if one could hear a mans voice, most are
grossly injurious: we do not want to hear this bloody hag talk;we would like to
beg off this lady, I think it is tiring to hear her, I would rather have the male
voices; and let the gents who can talk audibly speak at least in the daily news!
The female phone operator, rst in line for this barrage of anger, patiently assured
that all complaints would be communicated to the management.
For scholars of the sociology of language, the case of the female broadcasting
pioneer is an important aide-mémoire. It reminds us of the propensity of language
to accrete symbolism and so become the subbing terrain of struggles over other
social matters, such as gender participation. It also reminds us that the space of
public service media (henceforth PSM) has long been subjected to mechanisms of
social closureimpinging on the possibilities of accessing reward-bearing posi-
tions, where ideas and expectations about legitimate speakers and rightful lan-
guage use occupy center stage. For an equally long time, PSM has provided a space
of upset whenever mechanisms of exclusion are countervailed.
In this article I analyze how kindred forms of dynamics linger on, but also how
their targets and categories of difference have shifted. Focusing on the Swedish
public service television company Sveriges Television (Swedens Television,
henceforth SVT), I showcase how concerns about language and linguistic
authority are nowadays weighed over supposedly non-Swedish subjects, the
broadcasting of which is conceived as the embodied sign of unsolicited change.
Foreign accent is the new shibboleth and object of concern, indexing disarray.
I will base my account on the SVT news anchor Dina Haddad (an alias selected by
me for the sake of anonymity) and her experiences of being a public sceptered
speakerthrough SVTs broadcasting of news. Having moved to Sweden and
learned Swedish as an adult, she speaks this language with a slight yet discernable
1The event took place April 26, 1938. Audio was made available through Till frågan om kvinnans
rösträtt (bisemic: To the question of womens right to vote/voice), aired December 3, 1974, and
was accessed through the SVT Open Archive (translations mine).
44 Salö
foreign accent. Haddads detractors treat her Swedish as an indexical conrmation
of her being an impostrous intruder into the space of national television. It follows
that the televised display of Haddad instigates new-old forms of upsets: an array
of emotive and belligerent reactions from viewers who question her suitability as
a news reader. Flaunting comments that range from meticulous monitoring to
outright harassment, emails attacking Haddads language appear vicarious to
broader questions about legitimate participation in the television space. This is
exemplied in Extract 1 through an email addressed to SVT.
Extract 1
Why does Dina Haddad feature in the programs? Her only contributions (apart
from costing license fees) are short repetitions of the other hosts words, and
Haddads participation is more than ridiculous. Her participation is entirely
objectionable. Is there a lack of Swedes at SVT? If she, according to SVT, is to
be an inkvoterad [hired on diversity quota] Arab/Palestinian, make sure to give
her linguistic training so that us Swedes are sparred from the Arabic linguistic
element. We have enough of that anyway.
Quite a few things can be said about this indignant verbal bout, mixing as it does
insults with linguistic commentary. At first glance, it hints at an intersection be-
tween xenophobia, misogyny, and an ideological aversion towards the institution
of SVT, which is faulted for practicing affirmative action. Such circumstances,
however, can to some extent be vindicated, or, rendered acceptable, if efforts are
made to rid Haddads foreign accent through determined efforts of correction. The
doctrine thus conveyed comprises new but also old tenets, historically rooted in
public perceptions as well as in institutionalized contexts. Haddad, the indirect
recipient of the reaction expressed in Extract 1, understands its contemporary
underpinnings as such:
Extract 2
Haddad: I think we have no mercy [nåd] in Sweden. It does not matter whether
you know 17 languages, your other language assets are not perceived as
competence. You must master Swedish perfectly else you know nothing.
2 Objective, methodological approach, and
conceptual framework
This article analyzes upset about or around language use in public service tele-
vision (henceforth PST). My primary objective is not to explicate the motives of
Broadcasting the skeptron 45
detractors but rather to highlight the efficacy and historical viability of targeting
language in expressions of upset. I seek particularly to grasp the historical pro-
duction and present unfolding of linguistic authority in Swedish PST as a space
of sociolinguistic closure, access to which is restricted by means of linguistic
criteria. Combining a historical gaze with a discussion of contemporary struggles,
I analyze a dataset consisting of (i) two interviews with Dina Haddad and (ii) a
selection of emails addressed to Haddad and SVT. The interviews dealt broadly
with Haddads experiences of using language in the context of broadcasting,
including her understanding of the reactions that her language use triggers. The
interviews (one face-to-face and one video call, both in Swedish) were recorded,
transcribed, and translated into English by me. The emails (N= 15, all in Swedish)
were forwarded to me by Haddad. I then selected an illustrative sample and
translated these.
My analysis relates linguistic practice to a wider range of historical dynamics,
such as the impetus of PST and the workings of linguistic authority therein, as well
as the display of difference and emotions that come with it. To this end I draw on
the sociology of Bourdieu, whose writings provide insights into matters of lan-
guage, media and domination. Adapted to sociolinguistic conditions, the analyt-
ical account aligns with Brubakers (2015) discussion on the mechanism
demarcating insiders from outsiders in processes of allocating socially produced
persons to socially dened positions. Focusing particularly on the delegation of
linguistic authority within such processes, I expand Bourdieus (1991) discussion
on the skeptron (see below) with work on standard language ideologies and re-
actions to purportedly deviant language use, including the efcacy of such re-
actions to wound, offend, and injure. I begin by outlining PSM and the importance
attached to language therein, focusing specically on the Swedish context.
3 Television and the case of Swedish PST
Beyond being merely a technical innovation, broadcast media carries substantial
social force with a number of formative effects on societies and their inhabitants
(Thompson 1995; see, e.g., Loviglio2005). Television, according to Bourdieu (1996:
18), enjoys a de facto monopoly on what goes into the heads of a signicant part of
the population and what they think.While monopolythese days may come
across as an overstatement, this assertion seems more reasonable in a historical
perspective, and particularly so in settings such as those of the Nordic countries,
where PST has long held a prevalent place (Horsti etal. 2014). Sweden, for example,
had only one TV channel from 1956 and two from 1969 until the rise of commercial
television in the 1980s. Widely accessible and funded publicly, rather than
46 Salö
commercially, PST isproduced in the interest of thepublic with a distinct mission to
inform, educate or entertain the general population of a given country. Conse-
quently, whereas some programs become emblematic of nationalized traditions,
others pick up conventionalized values of ofciality, formality, and seriousness
(Hultén 2014). In Sweden, among the best examples of the latter are the two news
broadcasts Aktuellt and Rapport, broadcast since 1958 and 1969, respectively.
Despite competition from commercial television and other media outlets, the
position of SVT remains robust in the Swedish mediascape. The average Swede
spends about 40 min per day watching SVT channels, albeit with ample social and
generational variation (MMS 2019). The daily news programs remain popular, with
the Rapport evening news attracting some 1.5 million viewers, equating to 20% of
Swedens adult population. In this respect, PST sustains notions of national sta-
bility and convention, contributing to the production of the ordinary(Ahmed
2004: 118). Language and nationally standardized ways of speaking play an
axiomatic part in this ordinariness in that media is deeply implicated in processes
of tailoring the standard language (e.g., Bourdieu 1991; Jaffe 2011).
Milroy (2006: 138) stresses that all standard languages are bound to be
maintained and protected through authority and doctrines of correctness.PSM
is one such authority: a key node within what Lippi-Green (2012: Ch. 8) calls the
information industry, where dissemination of news yields and sustains notions
of linguistic authority. While Swedish PSM is not state-governed, it is positioned
within the eld of power with which the genesis and the use of the ofcial
language is bound (Bourdieu 1991: 45; see Svensson 2005). In fact, the mission of
SVT is regulated through a broadcasting license issued by the government,
stipulating that SVT has a particular responsibility for the Swedish language
and its position in society. Matters of languagecultivationaretobeconsideredin
its activities(Swedish Government 2019: section 6, my translation). More
pertinently, producing PST involves appointing particular language users to
award-bearing positions (Brubaker 2015). The exclusive position of newsreader
is subjected to rm gatekeeping (or social closure, see below) where ways of
speaking function as a vital shibboleth. Strikingly, among the news anchors who
have served at Aktuellt and Rapport over the last three decades, the vast majority
are native Swedes from the mid-Sweden capital region. Few have a non-Swedish
background. SVT and its newsroom, then, is an exceedingly homogenous space
where great importance is attached to linguistic conduct (cf. Hultén 2014).
Indicatively, SVT maintains a webpage with commonly asked language ques-
tions, where the one appearing rst is May SVT staff speak [on air] with a dialect
or a foreign accent [brytning]?The ofcial reply:
Broadcasting the skeptron 47
Dialects or accented [bruten] Swedish is a part of Swedens linguistic diversity, so staff and
participants have the right to their language. If the dialect or the accent outweighs
comprehensibility, it is the task of the [broadcast] staff member to explain what may be
unclear to the viewer. (my translation)
This statement struggles to reconcile the freedom of speakers with official policies
and viewersperceived needs and preferences. As a media organization, SVT on
the one hand champions the right of its employees to use their languageso as to
mirror the linguistic diversity of Sweden. On the other, it separates standard
Swedish from vernaculars, rationalizing the former as the only truly intelligible
language. The simultaneous adoption of these positions gestures at the knotty
considerations surrounding SVTs assignment of linguistic authority. The image of
the skeptron here provides an apt conceptual lynchpin.
4 Broadcasting the skeptron
In Ancient Greece, the skeptron [σκπτρον,sceptre]wasthestaff,wandorspire
emblematizing the power and right to speak authoritatively (Benveniste 1973).
Invoking Homer, Bourdieu (1991: 193), sees the skeptron as the visible mani-
festation of the hearing granted to the orator, of his credit, of the social impor-
tance of his acts and his words.For Bourdieu, the social logic thus invoked
neatly pinpoints that authority comes to language from outside(1991: 109),
while also bringing to the fore a corresponding logic of recognition. Being the
skeptron-bearer is to demand that others listen, condemning them to temporary
silence. For this to be acceptable, holders of the skeptron must be considered
worthy by others, that is, recognized as rightfully licensed with this right
(Broady 1984). In addition, that or those who grant authority are subject to the
equivalent principle of recognition. Appointing a sceptered speaker is to dele-
gate to that person the authority to speak on behalf of, or in the name of,
someone else. Notably, this conception creates the possibility of being autho-
rized to speak without speaking with authority, showing how linguistic
authority emerges neither solely among those who hold it nor among those who
delegate it (see Bourdieu 1991: 107116; Butler 1997: 157).
By way of illuminating this circumstance, I invoke the notion of the skeptron
to denote a symbolic license that grants it s bearer the authority to speak to and in
the name of the public. Broadcasting companies endow individuals with this
authority by appointing speakers to visible and audible positions (e.g., hosts,
presenters, and news anchors) as an officialization of the contract of the
delegation(Bourdieu 1991: 75). Because reward-bearing positions are shaped
48 Salö
by their incumbents (Brubaker 2015), the symbolic signicance of appointments
increases in a context such as PST. Here, the endowment of the skeptron may be
read as an ofcial act, at once addressing, constituting, and reproducing the
nationalized public. It follows that appointed holders and delegators of skep-
tron often have detractors who disapprove of their endowment. Detractors, in
this sense, are agents adverse to change but condent in their right and ability to
express discontent, hatred, anger, or other expressions of upset, leveled at
skeptron-bearers, in this case Haddad, as well as at skeptron-delegators, in
this case SVT.
5 Closure and upset
Across the social sciences, it is common to think of institutionalized spaces as
historically manufactured by and for particular types of social agents, a fact that
has enduring effects of closure for new entrants whose presence challenges or
upsets the established order (e.g., Bourdieu 2001; Kristeva 1982; Puwar 2004).
For Weber (1968), social closuredenotes the ever-recurring process through
which social groups and collectives seek to maximize rewards by conning access
to a controlled circle of eligibles. While Webers model is broad-reaching, he notes
that language, alongside other group characteristics, can be used to justify the
exclusion of ineligible outsiders hence sociolinguistic closure as a means of
monopolizing opportunities to pursue reward-bearing positions (Weber 1968: 342).
Whenever such closure is challenged through countervailing acts of usurpation
(Parkin 1979), reactions standardly follow, more often than not leveled at the group
attribute used as a pretext for attempting the exclusion of ineligibles (Weber 1968:
342). Hence, in protecting sociolinguistic closure as a pretext for social exclusion
more generally, language and its membershipping features becomes an evident
target object. This conception accords closely with the idea of arguments about
language as providing a shorthand for addressing a wider range of essentially non-
linguistic matters (Cameron 1995). Indeed, linguistic concerns often target social
change on the terrain of sociolinguistic change through expressions of dismay,
complaint or other emotive negative reactions that are here envisioned as coming
under the umbrella concept of upset.
In this article the notion of upset serves to grasp the relations between change
and its subsequent reactions. The broadcasting of Haddad is a rupture with the
past, as her on-air presence has changed the televised mediatization of Swedish
nationhood. In this sense, it upsets sociolinguistic closure. Such change, in turn, is
surrounded by upset in the sense of emotive and often hateful reactions, felt
and expressed by detractors. Thus, from this vantage point, we might say that
Broadcasting the skeptron 49
upset emerges as it becomes attached to a particular object in this case Haddad
whose appearance is read as the cause of an injury to the national body(Ahmed
2004: 122) and whose language, accordingly, is turned into a target of xenophobic
and racist views (Puwar 2004).
However, approached at a more general level of sociohistorical analysis,
Brubakers (2015) Weber-infused discussion on processes of exclusion from the
pursuit of opportunities enables the analysis to account for the ways in which
categories of difference are made, remade and unmade(Gal 2021: 97) and thus
change over time. This view does not dispute but extends the idea that language
is the key object of racist enunciations. From the point of departure that stable
cultures require things to stay in their appointed place(Hall 2013: 226), re-
actions to change can be apprehended as thriving whenever they do not, with
language use often featuring as the object towards which lamentation is drawn.
More specically, while refraining from privileging the sentiments of detractors,
the notion of upset provides a way of tapping into the reactions that unfold as the
sustaining means of closure are disrupted, show signs of being destabilized, or
progressively change. Shifting the perspective accordingly, Haddad may be
repositioned as an agent of change usurping authority, untying sociolinguistic
closure. This sort of agenda entails a focus on historical practices that have
dened the rightful holders of the televised skeptron. In Sweden, sceptered
speakers of the newsroom speak rikssvenska, the Swedish standard variety, as
delineated below.
6 Standard language and institutional doctrines
of correctness
In Sweden, rikssvenska has long been the standard for written and spoken
Swedish. While typically construed as a non-accent purportedly tied to no
particular region, etc. (see Lippi-Green 2012), it is the product of a long process of
regulation and enregisterment going back to the gentry registers used in the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in the capital region. In the nineteenth cen-
tury, as Swedens linguistic market unied, it was codied as the standard norm of
the ofcial language (Teleman 2003: Ch. 5). To this day, it corresponds roughly to
Stockholmian Swedish spoken by upper-middle-class native Swedes, gathering its
historical support through PSM in particular, news broadcasts as well as by
other state-mandated institutions (Svensson 2005).
When Swedish PSM radio was launched in the mid-1920s, it became a prime
linguistic arena for the correctness and worthiness of cultivated male voices, thus
50 Salö
reinforcing the view of the national voice as a gendering construct (cf. Cameron
1995: 174; Loviglio 2005: Ch. 2). Style guides of the era propagated the use of
standard oral Swedish [rikstalsspråket], dismissing vernaculars as communica-
tively inept. In the 1930s, debates were waged over the question of variation. For
example, linguist Gösta Bergman viewed national radio as the ideal instrument
for standard language propaganda(cited in Jonsson [1982: 66], my translation),
arguing it should be used to establish Stockholmian pronunciation as the national
benchmark. An opposing view was that the radio ought to mirror the variation of
Swedish, so as to increase tolerance for dialects and regional vernaculars. The
outcome of this debate, Jonsson (1982) argues, was a compromise: the standard
variety should prevail among newsreaders and presenters, seen primarily as
transmitters or Goffmanian animators of a scripted language to which they had no
personal connection. Non-standard varieties were permissible among commen-
tators, on-the-scene reporters and so forth, as long as they were deemed
comprehensible throughout the country. The violation of these boundaries has
invoked reactions and complaints, as evident, for example, in 1976 when a
newsreader with a southern Swedish accent appeared on the radio (Svensson
2005: 1799).
As noted by Milroy (2006: 138), standard language ideology is often accom-
panied by popular complaints about language, bewailing the low quality of
general usage and claiming that the language is degenerating.Concerning
Swedish PSM, Jonsson (1982: 69, my translation) congruently notes that as long as
there has been radio in Sweden, there have been corresponding listeners who have
expressed their appreciation, or for the most part their discontent over the
language used in the programs.For the most part, such reactions have targeted
bad grammar, swear words, and unclear or too-rapid speech, not seldom targeting
the broadcaster that allows such use. Beyond popular complaints, however,
negative reactions to language use in Swedish media have also been produced
within language policy and planning (LPP), where broadcast media has been
considered to have a special role for subjecting spoken language to standardizing
processes, particularly for pronunciation (Lindblad 1982: 47). Grounded in what
Cameron (1995: 3) aptly calls a nger-wagging tradition, some LPP actors have
actively fought against perceived deviances from the standard norm in PSM
broadcasts. For instance, Bertil Molde (1980), generally thought of as an important
and linguistically open-minded gure in Swedish LPP, propagated the view that
media language must be clear and free of disturbance. As he proclaimed,
apparent language errors must not be present in well-prepared and considered
media language, such as at newsreadingand it is of outmost importance that
attention is paid to listenersreactions to linguistic appearances(Molde 1980: 99,
Broadcasting the skeptron 51
my translation). Hence, sustaining the legitimate standard though attempts at
correction is a task which falls both to institutions designed for this purpose and
to individual speakers(Bourdieu 1991: 60). The institution of SVT, as outlined
next, is likewise implicated in upholding such doctrines of correctness.
7 Accented speech and SVTs fear of disturbance
It would seem that the historical imperative outlined by Jonsson (1982) ani-
mators,atleast,mustmasterthestandardremains today. While non-standard
dialects and foreign accents are heard on SVT, they are far more common in
entertainment shows, sports programs, weather forecasts, and the like than they
are in news contexts. A newsreader with a foreign accent, then, Haddad breaks
with the longstanding prevalence of authoritative standard language use in the
newsroom. In this regard, there is nothing unique about Sweden broadcasting
the standard is more rule than exception (e.g., Jaffe 2011). Habitually, speech that
does not align with standard language is effectively excluded from ofcial
situations exceptions are likely to attract attention (Bourdieu 1991; see Woolard
2016: Ch. 4). However, large-scale surveys show that Sweden stands out in
Europe in the sense that a substantial share 65% believe that a job candi-
dateswayofspeaking(his or her accent) is a disadvantage in recruitment, the
only factor given more weight being age (Eurobarometer 2019: 493). Concerning
peoples actual viewpoints with respect to different professions, Wingstedt
(1998: 280) found that a slight majority of the Swedish population (54%) consider
it unacceptable for newsreaders to have a foreign accent. While more recent
surveys are lacking, Bijvoet (2020) maintains that most negative reactions
addressed to SVT target the language of the news and childrensprograms.
Evidently, however, not all accents are equally valued; rather, there exists a
differentiated market of accents in which low value is placed upon foreign
accents perceived as indexically linked to the Middle East or other regions
with Muslim populations (Torstensson 2010).
Reluctance and unease clearly surround questions of linguistic diversity at
SVT. In the early 2000s, Värsta språket, a popular SVT show about language,
featured an episode
on the language of news media. Why, the voiceover asked, do
dialects and foreign accents seldom feature on TV news? The SVT managing editor
Helena Stålnert provided a surprisingly frank response:
2Season 1, episode 4, November 21, 2002; all translations mine.
52 Salö
We strive to have a language, a tone and a dialect that does not disturb in any way. News
presenters and program hosts should speak in such a way that one listens to the content in the
first place, not react to how one speaks and how one sounds, or, for that matter, how one
Mixed into the interview with the managing editor, the shows host, Fredrik
Lindström, mimicked a variety of regional dialects in fake televised situations,
skillfully playing with purportedly misplaced ways of speaking Swedish. While
amused, the managing editor referred to his mock way of speaking as rural
[bonnig], to which the reporter replied: But why can you not be rural in the news?
One must give some sort of dignity to the news, the managing editor responded.
Following the question when was the last time we heard a Persian accent in the
news?, an actor produced a staged account of a male reporter speaking
about public health with a non-Swedish accent, supposedly to illustrate the
perceived unthinkability of such a scenario. While generally sympathetic to the
critical message conveyed by the show, the managing editor nonetheless
maintained her position:
We receive a great deal of reactions from people who take issue with the way ties look, with
the way hairstyles look. It therefore becomes important that there are as few things as possible
for people to be annoyed with.
As expressed here, SVTs practices are stylized through a constantly sustained
attention to forms and formalities(Bourdieu 1991: 84). As a part of such styliza-
tion, the virtue of a neutral and impersonal language in SVT broadcasts is to not
disturb peoples deep-seated conception of normality, as failure to do so is quite
likely to be noticed. Yet, such appropriateness is upheld not only with reference to
the general public but also with respect to a professional imperative of delivering
news with a measure of dignity that the standard is thought to convey.
There are denser layers to all of this. At the time of the Värsta språket episode
on dialects in the newsroom, SVT had no ofcial diversity policy the rst was
produced in 2002 (Hultén 2014). Since then, over the last dozen years, Sweden has
transformed from being a country with no far-right political party worth noticing to
being the home of one of the largest in Europe: the Sweden Democrats, now
attracting some 20% of all voters (e.g., Widfeldt 2018). While this partys long-term
impact is yet to be determined, immigration-related matters have become a stake in
politics as well as in society at large, in ways that have arguably augmented SVTs
fear of disturbance. In tandem with increasing immigration, peaking in 2015,
established political parties have been gradually mimicking and normalizing
right-wing rhetoric (e.g., Milani 2020; Wodak 2015). Among other things, greater
importance is attached to language learning as an indicator of immigrants
Broadcasting the skeptron 53
integrational will (see Rydell and Hanell this issue). Relatedly, opinion-makers of
mainstream media occasionally point to the perils of allowing accented Swedish in
PSM, warning against its detrimental effects on integration (e.g., Jerneck 2018) and
thereby lending authority to the discourse registers of far-right politics (Gal 2021).
Far-right slanderers of alternative media, on their part, take every opportunity to
attack the occasional display of accented speech in PSM content.
To be sure, ethnic discrimination remains forbidden by law in Sweden. In
fact, state agencies adhere to a set of common values, a government ethos,
which embraces diversity within its politics of representation. The forms of
racism that nonetheless abound in Sweden may be labeled structural, albeit
concealedbut are also counteracted. On the one hand, they comprise labor
market discrimination and housing market segregation; on the other, Sweden is
also characterized by the broad mobilization of civic and party-political anti-
racism (Dahlstedt and Neergaard 2015). While Swedish political stability still
trumps leftright polarization, upset and divided public and political opinion
increasingly prevails in matters concerning cultural valuation to which issues of
migration diversity belong (Oscarsson et al. 2021). Related to this specic
polarizing tendency, while the public trust for SVT is relatively high, it is steadily
decreasing and is unevenly distributed across the political spectrum public
trust is lower the further to the right one looks (Medieakademin 2020). Given the
fact that the far-right is also the stronghold of contemporary xenophobia in
Sweden, it is no surprise that ideological aversion towards PSM intersects with
racism. The general publictowards which PST is aimed comprises a fairly
large portion of people for whom diversity is not desired, and for whom SVT is
seen as a megaphone of social-liberal propaganda (Melchior 2019). It follows
that upset directed toward Haddad interweaves with a critique of SVT, the
institution held responsible for her display.
8 Injurious words of upset
The lions share of all negative reaction received by Haddad flaunts an incorrect
interpretation of her migration motives and a misrecognition of her back-
ground. Despite having reluctantly moved to Sweden out of love for a Swedish
man, Haddads transnational movement is insinuated as following the logic of
the welfare-seeking immigrant. With that, she is often ascribed a presumed
Middle East background and a Muslim creed (cf. Arab/Palestinian, Extract 1).
Moreover, while Haddad holds a university degree in media studies, she is
repeatedlyaccusedofbeingproppedupby a politically correct project and of
54 Salö
that is, employed on the basis of afrmative action, is here used as a pejorative
signier to impugn legitimate competence. Extract 3 displays one such reac-
tion, emailed to SVT:
Extract 3
What the fuck does a person like Dina Haddad have to do in the role as a
newsreader? Inkvoterad or what? Was it when you became tax-funded that you
felt you could skip competence-based recruitment and opt for 100 percent
nepotism and corruption?
This account reeks of aversion, reproaching SVTsmotivesforplacingHaddadin
the newsroom. The institution is scorned for making taxpayers fund the leftist
agenda it allegedly pursues. Within this register of upset, inkvoterad is repeat-
edly used as a catch-all for immigrants, women and perhaps most saliently
the token female immigrantas gures of hatred (Puwar 2004). This injurious
strategy of name-calling, following Butler (1997), gains its wounding power
from a long chain of previous pronouncements that new utterers cite.To
insult, in this view, is to latch onto an accustomed practice of naming and so
hail individuals as particular subjects, namely, as pawns in representational
politics. Aimed as it is toward professionals, its efcacy lies in the fact that it
invokes the accusation of undeserved success and advancement, and so con-
strues its addressee as an imposter: a person who does not deserve what she or
he has been given but who usurps the title, honors, and qualications of legit-
imate representatives (Bourdieu 1991: 125). As evident in Extract 3, it is an
accusation aimed at SVT concerning their ostensibly negligent emphasis on
competence in recruitment.
The same injurious accusations are also addressed directly to Haddad, who
reports receiving insulting complaints weekly. An example is given in Extract 4
through an email sent to Haddad.
Extract 4
How on earth did you get a job as news reader at SVT? Are you inkvoterad?I
would say you with your problems of intonation, apparent pronunciation
issues and odd rhythm in the language do not t into that role. There must be
hundreds more tting than you. My partner is herself an immigrant and she
beats your pronunciation by a horse length!!! Please, when will the Swedish
people be allowed to beg off seeing you on television?
As shown, the role of news reader is heralded as intrinsically linked to the per-
formance of standard Swedish. Accordingly, Haddads detractors construe her way
Broadcasting the skeptron 55
of speaking as a dead giveaway, revealing her as a foreign subject (the Arabic
linguistic element, Extract 1) unqualified for the position she holds. Contrary
to Bourdieus (1991: 109) claim that institutional authority generates linguistic
authority, for some it evidently does not sufce to be authorized by SVT. Haddad
is not just the subject of quiet unease but the object of salient ire: viewers actively
let her know how her televised presence makes them feel. While Haddad is used
to injurious slurs from members of the public, she is taken aback when her
colleagues voice similar opinions, thus citingpublic slurs (Butler 1997: 52).
Haddad recalls a moment when a colleague commented about her being hired as
afrmative action (inkvoterad):
Extract 5
Haddad: But then this colleague said precisely that (inkvoterad). So I brought it
up: wait a minute, what did you say actually? Come on! Lets duel! Lets battle!
Lets see what you know about foreign policy. We take a test, you and I. Lets
see how many languages you speak. The rst time you heard English was at
some package holiday at the age of 43 but ne. We cant have Barack Obama
on the show because you refuse to interview people in English. I can do that,
and I can interview people in Arabic. And Swedish is my fth language what
do you know? If I am inkvoterad, it is not on the basis of my background but my
Indeed, SVT has put effort into increasing diversity in recruitment, and the ques-
tion of whether they have succeeded or not has in recent years become a hot topic
of public debate (see Hultén 2014; SVT Nyheter 2020). As can be seen in Extract 5,
certain elements of unease concerning this politics of representation also surface
in the workplace. Haddad reacts quite strongly to these, particularly when they are
voiced injuriously by colleagues whose qualications are, according to Haddad,
themselves impostrous. Yet, it is not the case that Haddad rejects workplace in-
sinuations while accepting public opinion. In her view, complaints expressed by
viewers can be divided into two categories: though most are racist hatred mixed
with linguistic insults, some (15%) contain constructive feedback and corrective
advice on her language. Haddad claims to be quite sympathetic to the latter. In one
interview, I personally found this stance overly sympathetic and therefore chal-
lenged Haddad on this matter, suggesting that arguments about language can
serve as proxies for bigoted views (Extract 6).
56 Salö
Extract 6
Haddad: And people who are not used to hearing others, that is, people who
might be from the countryside, like Vilhelmina [a small Swedish town] and so
on. They struggle with different dialects, genuinely, because they have not
been exposed to these dialects. They cannot hear what I say. And, in addition, I
speak fast, I speak rapidly. So sometimes, I need to kind of recognize that.
Dina, lets not be too quick. You dont have that luxury, you dont have that
much time to formulate and re-formulate. Your need to get in there quickly and
say, Right, so what do you mean by that?,How did you reason then?”“How
does the prosecutor reason now?and so on.
Linus: But do you really believe in these [people] from Vilhelmina who say that
they dont understand?
Haddad: I believe, and I also believe those with impaired hearing and older
Linus: That is very generous of you, I dont believe them at all.
Haddad, Linus: (laughter)
Haddad: You think they make it up? Like a master suppression technique?
Linus: Well, like a form of acceptable rationalization, which was probably also
around in the 30s when women were allowed to read the news.
Haddad: Yes. But I am not that sure. I still want to believe that people are
I dont want to label people as morons but I really want to believe that people
truly are unable to hear what I say.
On a reflexive note, this way of positioning myself was born out of an urge to
challenge what I perceived to be a tendency for Haddad to partly concede to the
criticism leveled against her. This was motivated by the fact that her Swedish, by my
assessment, is advanced and clear, and that her accent, at any rate, in no way
impedes the comprehensibility of what she says.
In short, people may utilize
the argument of comprehensibility as a pretext for justifying closure after all,
the argument that only masculine voices are hearable was used by detractors in
the 1930s (see Section 1). Haddad nonetheless stood her ground, granting that some
constructive criticism may be genuine. Notably, she not onlybelieves but also wants
to believein appeals for comprehensibility, thus siding with the institutional
mission of SVT. At another level, she wants to distinguish standard language ide-
ology from racism and injurious insults. She resists the thought that racist com-
mentaries represent general linguistic market conditions and refuses to believe that
the general public supports the detractors whose injurious views reach her inbox.
3In fact, my experience from having presented this study to peers is that sociolinguists from other
Nordic countries struggle to even detect that Haddad speaks with a foreign accent.
Broadcasting the skeptron 57
It follows irrespectively that Haddad, a racialized woman in a socially
awarded space, is aware that her language is subjected to the viewers’“super-
surveillance(Puwar 2004: 92). Any mistakes are likely to be noted, particularly
in highly formal broadcasts where content, including linguistic conduct, is
controlled, monitored, and rened in form(Bourdieu 1991: 79). Haddad recalls
her time on the morning news:
Extract 7
Haddad: This time period was characterized by anguish. Its because things
happen quickly, youre on air for seven minutes, its news, important news. Its
early in the morning, people are tired they have no tolerance for you sitting
there stammering your way through the broadcast. I dont know where it stems
from but you speak in the name of the state, although we are not state TV. But
its like, there you transmit important news, and you must be very clear, you
must be correct and you must be right.
Haddads wish to be clear and correct are indexes of her sensitivity to this type of
broadcasting, and the high degree of censorship it demands. In such formal sit-
uations, her anguish is grounded in a sense of historical responsibility on clarity
and correctness paired with the awareness that such matters matter among
viewers. As she phrases it, speaking in the name of the state”–but in a context
where the state, as it were, has no accent generates angst.
It may be asked how and why Haddad tolerates racist attacks, constructive
criticismand her own feelings of anguish. A primary reason is Haddads
conviction that broadcasting accented speech might impact Swedens linguistic
market conditions, changing the norm against which all linguistic practices are
Extract 8
Haddad: I believe in exposure. I think you need to expose, and I also think
that there needs to be more people who dare and want to. But that comes at a
price, and the price is sometimes too high. I have had to pay it in the form of
death threats and seven years of [hell]. And the situation is such that I still
cannot just take the train home in the middle of the night. I need to go by car
or taxi. And then people give themselves the freedom to approach and say
what they think about me, about my hair, my language and so on. So, there
is a price that you have to pay in order to accept not being perfect in what
you do.
It is clear that Haddad wants to be an agent of change, and that the reactions to her
person are bearable if change is achieved. Yet seizing the skeptron comes at a high
58 Salö
price. As indicated here, injurious speech acts are paired with speech of injurious
acts with threats of violence. Detractors do not only question Haddads linguistic
and journalistic competence, but try to silence her. Unsurprisingly, Haddad is fed
up by the signicance placed upon perfect Swedish. She is tired of having to
constantly defend her professional and linguistic legitimacy, and of the double
standards by which othersmultilingual repertoires are valued. As she says:
Extract 9
It is evident that we show little mercy in Sweden. I have lived as an expert in
[an Arabic-speaking country], and I have seen how well people treat a
Westerner who is learning Arabic. Here, we have other demands. Here we have
what the fuck, you come to our country, then you must for fucks sake learn
our language.
9 Discussion: on the driver of upset
Like Astrid Kindstrand in the 1930s, Dina Haddad is hardheartedly opposed by her
detractors who find her public display despicable. They decry her bodily and
linguistic presence in the newsroom, reading the transformation of Swedens
official voice as an index of a transforming country. In this regard, upset public
reactions addressed to the sceptered speakers of PSM turn these speakers into
figures that come to embody the threat of loss(Ahmed 2004: 118). However,
unlike Kindstrand, the upset directed toward Haddad as a sceptered speaker
unfold not primarily on the terrain of gender but vis-à-vis a broader set of inter-
woven features, most notably race or ethnicity, with which misogyny interlaces
(see Gal 2021; Wodak 2015: Ch. 7). At the same time, the historical gaze opted for
here makes it clear that, at least in the Swedish context, the upset of detractors
predates the advent of manifest racism, suggesting that contemporary expressions
of upset latch onto a previously established misogynistic standpoint. Throughout
history, at any rate, Swedish PSM has served as a space of upset unfolding over
language, placing the speech of women, provincials and immigrants before the
tribunal of public opinion(Bourdieu 1991: 193).
Admittedly, a limitation of the study is that little is known about the national
public including the detractors toward which SVT broadcasts are aimed.
Correspondingly, my data says little about the grounds for difference(Brubaker
2015) that yield the upset surrounding Haddad; it would seem as if she in toto is
read as a symptom of unsolicited change. The question of why is subject to debate.
The visual affordances of television seemingly hold scant explanatory value, as
Broadcasting the skeptron 59
Haddad reports that the hatred directed at her was even greater when she appeared
previously in radio broadcasts. Detractors, then, seemingly hear categorical dif-
ference, too. Relatedly, at least according to Haddad, her colleagues of color or
with a foreign background who speak Swedish with a native language phonology
are spared from the hatred of detractors hence the importance of contemplating
the relations between categories of difference and the ideological work of pro-
ducing difference, linguistic and otherwise (Gal and Irvine 2019).
It would seem that grasping the reactions to Haddad entails grappling with the
intersection between having and lacking a Swedish-sounding name, Nordic looks
or standard linguistic conduct et cetera. Such matters aside, my aspiration has
not been to make sense of the motivations of detractors, not least given the pos-
sibility that the affective tenet of upset resides beyond the realm of the rational.
Likewise, applying the time-honored understanding of hatred as sorrow accom-
panied by the idea of an external cause would risk skewing the analysis in a way
that positions migration as the external cause of upset, which in turn would run the
risk of justifying or rationalizing the evident racism of many detractors. My account
centers rather on the efcacy of targeting language in expressions of upset. Such a
gaze, following Brubaker (2015), may be fruitfully developed by contemplating the
allocation of persons to desirable positions shaped by their incumbents, so as to
position upset in the powerplay surrounding the authoritative endowment of ac-
cess to positions in reward-bearing spaces.
Within the homogenous Swedish newsroom, the news presenter signifies a
reward-bearing position that speakers of standard Swedish can mainly access.
Such sociolinguistic closure, however, operates in disguised forms, all of which
pertain to the social production of persons disposed to pursue the positions. The
most frequent and best concealed form of censorship, Bourdieu (1991: 84) holds,
is the kind which is applied by placing, in positions which imply the right to
speak, those agents who are endowed with expressive dispositions that are
censoredin advance, since they coincide with the exigencies inscribed in those
positions.In this light, granting such a position to Haddad is a historical
watershed moment(Woolard 2016: 99) whereby a speaking subject positioned at
the margins of authority is given public visibility and audibility. Seen as such, she
has broken through sociolinguistic closure, the interest-laden endeavor to restrict
access to outsiders by means of linguistic standards. Suddenly, the sounding box
of the state sounds different, more accurately mirroring Sweden yet inaccurately
mirroring Swedish historical conditions of sociolinguistic closure.
In this light, the production of upset emerges as a practice embedded in a
back-and-forth struggle, rife with action and counteraction. The perceived coun-
tervailing, if only negligible and momentary, of the linguistic criteria sustaining
closure stands out as the general driver of detractorsupset. A key issue thereof is
60 Salö
the reproduction of the ordinary and its linkages to linguistic authority. Here, the
old image of the skeptron not as in the shape of a physical attribute but trans-
formed into a sign of dignity, authority, and symbolic power has some purchase
because of the bifocal gaze on linguistic authority it offers, where the skeptron-
delegator is as vital as the skeptron-bearer. Upset arises when SVT, as the skeptron-
delegator, grants linguistic authority to Haddad, mandating her to speak on behalf
of the public, which is thus constituted in her and by her (Bourdieu 1991: 75). Such
upset is mobilized as ideological aversion towards SVT intersects with xeno-
phobia. Detractors veer from viewing SVT as detrimental ideological force to
something of a pivotal bastion of opposition, particularly worthy of public pro-
tection. Both of these positions can be seen as reecting the impact that SVT has in
processes of crafting collective feelings about nationhood as well as in dening
the voice of the people(Loviglio 2005: 40). SVT is strained between, on the one
hand, a desire to demonstrate diversied representation and, on the other hand,
handling reactions from a public of which a loud fraction wants neither tolerance
nor representation. Oriented by its fear of disturbance, the broadcasting of a
skeptron aligning with standard rikssvenska is to evade upset, as the general public
tacitly accepts the superiority of it.
Upset, as we have seen, is also directed towards the skeptron-bearing speaker,
who is seen as intruding into a position reserved for others a position historically
shaped by previous incumbents authorized to speak with authority. Here, inju-
rious word are effective weapons in the social production of speakers, differenti-
ating between those who are purportedly worthy of reward-bearing positions in the
newsroom and those who are not. Almost certainly, however, most detractors who
express this view are neither: they hardly feel that Haddad pursues a position
reserved for them. That stance is instead found among peer incumbents who
invoke the same injurious insult, as they compete for the same positions and
thus have stakes in the social denition of positions and the monopolization of
their awards.
Haddad, on her part, is trying to do her job while dealing with the conse-
quences of being the purported token immigrant or invader (Puwar 2004) –“an
imposter endowed with the skeptron(Bourdieu 1991: 109). As the logic of the
skeptron discloses, the authority she is given by SVT is not universally recognized
by the public that SVT serves. Although Haddad is able to wield the skeptron that
she has been authorized to hold, she cannot draw on the credentials attached to it
(Benveniste 1973: 324). Among her detractors, her accent overshadows the insti-
tutional weight of her words. This is a source of contradicting feelings and stra-
tegies. On the one hand, Haddad feels the onus of the ofcial demands of
authoritative –“comprehensiveand clear”–linguistic conduct, as evident
through feelings of anguish, responsibility or trust in people who provide feedback
Broadcasting the skeptron 61
in a non-racist way. On the other hand, she can withstand the injurious reactions if
the example she sets can pave the way for future holders of the skeptron. When
Haddad wields the skeptron she uses the full authority historically inscribed in it.
By exposing herself and her language publicly, she seeks to capitalize on the
capacity of human agents even that which emerges from the margins of power
to break with and renew established codes of legitimacy (Butler 1997).
10 Final remarks
While expressions of upset often unfold on the terrain of language, it is vital to
recognize that sociolinguistic closure is epiphenomenal to social closure. It follows
that the propensity of language to become the subbing object of concern needs
critical attention. Indeed, in that similar sociolinguistic struggles appear else-
where (e.g., Jaffe 2011; Woolard 2016), the implications of this study exceed the
case of Sweden and the Nordic region. This begs a key question: What explains the
efcacy of pointing to unacceptable language among detractors who object to
Haddads acceptability in the newsroom? Although targeting language is to exploit
its stand-in symbolism, it seems vital to concede that most detractors do not
disguise their racist views under the veil of linguistic arguments. They instead
exploit the language ideologies already effective in the context of its use as a way
to counteract perceived countervailing of the linguistic criteria sustaining closure.
Within the form of social closure operative at SVT, categories of persons cannot be
legitimately excluded on the basis of ethnicity and other forms of categorical
difference. In terms of sociolinguistic closure, however, ways of speaking Swedish
remain a justicatory basis of exclusion. SVT is required, but also historically
inclined, to uphold certain linguistic values of clarity and authority, and to
consider fears and anxieties in the viewer(Hall 2013: 216). For Haddads de-
tractors, then, the efcacy of pointing to unacceptable language lies precisely in
the fact that imperatives on language correctness permeate the mission and ac-
tivities of SVT, whose fear of disturbance both shapes and is shaped by their fear of
difference and change. The broadcaster, as shown here, is attentive to arguments
about linguistic use because of its historical mission of producing linguistic au-
thority by its broadcasting of the skeptron.
Acknowledgments: The gist of this article was developed in dialogue with students
engaged in courses on the sociolinguistics of multilingualism, Stockholm
University, and further developed through research workshops in Jyväskylä,
Copenhagen, and Stockholm. I am grateful for the comments I have received from
reviewers, editors and fellow guest editors as well as from colleagues at the Centre
62 Salö
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Full text click here The focus of this article is on the mundane nastiness of language. Drawing on Arendt’s (1963) banality of evil and Briggs’s (2005) notion of infectious communicability, the article highlights the moral dimensions of political and media discourses that spread a communicable image of Sweden as a country in disarray. I demonstrate that this image is made of two discursive ingredients: the spatial trope of the no-go zone , and the truthiness of its discursive elements, which, through a web of communicable intertextual links, create the illusion of an accurate and coherent account of society. Each of the discursive devices and links are like mycelia in a growing fungus of evil that encourages us not “think from the standpoint of somebody else” ( Arendt, 1963 : 49), that concomitantly normalise a problematic subjectivity of the threatening migrant, a barbarian at the gates that needs to be excluded from the Swedish future.
Cambridge Core - Linguistic Anthropology - Signs of Difference - by Susan Gal