Discursive construction of age-identity in the context of modern technology in Poland: universal and local dimensions

Agnieszka Kielkiewicz-Janowiak

Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland


The paper presents the findings of a sociolinguistic project on age-identity marking in (the Polish) language. From the viewpoint of social constructionism, the following questions are addressed: (1) how is age-identity discursively constructed and managed? (2) does the topic of modern technology make age-identity salient? (3) how is age identity marking culture-specific?

The study is based on two data-sets, in which modern technology is a common topic:

1. posts from internet forums for seniors

2. interviews with middle-aged and elderly respondents about their attitudes to and use of modern technology.

The data have been examined for age-identifying discourse markers and discursive strategies, age-related themes (positive and negative), and self-categorisation of the middle-aged and the elderly in the context a topic which is potentially age-sensitive (modern technology). In fact, one of the themes constructing a positive age-identity is that of becoming/being a member of the community of internet users.

Additionally, on the basis of interviews with elderly respondents about issues of old age and telling age, the locally defined criteria for classifying someone as ‘elderly’ or ‘old’ have also been explored as well as the culture-specific rules about age disclosure.

The study brings about a picture of ambivalent attitudes towards (own and others’) older age. To protect their self-image, people often dissociate their own identity from that of their age-group. Ultimately, however, the individual presentations of (older) age may be understood as people’s private construction of their identity but also as their contribution to social knowledge and social practices. The conclusions provide an interesting comparison with the findings of relevant Western European and U.S. research.

Selected references:

Cheshire, Jenny. 1987. “Age and generation-specific use of language”, in: Ulrich Ammon – Norbert Dittmar – Klaus Mattheier (eds.) Sociolinguistics: An introductory handbook of the science of language and society. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 760-767.

De Bot, Kees – Sinfree Makoni. 2005. Language and aging in multilingual contexts. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Coupland, Nikolas – Justine Coupland – Howard Giles. 1991. Language, society and the elderly. Oxford: Blackwell.

Coupland, Nikolas. 2001. “Age in social and sociolinguistic theory”, in: Nikolas Coupland – Srikant Sarangi – C. Candlin (eds.) Sociolinguistics and social theory. London: Pearson. 185-211.

Eckert, Penelope. 1997. “Age as a sociolinguistic variable”, in: Florian Coulmas (ed.) The handbook of sociolinguistics. Oxford: Blackwell. 151-167.

Lin, Mei-Chen – Mary Lee Hummert – Jake Harwood. 2004. “Representation of age identities in on-line discourse”, Journal of Aging Studies 18: 261–274.

Nussbaum, Jon F. et al. 2005. “Ageism and ageist language across the life span: Intimate relationships and non-intimate interactions”, Journal of Social Issues 61, 2: 287-305.

Pecchioni, L. – H. Ota – L. Sparks. 2004. „Cultural issues in communication and aging”, in: J. F. Nussbaum – J. Coupland (eds.), Handbook of communication and aging research (2nd ed.), Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. 167-207.

Trafiałek, Elżbieta. 2004. Polska starość w dobie przemian. Katowice: Śląsk Wydawnictwo Naukowe.

Session: Paper session
Age 1
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 11:00-12:30
room: 14