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Media Linguistics

Media linguistics investigates the relationship between language use and public discourse conveyed through the media. In this context, we regard language use as an interface between cognitive and social (specific to culture, domain, institution or organisation) communication practices – in other words, as a window to people and their communities.

We create and disseminate knowledge and methods for analysing and optimising products, processes and contexts of public discourse. In doing so, we analyse, among other things, how social media are changing communication and how these media can be utilised effectively in journalism and organisations.

We are positioned in the scientific field of applied linguistics through national and international research projects. In the fields of journalism and organisational communication, we offer research-based academic programmes and continuing education courses as well as consulting. Our spectrum includes training and coaching sessions as well as organisational development projects.

In brief: Media Linguistics with a Focus on Social Media

“Social media has triggered a cultural shift that is affecting public communication in its entirety.”

Aleksandra Gnach, Professor of Media Linguistics with a focus on social media

In a networked society such as our own, the mass media system is now complemented by and linked to social media communication. Social media itself is an extension of the continuum between private and public communication, whereby individuals or organisations can choose which audiences they want to send their messages to or interact with.

In social networks, however, news is not merely distributed – it is also supplemented, changed or set in entirely new contexts. As such, new communication models do not regard the public as consumers of news, but rather as individuals and organisations who create and exchange news and assign meaning to it in interactions within communities. In linguistic interactions such as these, new meanings are constructed by combining new information with existing, culturally and regionally informed knowledge.

Organisations now communicate and interact directly with their stakeholders through social media, assuming roles that were previously reserved for journalism alone. This comes with both challenges and obligations. The Media Linguistics area of specialisation and research with a focus on social media conducts research into the mechanisms of social media communication, its influence on public discourse and the new roles of journalism and organisational communication that come with it.

In brief: Media Linguistics with a Focus on Visual Communication

“Images have an effect on communication. They initiate and control communication. And they change communication.”

Wibke Weber, Professor of Media Linguistics with a focus on visual communication

Visual studies has been talking about the ‘iconic turn’ since the 1990s, but it is only with digitalisation, the internet and social media that it is becoming clear to what extent our media cultural is visually shaped. Oversized press photos, hand-drawn illustrations, interactive data visualisations, slide shows, story maps, explanatory videos, instagram posts, YouTube channels, 360° videos and virtual reality – these are just a few examples of the types of visual artefacts that define our public communication.

What methods can be used to investigate these visual artefacts? How do text-image references come about? What are the communicative functions of pictures? What is it that makes them effective? And what is an image in the first place? Are data visualisations and infographics also images? These are just a few of the questions that the Media Linguistics area of specialisation and research with a focus on visual communication is exploring.

At the heart of its work are media-mediated artefacts, which are examined from different perspectives and in different contexts: journalism and organisational communication, production and reception, narration, explication and argumentation, as well as multimodality, genre and discourse.


In the research and specialised field of Media Linguistics, we investigate media-mediated communication with a focus on visual communication and social media. Our focus is on public communication, though this is increasingly becoming intertwined with private communication. The aim of our research is to generate knowledge and develop methods that capture public communication in all its complexity and with all its facets.

Selected research projects

News for Digital Natives

The project "How to Reach Swiss Digital Natives with News" looks at what youth understand by the term ‘news’, how they use it and what they expect news will offer in the future. This qualitative, ethnographic study, led by Aleksandra Gnach, Wibke Weber and Guido Keel, takes into consideration the special characteristics of the multilingual Swiss media landscape and social media communication. Funded by the Swiss Federal Office of Communications, the project will run until September 2020.

Smart Mobility Experience

This interdisciplinary project explores and further develops the use of virtual reality (VR) as an innovative way to bring people closer to the concepts of sustainability, energy and smart mobility. By playing a VR game, residents in the city of Winterthur can immerse themselves in a virtual city and experience smart mobility. At the core of the VR game is immersive storytelling, which makes new mobility concepts in a smart city accessible and comprehensible. The aim of this research project is to find out which elements of VR storytelling offer the greatest potential to enable citizens to participate in decisions in the field of urban development and mobility. This project is a collaboration with the ZHAW School of Engineering.


We regularly publish our findings in scientific publications and present them at international conferences.

Academic programmes

Focus areas in teaching:

At the BA level, we provide students with a basic understanding of the key concepts and methods in media linguistics through the following two degree programmes:

At the consecutive master’s (MA) level, we teach approaches for analysing, organising and managing communication and text production processes.

Continuing education

The continuing education programmes in the Media Linguistics area of specialisation and research are:


Our research-based consulting addresses problems in communication and media practice and contributes to sustainable improvement in the text production competence of media editorial offices or communications departments. Some of our consulting offerings include writing coaching, training in visual storytelling and organisational development in the implementation of social media.