“A Mirror in which Everyone Displays their Image”: Identity Construction in Discourse

Cover Page


If this issue of the journal were to be orchestrated, it would have two leading motives: identity and discourse. Identity grows out of communication and becomes a complex interplay of collective and individual personality features. Scholars emphasise the dialogical character of identity construction and view it as a result of negotiation and renegotiation in a social setting. The discursive construction of identity by means of language and other modes of interaction has to a certain extent been implemented in the Russian research paradigm through the notion of “linguistic personality”. Due to the interest for interconnection and mutual influence of social practices and discourse, a number of papers in this issue produced by scholars from different countries and educational institutions draw upon Critical Discourse Analysis as a theoretical framework. CDA, which is rather a perspective than a coherent theory, goes back to the ideas of M. Foucault (Foucault 1977) who researched representational features of discourse as an instrument of power. The basic principles of CDA are formulated in the seminal book “Language and Control” (Fowler et al. 1979). The founders of CDA are a “quartet” of scholars who do not form one research school but each have their individual history: N. Fairclough (textually oriented discourse analysis), R. Wodak (discourse historical approach), T.A. van Dijk (text linguistics and cognitive linguistics) and P. Chilton (linguistics, semiotics and communication studies) (Blommaert 2005: 21). The view of language as a social practice implies that discursive events and situations are dialectically linked to institutions and social structures which frame them (Fairclough, Wodak 1997). CDA scholars believe that it is not enough to reveal the social dimensions of language use - it is necessary to critically analyse social wrongs such as prejudice, unequal access to power, privileges, material and symbolic resources (Fairclough 2009), expose those who are responsible for the inequality (van Dijk 1986), resist and counteract “enactments of power abuse as transmitted in private and public discourses” (Tenorio) and participate in forming and transforming different social structures (Fairclough, Wodak 1997). Though the themes of identity and discourse are intertwined in the publications included in this issue, it is tentatively divided into two parts: “Identity in Communication” and “Text and Discourse”. Identity in Communication Individuals possess features of big and small groups they are part of. They primarily belong to humanity capable of, according to G.I. Bogin’s expression, “appropriating language” (Bogin 1980: 3). Universal traits inherent in any person using language as a form of communication account for the unity of humankind. A. Wierzbicka indicates that if there were no common base uniting different cultures and societies, the conceptual worlds connected with different languages would be mutually impenetrable (Wierzbicka 1996: 320). The optimal correlation between personal traits and those acquired as a requirement of a group, organisation, nation, etc. gives an individual the sense of identity which, on the one hand, does not stem from blind conformism and, on the other, creates the awareness of “self” existing in harmony with society. The multi-layered identity based on a combination of psychophysiological, social, ethnic, cultural and linguistic differences, becomes more complex as a person is included in bigger social units. Scholars compare modern personality conceptualization to a ‘Russian Doll’ where different identities are hierarchically stacked (Herrmann et al. 2004). The modern world brings forth new identity forms and implementations. Geographic mobility, globalization, ethnic and cultural polyphony create multiple identities. V.S. Kurske defines them as “self-identification with <...> two or more ethnic cultures”: “alongside with traditional diasporas, such as Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Germans, etc., there emerge new ethnic groups with multilevel awareness, which integrates different elements of civilian, regional, confessional and ethnic identities” (Kurske 2011). Former demarcation of territories between different ethnic groups is substituted by the “de-territorialisation of communities” (Leung et al. 2009). In the context of contemporary cultural pluralism (multiculturalism, transnationalism) the best term to characterize the dynamics of personal and collective identity is “transformation”. The paper by Franco Zappettini “Transnationalism as an Index to Construct European Identities: An Analysis of ‘Transeuropean’ Discourses” treats identities as “dynamic, multiple and fluid constructs”. The nature of transnationalism is elucidated through the research of the European Union and the complicated processes of “transformations of Europe(anness)”. The paper seeks to examine the new post-national identities and forms of belonging, which are of special interest for researchers because, according to the author, they emerge from discursive negotiation rather than exist in reified forms. Transnational discourses constructed on the levels of interpersonal, public and mass communication are investigated “from a bottom-up/grassroots perspective”. The study explores the dialogical nature of this process and the role of linguistic devices and discursive strategies in the formation of new identities. The paper has an overall focus on indexicality in the broad sense (e. g. regional accents, ideological and social connotations, different kinds of implicatures, temporal, spatial, personal and ideological positioning, etc.) and deixis in a narrower sense (pronouns, adverbs, labels, etc. that “signal (dis)alignment with one particular group identity”). The author discusses the ‘de-territorialisation’ of English as a tool used for intercultural communication and the evolution of its cultural and cognitive connotations, as well as the change of European identity under the influence of bilingualism. The world sees the emergence of ‘in-between’ identities of people who do not feel completely assimilated Europeans because of insufficient linguistic competency, differences in public and family discourses, struggle between the moral obligation to society and the affective dimension of groupness, etc. According to Zappettini, “nationhood becomes increasingly volatile” giving way to Europeanness as a form of transnationalism. Zappettini’s ideas are in line with the work by Jean-Marc Dewaele and Laura Hryniewicz devoted to the intercultural identity of Slovak-Roma schoolchildren in the UK. The authors believe that in today’s globalised world the significance of “where you are ‘originally from’ <...> is becoming less and less straightforward”. Dewaele and Hryniewicz examine the impact of mobility, transnational migration and cultural pluralism on Slovak-Roma schoolchildren living in the UK. The readers of the journal will certainly appreciate the discussion of the ways in which identity is constructed in a multilingual society where the prestige and value of different languages, as well as their association with power, status and social roles, are believed to be unequal. There is voluminous linguistic literature devoted to the problems of cultural imperialism, language as a tool of domination and stereotyping, an object of discrimination, perception of individuals on the basis of their linguistic competency, absorption of minority languages by bigger ones and, as a consequence, death of languages. The loss of a language is closely associated with the loss of cultural identity, whereas bilingualism or polylingualism can perform different functions and highlight different aspects of personal and group identity. In addition to ethnicity, Dewaele and Hryniewicz take into account such aspects of the Slovak-Roma identity as nationality, age and language practices. The term “Roma” (or Romani people) itself creates certain difficulties of interpretation as it does not include a homogeneous group of people but is an umbrella term for different subgroups. The life of the Slovak-Roma schoolchildren in the UK presupposes the use of English as the main language. The authors point out that the children “must negotiate between criticism from the dominant culture for not speaking English but perhaps even stronger criticism from their own ethnic in-group for speaking it”. By giving ‘voice’ to Slovak-Roma schoolchildren during interviews, Dewaele and Hryniewicz show that code-switching (in this case - switching of languages) can be done for the following reasons: 1) achievement of understanding with the interlocutor(s); 2) realisation of ingroup-outgroup dichotomy; 3) ability to live in the new communication environment. The problem of deixis as an index of personal identity in the Japanese language is discussed in Etsuko Oishi’s article “Discursive Functions of Japanese Personal Pronouns”. The author grants that through identifying the functions of first- and second-person pronouns in an illocutionary act it is possible to consistently characterise communicators from the point of view of their gender, social standing and the formality level of discourse. The Russian readers will be interested in the differentiation of the first-person male (watakushi, watashi, boku и ore) and female (watakushi, watashi и atashi) pronouns, which indicate how the speakers position themselves depending on the character of the discourse and social context. The second-person pronouns also indicate gender (male anata, kimi, anta and omae; femle anata and anta), the positioning of communicators in time and space, as well as the degree of equality, status and power distance between them. The paper “Narratives about Displacement and Stigmatization of Identities” by Maria do Сarmo Oliveira and Carla Mirelle Lisboa examines the problem of individuals’ self-perception and their perception by others through their narratives, which results in alternative identities. It is well known that narrators possess great power - the ability to decide what to say and which information to withhold, in which order to present the events and how to explain the motives of their actions. The authors research the mechanism of constructing the narrator’s discursive identity through the narrative of a woman from the state of Rio de Janeiro who lost her house to heavy rainstorms and became homeless with her seven young children. The dominant themes of her discourse are motherhood and female fulfilment. At the same time she uses double standards evaluating her own and others’ life situations, “distances herself from the homeless category” and is critical of the deviant behaviour of people categorized as ‘homeless’. Barbara Loester’s article “'A significant part of an insignificant identity': tradition, globalisation and the re-articulation of North-East Scots” addresses a topic which was not thoroughly researched before but can shed light on the shaping of identity of minority language users - the status of Scots (a language, a dialect or a non-standard variety?). The main focus is on North-East Scots as “an important identity marker for its speakers”, especially in small towns and rural areas, where it is held in high esteem due to the belief that the varieties spoken there are “the most ‘uncorrupted’ and ‘pure’”. In the interviews carried out by the author the respondents argue that the status of the language and their identity can be preserved through the use of North-East Scots rather than English, the existence of printed materials and the study of literature in their native language. Text and Discourse The second part of the journal continues the discussion of discourse from the previous issues. In the context of the present publication discourse becomes an integrative factor which unites different researches and topics. Georgii G. Khazagerov’s paper “Cultivation of Communicative Space: Polemical Eloquence vs. Epideictic Eloquence” differentiates the influence of polemic and epideictic genres on horizontal and vertical communication flows, as well as their contribution to culture. Epideictic discourses find new modes of realisation in propaganda, advertisement, didactics, etc.; polemic discourses, in their own turn, are investigated on the material of both dialogical and monological texts. The author reflects on the complexity of contemporary communicative space and the possibility of harmonious combination of polemic and non-polemic genres in modern society. The paper by Irina A. Schirova “Text as an Element of Integrative Scientific Space” is devoted to the correlation of dichotomies science and arts, scientific truth and artistic truth, scientific worldview and artistic worldview, scientific cognition and perceptual cognition, scientific information and aesthetic information and their role in text production. The genre of essay, which, according to the author, is both a piece of art and science, is regarded as a combination of those oppositional characteristics, the borders between which are flexible and conceptually interconnected. The paper postulates a holistic approach towards texts, existing and functioning on the intersection of emotio and ratio. Marklen E. Konurbaev’s work “Redefining Neutrality in Language and Discourse” deals with the communicative value of linguistic units against the background of contextual neutrality, which intensifies the aesthetic perception of stylistically marked elements and is viewed as the basis of stylistic variability. The author believes that different contexts influence the degree to which the semantic potential of linguistic units is realised. By using examples from texts belonging to different functional styles, Konurbaev shows how the zones of stylistic impact are created “molding the organic auditory and visual whole in a text”. The article “A Discourse-Based View in Interdisciplinary Approaches to Fictional Text Analysis” by Alcina Sousa is devoted to pedagogical stylistics. The author uses CDA to show the potential impact of literary works in discursive and social contexts. She regards reading not as a mechanical exercise aimed at comprehension but as an integrative skill and a meaningful kind of dialogical activity in the teaching process. Due to this approach, discourse analysis can become a key to the creative perception of fictional text and an interactive process of meaning generation by writers and their reading audience. Elizaveta G. Kotorova’s paper proposes an innovative approach to the comparative analysis of basic units of intra- and intercultural communication. She suggests employing speech behaviour pattern as the basic unit of communication and believes that its illocutionary content and general organization are universal, whereas its linguistic realization relies on a particular culture and may have significant variations from one language to another. The paper contains a detailed description of the pattern structure and illustrates the possibilities of its application on the example of the speech act “promise” in the Russian and German languages. The issue is concluded by Natalia V. Gladkaya’s article “Logoepistems in Creolised Texts of Internet Discourse” based on the material of memes, demotivators, Internet comics and other specific Internet genres. Logoepistems are described as transformed precedent statements in Internet texts with an interplay of their verbal and visual components based on different meanings of one and the same lexeme. The author suggests a classification of logoepistemic units taking into account their culturally specific features and the audience’s background knowledge. The discussion of sociolinguistic problems will be continued in the next issue of the journal devoted to the commodification of the Russian language, with the participation of Aneta Pavlenko (Oslo University) and Sebastian Muth (University of Fribourg, Switzerland).

Olga A Leontovich

Volgograd State Socio-Pedagogical University

Email: olgaleo@list.ru
27 Lenina prosp., 400066, Volgograd, Russia

  • Богин Г. И. Современная лингводидактика: Учеб. пособие. Калинин: КГУ, 1980 [Bogin, G.I. (1980) Sovremennaja lingvodidaktika. (Modern Linguodidactics). Kalinin: KGU (In Russ).]
  • Вежбицкая А. Язык. Культура. Познание. М.: Рус. словари, 1996 [Wierzbicka, A. (1996) Jazyk. Kul'tura. Poznanie. (Language. Culture. Cognition.). Moscow: Rus. Slovari (In Russ).]
  • Ерасов Б.С. Социальная культурология. М.: Аспект Пресс, 1997 [Erasov, B.S. (1997) Social'naja kul'turologija. (Social Cultural Studies). Moscow: Aspekt Press (In Russ).]
  • Курске В.С. Множественная этническая идентичность: теоретические подходы и методология исследования. 20011 [Электронный ресурс]. URL: (дата обращения 09.03.2017) [Kurske,V.S. (2011) Mnozhestvennaja jetnicheskaja identichnost': teoreticheskie podhody i metodologija issledovanija. (Multiple Ethnic Identity: Theoretical Approaches and Research Methodology). Available at: http://www.dissercat.com/content/mnozhestvennaya-etnicheskaya-dentichnost-teoreticheskie-podkhody-i-metodologiya-issledovani (In Russ.)]
  • Blommaert, J. (2005) Discourse. A Critical Introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  • Dewaele, J.-M. (2010) The perception of French by native speakers and advanced L2, L3 and L4 learners. In V. Regan & N. Chasaide (eds.), Language Practices and Identity Construction in French. Bern: Peter Lang, 133-156
  • Fairclough, N. (2003) Analysing Discourse. New York: Routledge
  • Fairclough, N. & Wodak, R. (1997) In T.A. van Dijk (ed.), Discourse Studies. A Multidisciplinary Introduction, Vol. 2. Discourse as Social Interaction. London: Sage, 58-84
  • Fowler R., Hodge B., Kress G., Trew T. (1979) Language and Control. London: Longman
  • Herrmann, R.K., Risse-Kappen, T. & Brewer, M.B. (2004) Transnational identities: becoming European in the EU. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield
  • Leung, H., Hendley, M., Compton, R., & Haley, B. (eds.) (2009) Imagining Globalisation: Languages, Identities and Boundaries. New York: Palgrave Macmillan


Abstract - 488

PDF (Mlt) - 570


Copyright (c) 2017 Leontovich O.A.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.