Constructing identities through speech representation: the case of direct speech in oral narratives.

Sofia Lampropoulou

Lancaster University, United Kingdom


This paper is concerned with the study of direct speech in conversational narratives produced by Greek adolescents. More specifically, I examine the use of direct speech as a feature of narrative that contributes to the construction of people’s social identities.

In terms of theoretical framework, this paper follows the line of research that deals with the narrative construction of social identities (c.f. Schiffrin, 1996; Chesire, 2000; De Fina, 2003) . In particular, under the scope of the social constructionist paradigm, language is viewed as a social practice and has a central role in the construction of social identities. In a similar vein, identities are not fixed properties that reside in people’s minds but emerge through discourse where they are dynamically recreated (Antaki and Widdicombe, 1998). On these grounds, people construct their identities via selecting specific forms of verbal behaviour.

My data consist of 265 spontaneous told narratives that have emerged from Greek adolescents’ ongoing social interactions. Additionally, I focus on 940 direct speech instances included in the adolescent’s conversational narratives. This paper involves both a quantitative and qualitative analysis of the data.

As part of the quantitative analysis, I consider every direct speech instance included in terms of the following different elements of variation: represented speaker, represented addressee, status and gender of represented speaker and addressee, represented speech act. Based on the codification of these elements of variation and on their processing with the SPSS statistical programme, I provide with frequencies of occurrence of every different aspect of variation in relation to my different narrative producers.

The qualitative analysis includes the in-depth analysis of specific narrative extracts. In particular, combining relevant theories on speech representation (Bakhtin, 1981) and narrative and identity, I discuss the way my adolescents present themselves as interactional protagonsits and display aspects of their identities via the employment of direct speech.

Taking into consideration both the quantitative and qualitative results, I argue that the presentation of my adolescents through direct speech in narrative seems to reflect their own microcosms (Pujolar, 2003) where many elements of social relations, ideologies and identities are represented. Additionally, I discuss that the different social relations represented in the adolescents’ narrative worlds, might reflect the norms and stereotypes that define their everyday social worlds. Therefore, the identities displayed by my informants seems to be affected by these stereotypes. Taking into consideration the issue of “constructedness” of direct speech (Tannen, 1989), I conclude that the adolescents in the present data, via their selection of specific elements of variation of direct speech, select to conform to some extent to the current norms and stereotypes.

Session: Paper session
Various Topics
Friday, April 4, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 13