Language as a ‘means’, a ‘topic’ and a ‘stake’: the discursive construction of Cypriot identity

Vasiliki Georgiou

University of Southampton, United Kingdom


This paper is part of a larger project on language ideologies and the politics of language and identity in Cyprus, and takes a special interest in the Cypriot Greek variety and its role in the construction of Cypriot identity. Drawing on work within the traditions of linguistic anthropology (Schieffelin et al, 1998; Kroskrity, 2000; Jaffe, 1999; Blommaert, 1999; Gal & Woolard, 2001) and Critical Discourse Analysis (Fairclough, 1989; Wodak et al, 1999; Reisigl & Wodak, 2000) and on work which attempts to combine them (Meinhof, 2005), the paper aims to show how the phenomena at different levels of language (vocabulary, grammar, textual structure) contribute to the overall construction of the speaker’s group identity.

At the same time, language in this paper is conceptualised not only as a means through which group identity is constructed, but also as a topic in itself; something people talk and argue about, and a stake, since definitions of the nature, value and function of a language variety may have consequences for its speakers. Insights and concepts from work on language ideologies are especially relevant here. The focus here then is equally on contents, linguistic resources and the implications of these as to the way speakers position themselves against wider discourses in the public sphere and the identity positions these provide. The key question then is: how do the discourse topics that emerge, and the linguistic resources that are used at the ‘micro’ level of individual texts, relate to ‘macro’ social, political, economic and linguistic processes in Cyprus?

The primary data for this paper consist of written texts (mainly newspaper articles- contributions to a public language debate in Cyprus in the mid-1990s) and present-day interviews: semi-structured individual interviews with persons holding (some kind of) institutional position and loosely-structured group interviews with ‘ordinary’ people.

Key references

Blommaert, J. (ed.) (1999) Language Ideological Debates, Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Blommaert, J. et al. (2001) Discourse and Critique: Introduction, Critique of

Anthropology 21/1, pp.5–12.

Fairclough, N. ([1989] 2001) Language and Power, London: Longman.

Fairclough, N. (1995) Critical Discourse Analysis: The Critical Study of Language, Harlow: Pearson Education.

Gal, S. and Woolard, K. (2001) Languages and Publics: The Making of Authority, Manchester: St. Jerome Publishing.

Jaffe, A. (1999) Ideologies in Action: Language Politics in Corsica, Berlin: Muton de Gruyter.

Kroskrity, P.V. (ed.) (2000) Regimes of Language: Ideologies, Polities and Identities, New Mexico: School of American Research.

Meinhof, U.H. and Galasiński, D. (2005) The Language of Belonging, Hampshire; New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Milroy, J. and Milroy, L. ([1985] 1999) Authority in language: Investigating Standard English, New York: Routledge.

Pavlenko, A and Blackledge, A. (eds) (2004) Negotiation of identities in multilingual contexts, Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Reisigl, M. and Wodak, R. (2000) Discourse and discrimination, London: Routledge.

Schieffelin, B.B, Woolard, K.A and Kroskrity, P.V (eds) (1998) Language Ideologies: Practice and Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wodak, R., De Cillia, R., Reisigl, M. and Liebhart, K. (1999) The Discursive

Construction of National Identity, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Session: Paper session
Critical Discourse Analysis
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 11