“The Meaning of Audience,” Douglas B. Park
Park discusses the often-used literary term audience, a term we all probably assume we can easily define, but as Park points out, the term is used in so many different ways that perhaps the definition is more elusive than originally thought.
– Bitzer’s definition seems like a good starting point, “a defined presence outside the discourse with certain beliefs, attitudes, and relationships to the speaker or writer and to the situation that require the discourse to have certain characteristics in response.” When we tell students to remember the audience on the Regents exam, for example, where the audience is often (according to the prompt) their classmates or the board of education, we reward them for writing at a level appropriate to that audience (appropriate references, level of language etc.). However, really, their audience is the teacher grading that essay, so my job as their English teacher is to teach them how to write to the audience specified in the task, but also write to the teacher grading the test/standards set by the state. Yes, Park is correct – audience is more complicated than it seems.
– Park presents audience in dual modes – first meaning the actual people who will read a text, the other being the implied audience – the set of expectations, attitudes, interests, reactions, prior knowledge etc. that the writer must take into account with relation to each piece of writing. This idea is complicated further by Park’s explanation that “‘audience’ essentially refers not to people as such but to those apparent aspects of knowledge and motivation in readers and listeners that form the contexts for discourse and the ends of discourse.” (p.249)
– This is a conversation I have to have with my WRT105 students when they first read a theorist like Friere or even Berger. We have to clarify who the intended audience is (other theorists, academics, linguists etc.) in order to allow the students to understand why the piece is written the way it is – stiff, repetitive, formal etc. – not the format they’re used to, but then again, high school students (or undergrads for that matter) are most certainly not the intended audience, and they know that by the second sentence.
– Four meanings of audience are offered, though the questions/statements that imply the different meanings are perhaps more readily understandable than the descriptions of each type of audience they imply.
1. “The audience applauded” – a concrete, discernable group of people. (uncommon)
2. “The writer misjudged his audience” – the intended readers, a semi-specific group (fairly common)
3. “What audience do you have in mind?” – a concept of a potential reader in the writer’s mind, who/what needs to be/should be involved in the discourse set forth by that piece of writing (constant)
4. “What does this paragraph suggest about the audience?” – features of the text that reveal expectations for the audience or creates a context (fairly common).
This article has me realizing that for students, understanding the complexities of audience can really be a tricky thing. Writing appropriately for a given audience means knowing how much information/explanation your audience needs, and since teenagers are still figuring out what they know and how much explanation they need – figuring that out for someone else is complex. They understand language implications for a given audience in terms of they know that text messaging abbreviations are appropriate for friends not for formal papers, but knowing which concepts they need to define in a given essay, for example, requires a higher level of thinking.
– The question of audience for blogging is particularly interesting. Technically, if your blog is open to the public, anyone could be your audience. At the same time, I’d presume that only someone interested in a. English Education or b. me, for some reason, would be interested in reading this blog. And no offense, dear readers, but I don’t think about you too much when writing this – my main audience is myself. I write to understand, and then share what I understand with public space, which others may partake in if they’d like. That said, obviously I do think about my audience though, because I set up two separate blogs after starting this one so that I could discuss things I deemed inappropriate or unnecessary to discuss in this forum on those spaces. And that’s something I did not only for my own peace of mind, but for my reader, whom I presume again is interested in English Education if s/he is reading this (I already ruled out the reading it because of me audience member, since I know that neither my mother nor my husband read this blog.)