Using Language to Create Identity

September 17, 2021grusha

Summary: This article uses both personal and public examples to explain the key unit 4 concept of how language is used to construct both individual and group identity. 

Overt and covert norms role in promoting identity 

This article is about Unit 4, Area of Study 2 (language and its construction of individual and group identities). Both overt (the use of the standard) and covert (non-standard or language specific to an in-group) norms are useful in creating, fostering, and promoting individual and group identities. We all have many things that make us who we are, such as age, gender, interests, occupation, education, and aspirations (those who are familiar with the study design will know that these words have not been selected accidentally). 

When you do a short answer section or an analytical commentary (where you are presented with a text to analyse), it is often useful to think of the kinds of identities that the writer/speaker may hold, and then how their language reflects them. 

Examples from the public domain

Before getting a little narcissistic and going through and analysing personal examples for me (which will help to show you how language can be used to reflect individual and group identities), I thought I had better give you some examples from the public domain.

In 2020 and 2021 the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, referred to Australia’s treasurer (and member for the Victorian seat of Kooyong), Josh Frydenberg, as being, “not a leader, just a Liberal.” The negatively connoted phrase (in a political context), “not a leader,” was used to try and portray a vocal critic of his from a different political party in a negative way, whilst also associating that negative trait with the treasurer’s party. 

As a member of the Labor Party, the Premier sought to create a dichotomy between himself and members of the Liberal Party, which is a central aspect of the Labor Party’s identity. For those unfamiliar with the term, a dichotomy is creating a clear contrast or distinction. Supporters of the Premier have similarly used this phrase to attack members of the Liberal Party, especially at federal level. 

‘Politics more generally is an absolute goldmine for this kind of thing (less so in a fundamentally apolitical health crisis). Think about the values of each party, and what is important to them, and then think about the language used by their members in the public domain. 

Examples from my everyday life 

Ok, I promised narcissism and here it is. What I have done here is gone through a Messenger chat with a friend, and examined some of the language within it. 

When this friend and I were at school, we were both fortunate enough to participate in a Model United Nations Assembly. In our subsequent conversations, we would frequently use the acronym, “MUNA,” when discussing the event, as well as likening things to our shared experience. Acronyms being used within in-groups is a common way of reflecting identity, as the shared knowledge of its meaning helps to construct a sense of a shared group identity.

Moreover, in subsequent conversations, we also used terms such as, “45,” (referring to the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump), “SCOTUS,” (acronym for Supreme Court Of The United States), RBG (initialism for Ruth Bäder-Ginsburg, a former Associate Judge of SCOTUS), “mail-in,” and “administration,” were all used. These helped to reflect an identity based upon a shared interest, being American politics, including the 2020 Presidential election. 

Additionally, my friend and I are also both law students. Consequently, conversations with this friend also have seen us use words such as, “clerkship,” “exam,” “admin,” (a shortening for a core subject, administrative law), and, “torts,” (another core subject). As you can see, nouns are an especially common method of using language to reflect identity. 

Here, you can see language being used to reflect identities based upon interests and experiences (mutual interests and experiences in this case). 

Anyway, I hope that this article has helped you, and the bottom line of this one is to look at who someone is, to whom are they speaking, and what kind of identities (there is almost invariably more than one) that are being conveyed. 

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