Discoursal approaches to conversations about race, ethnicity and language

Preston, Dennis Richard

Michigan State University, USA

WS133: The macro/micro of language attitudes, ideologies, and folk perceptions

In folk linguistics one wants to get at the language beliefs of ‘real people’ (i.e., nonlinguists). Much of this panel’s work has focused on the responses given to questionnaires and stimuli of various sorts, involving a wide range of response behaviors — rankings, identifications, map-drawing, etc.... A current tend in much work in the social sciences, however, focuses on the structure of discourse, but it has been difficult to see how structure and content can be appropriately linked in a way that is linguistically responsible and at the same time satisfying to the goals of the enterprise. That claim may seem odd to social psychologists who work within the emerging discoursal area of that subfield and even more so to linguists who work within the model provided by Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA).

In both cases, however, there has been criticism of both the validity and reliability of the

interpretive turn such studies have taken. In much social psychological discourse analysis, the content (or “meaning”) of a discourse is related to such social factors as have proven important in studying the fabric of society — race, gender, sexual preference, etc.... This work is subtle but strikes linguists as being a form of analysis that does not go beyond that of the sensitive reader of any text, one who knows both the conventions of expression or “rhetoric” of a speech community and the issues that are involved. It is “linguistic” only in the sense that language and its potential meanings are involved.

In CDA the case is even trickier. Analysts are linguistically sophisticated, but, in the opinion of many, the predisposition to interpret certain levels of linguistic structure as always encoding power relationships is overstated and runs the same risks of validity and reliability suggested above.

Finally, although ethnomethodoligical investigations, principally carried out by sociologists, look at the structure of spoken discourse on the basis of what social action is encoded by and/or is the cause of structure itself, the focus is on that structure and not on the content or meaning details of the interaction or any of its contributions.

This presentation will outline various techniques in discourse analysis that have proven useful in extracting and evaluating attitudinal content in conversations about language, focusing on the genre “argument.” Ways of relating attitudinal constructs to linguistic structure as it is employed (not as it might appear to be inherently) will be illustrated,

including uses of referential specificity, pronominal representation, the pragmatic structure of argument, and the realization of “point of view” in linguistic structures.

This presentation will conclude with a discussion of the potential for extracting attitude and belief from discourse in a way that is both linguistically specific and responsible but at the same time satisfying to those who seek such factors in language use.

Session: Workshop (part 2)
The macro/micro of language attitudes, ideologies, and folk perceptions
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 08