Language, rhetoric, identity

“Always have your Marathon and your Cynaegirus handy; they are indispensable. Hardly less so are a fleet crossing Mount Athos, an army treading the Hellespont, a sun eclipsed by Persian arrows, a flying Xerxes, an admired Leonidas […].” This is the advice the satirist Lucian of Samosata gives to an aspiring rhetorician in the second century. The literary, rhetorical or narrative strategies that humorously accompany, critique and question the construction of identity by the pepaideumenoi in the Roman Empire of the first to third century are explored by Isidor Brodersen M.Ed. in his dissertation on “The game with the past in the Second Sophistic” (supervisor: Prof. Wolfgang Blösel, Institute of History).

Since 2017, the UDE has been running a Sociolinguistic Lab (headed by Prof. Buchstaller) at the Institute of Anglophone Studies. The work conducted here includes research on the social meaning of linguistic variation. How do speakers and groups utilise variation in order to index aspects of individual, regional, social or other identity? Dr. Yolandi Ribbens-Klein is researching the social meaning of rhotic variation in certain regions of South Africa. Christian Paga’s doctoral research is on the use of multicultural London English in grime music, and Dr. Teresa Pratt is studying the significance of phonetic variance and aspects of sound change in California. A question that is being explored in the Lab over a long-term perspective is the extent to which speakers can and do participate in ongoing changes in the community across their life-span (Dr. Ribbens-Klein, Dr. Pratt and Prof. Buchstaller).

Another important focus of sociolinguistic research is the connection between language and ideology. Speakers build their beliefs on socio-cultural experiences and are therefore influenced by social transformation. Place identities shape – and are shaped by – discourses of belonging and exclusion. This is reflected in the semiotic landscape – in buildings, monuments, memorials, street names. The “MILL street renaming project” (Prof. Buchstaller, Dr. Seraphim Alvanides, Frauke Griese, Carolin Schneider together with Prof. Małgorzata Fabiszak, Adam Mickiewicz University/AMU Poznán) explores ideologically based commemorative street renaming in eastern Germany and Poland over the past 100 years. Dr. Ribbens-Klein explores the linguistic connections between place and belonging based on the discursive construction of the distinction between “locals” and “newcomers” in South Africa.

In Europe, distinctions between locals and newcomers are one of the main current issues in politics and the media. “The language and rhetoric of right-wing populism across countries in Germany, Austria, Netherlands and Flanders” (Prof. Ute K. Boonen, Netherlandic Studies, Dr. Derya Gür-Şeker, German Studies) is a project that looks at internet-based forms of communication applying discourse analysis methods. Focussing on the spoken language and visualisation of right-wing populist actors, the study asks how they portray themselves on YouTube and Facebook. Of central interest are patterns of interpretation relating to nation, identity, cultural diversity and Europe (Transformation of Contemporary Societies main research area).