Abstracts: Fall 2021

Theresa Heyd (Universität Greifswald)
Enregistering Lisa: names as a sociolinguistic resource

In exploring the concept of enregisterment since the foundational work by Agha (2003) and others, sociolinguists have examined linguistic material ranging from fine sociophonetic detail to macro semiotic categories. In this contribution, I want to engage with one underexplored linguistic resource, namely first names and the language ideologies that are constructed around them. In formal linguistic approaches, debates around if and how names mean are a traditionally difficult topic. Sociolinguistically speaking, it appears straightforward that first names are closely tied to the making and managing of social meaning – indeed, they are almost organically linked to the construction of what Agha (2003) calls “characterological figures”. This is evident, for example, in experimental evidence of name-based discrimination against marginalized groups (e.g. based on race and ethnicity, but also along lines of gender or social class) in sectors such as the job and housing markets (e.g. Carpusor and Loges 2006).

Here, I examine a specific linguistic practice in the use of first names for stylistic moves of exclusion, namely the attribution of fictitious first names to individuals or groups. I argue that these symbolic acts of naming are instrumental in moves of inclusion and exclusion. For example, North American public discourse has focused on the linguistic construction of Karen, as a White middle-class woman performing sociopragmatic moves of overstepping and linguistic acts of everyday racism. Similarly, such characterological figures based on imagined names and their social meanings are widespread in incel discourse (e.g. Stacy, Becky, and Chad – see Menzie 2020).

I present further evidence for this linguistic practice by analyzing the persona Lisa in German student discourse. Based on data from global and local social media platforms, as well as interview data, Lisa emerges as a young, shallow female persona perceived as entitled and annoying. In her incarnation as Lisa aus Australien (Lisa from Australia), Lisa is a gap year returnee who self-styles as mobile and linguistically fluid. I analyze the mediated material that goes into the construction of the social persona of Lisa, and I discuss some of the implications of this kind of social commentary on linguistic mobility. In particular, I argue that the fine detail of the parody – including its gendered trope of the shallow girl – enables the voicing of purist and territorial stances which are at odds with contemporary ideals of cosmopolitanism and mobility, and which point to uneasy debates about eliteness (Thurlow and Jaworski 2017) in late-modern publics (Heyd and Schneider 2019).

Agha, A. (2003). The social life of cultural value. Language & Communication, 23(3-4), 231-273.
Carpusor, A. G., & Loges, W. E. (2006). Rental Discrimination and Ethnicity in Names 1. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(4), 934-952.
Heyd, T., & Schneider, B. (2019). The sociolinguistics of late modern publics. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 23(5), 435-449.
Menzie, L. (2020). Stacys, Beckys, and Chads: the construction of femininity and hegemonic masculinity within incel rhetoric. Psychology & Sexuality, 1-17.
Thurlow, C., & Jaworski, A. (2017). Introducing elite discourse: the rhetorics of status, privilege, and power. Social Semiotics, 27:3, 243-254

Nicolas Ruytenbeek (Ghent University (Multiples)/Leiden University (LUCL)/Université de Lille (STL))
How do linguistic choices impact perceived negativity and face-threat in Twitter complaints?Combined insights from questionnaires and psychophysiology

Social media are frequently used by customers to voice their dissatisfaction with a product or a service. This entails, for companies, a risk of negative emotional contagion in the sense that the negativity of a particular comment can spread to the whole community and damage the company’s reputation and profits. To address this issue, most companies engage in “webcare” and hire customer service agents to respond to consumers’ concerns. These developments have incited scholars in the field of discourse and linguistic pragmatics to investigate companies’ responses to customer complaints. This has been done by comparing different languages and different platforms and/or by exploring complaints from an (im)politeness and rapport management perspective. However, to date, experimental evidence relevant to this topic is scarce. Crucially, we do not know how different expressions of customer dissatisfaction influence other customers’ perception of this feedback. I believe it is necessary to pursue this line of research to gain a better understanding of the phenomenon of negative emotional contagion online. In this talk, I report on joint work with Sofie Decock and Ilse Depraetere consisting in 1) the linguistic analysis of a sample of complaints published on the Twitter pages of the French and Belgian railway companies, 2) questionnaire studies probing into face-threat and (im)politeness assessments in Twitter complaints. I also discuss the results of a psychophysiological study where I collected eye movement, heart rate variability, and skin conductance data to document readers’ emotional responses to Twitter complaints.

Janet Connor (LUCL)
Contemporary Shibboleths: Creating and Contesting Authority in a Multicultural Neighborhood

Several anthropologists (e.g. Holmes 2000; Irani 2019; Muehlebach 2012) have remarked on how neoliberal projects gain their authority in part from polyvocalic terms, lexical items that can have a variety of denotational meanings. They argue that these terms, like solidarity, active citizenship, or social, allow for groups with opposing political perspectives to come to be tied together and seem to resemble each other. Yet in all of this work, the ability of certain terms to create coherence across opposed socio-political groups is assumed. Instead, as I will show in this presentation, that coherence is tenuous, and depends on linguistic ideological work.

In this presentation, I analyze ethnographic and interview data with community activists and a business developer all working in Tøyen, a multicultural and rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in central Oslo, Norway. At first glance, these various actors sound like they are speaking about the neighborhood in the same way, emphasizing it as a place of inclusivity (innkludering), which they sometimes also refer to using neologisms like “Tøyen-ish” (tøyensk). Yet, on closer examination, it becomes clear that these shared terms do not automatically create coherence between business interests and community activists. Instead, these shared lexical shibboleths are an example of “grafting” (Gal 2018), where business developers took up the register of community activism in an attempt to access its local authority within the neighborhood. Through taking up local discourses of diversity and inclusion and using them to support their own projects, developers were attempting to shift the boundaries of who and what belonged within the neighborhood. While these instances of register grafting granted developers the authority to speak for the neighborhood in some arenas, they were less successful among other audiences, notably community activists.

Gal, Susan. 2018. “Registers in Circulation: The Social Organization of Interdiscursivity.” Signs and Society 6 (1): 1–24.
Holmes, Douglas. 2000. Integral Europe: Fast-Capitalism, Multiculturalism, Neofascism. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Irani, Lilly. 2019. Chasing Innovation: Making Entrepreneurial Citizens in Modern India. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Muehlebach, Andrea. 2012. The Moral Neoliberal: Welfare and Citizenship in Italy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Morana Lukac (Universität Greifswald) and Adrian Stenton (LUCL)
Why we need to investigate the work of copy editor

Until recently, the work of copy editors has hardly been a subject of attention for sociolinguists. When mentioned at all, it has been considered primarily anecdotally and described as an effort to ensure uniformity in language use by suppressing variation, and, enact the “ideology of language standardization” (Milroy & Milroy, 2012, p. 68). In a rare, yet often-invoked account of copy-editing, Deborah Cameron describes it as a process of hyperstandardizing texts and removing variation from the few marginal grammatical contexts where it exists (2012, pp. 47, 53). We argue that there is far more to be said about copy editors who engage not only in ensuring uniformity in written language, but rather mediate text production in a number of ways. Based on a large-scale survey we conducted among 288 copy editors and proofreaders across the English-speaking world, we present results that demonstrate that this group of language professionals varies in how they approach editing academic texts. This variation is not random. Whereas traditional sociolinguistic variables of age and language variety shed some light on the differences we found, others, such as language-internal constraints and values related to the copy-editing process, may play a relevant role as well. Our research endeavour resonates with the reorientation towards studying prescriptivism as a relevant sociolinguistic factor, and particularly with those who have recently directed their gaze towards the work done by those at the “coal-face of standardization” (McArthur, 2001, p. 4), such as Owen (2020) and Pillière (2020). Finally, we urge sociolinguists to investigate further how norms are understood and implemented by different groups of gatekeepers. Studies like ours will help us understand the processes which de facto shape and direct the development of standard written English.

Cameron, D. (2012). Verbal Hygiene (2nd ed.). Routledge.
McArthur, T. (2001). Error, editing, and World Standard English. English Today, 17(1), 3–8.
Milroy, J., & Milroy, L. (2012). Authority in Language: Investigating language prescription and standardisation (4th ed.) Routledge.
Owen, J. (2020). Practicing prescriptivism: How copyeditors treat prescriptive rules. In D. Chapman & J.D. Rowlins (Eds.), Language Prescription: Values, ideologies and identity (pp. 292–306). Multilingual Matters.
Pillière, L. (2020). US copy-editors, style guides and usage guides and their impact on British Novels. In D. Chapman & J.D. Rowlins (Eds.), Language Prescription: Values, ideologies and identity (pp. 261–291). Multilingual Matters.