Language and Identity

1. Bucholtz, Mary & Kira Hall. 2005. Identity and interaction: A sociocultural linguistic approach. Discourse Studies, 7(4-5), 585-614. doi.10.1177/1461445605054407.

In this article Bucholtz and Hall provide a five-point framework for analysing how people construct social identities in linguistic interaction. This paper is useful as it allows us to conceptualise identities as the product of social interactions, rather than pre-existing entities which are inherent, static and fixed. Bucholtz and Hall encourage us to think about identities as working at three different levels simultaneously. This means that when analysing how people ‘do’ identities with language we need to consider the fleeting stances that people take in interactions (such as the joke teller), locally available identity positions (such as a ‘nerd’ or a ‘jock’) and larger sociodemographic categories such as socioeconomic class and gender.

2. Johnstone, Barbara. 2009. Stance, style, and the linguistic individual. In Alexandra Jaffe. (ed.), Stance: Sociolinguistic Perspectives, 171-194. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press.

Much research in sociolinguistics focuses on how groups of speakers use language to create distinctions between groups. However, in this chapter Johnstone explores the way that an individual speaker can strategically use language to maintain a specific presentation of self. Johnstone analyses the speech and writing of the American political figure Barbra Jordon in order to illuminate how Jordon has constructed and maintained her own recognisable linguistic style across time and genre. Johnstone posits that one of the ways Jordan constructs her recognisable linguistic style is by consistently taking the same stances. For example, Johnstone shows that Jordon consistently presents herself as someone with moral authority, regardless of situation or genre. This work highlights the importance of, where possible, analysing a speaker’s linguistic practice across time and situation.

3. Moore, Emma. 2004. Sociolinguistic style: A multidimensional resource for shared identity creation. The Canadian Journal of Linguistics/ La revue Canadienne de Linguistique 49(3). 375-396. doi:10.1353/cjl.2006.0006.

In this article Moore illustrates how important it is to study linguistic variation within the context in which it is being used. By taking an ethnographic approach to data collection, Moore is able to demonstrate that two groups of teenage girls’ (the Townies and Populars) linguistic practice is related to the types of social practices in which they directly engage. The “Townies” and the “Populars” in Moore’s study use the same set of linguistic variables (such as tag-questions) to varying degrees in order to create local and meaningful social distinctions. The findings from this research also show us that speakers can use variants primarily associated with one sociodemographic category, such as social class in order to construct specific types of gendered personae, which in turn highlights the intersectional nature of all social identity categories.

4. Eckert, Penelope. 2000. Linguistic variation as social practice. Oxford: Blackwell.

In this seminal work, Eckert combines ethnographic observations with a quantitative study of linguistic variation in order to explore how the students of an American High School use language to construct group identities. One of the most interesting aspects of this study is that Eckert demonstrates that speakers combine linguistic resources, such as non-standard variables, with other social practices, such as clothing choices, in order to construct specific group identities. This work is important because Eckert shows that a speaker’s linguistic practice is more closely related to the local social group (or community of practice) in which they are involved, than their social class or gender.

5. Ochs, Elinor.1992. Indexing gender. In Alessandro Duranti and Charles Goodwin. (eds.) Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon, 336-359. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

In this piece Ochs discusses the relationship between language and gender, specifically the way in which certain linguistic features come to be associated with men or women. She posits that in general language directly indexes “stance, acts and activities” (Ochs 1992: 341) which come to be ideologically associated with (and therefore can indirectly index) specific types of people, such as men or women. Therefore, Ochs argues that the relationship between language and gender should be understood as one of indirect indexicality. This work is important, because the concept of “indexicality” allows us to explain why speakers are able to construct specific social identities with language. Further to this, Ochs makes it clear that broader social ideologies mediate our understanding of the social meanings of specific linguistic features.