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Language, Gender, and Power in Fraternity Men's Discourse

By Scott Fabius Kiesling


In language and gender research, it has been noted that the fact that men hold power in society should be an important consideration when analyzing the differences between women’s and men’s language. But it has not been shown exactly how the power of men affects their speech. This study examines how members of a community of men use language, and the role of power in that language use. I investigate how the member’s identities as men affect their language use and how they actively employ language to create identities. All the men create powerful identities through language using the same general process; however, the specific linguistic manifestation of power differs from speaker to speaker, situation to situation, and even moment to moment. The general sociolinguistic process the men use to create powerful identities is role indexing: They index community- or culturally-based roles understood to be powerful (i.e., capable of affecting other people’s actions through social alignment) by using linguistic forms and strategies identified with these roles in the community and culture. The community studied is an undergraduate fraternity (and all-male social club) at a university in the United States. The fraternity men construct powerful identities because the ideology of their community organizes the world into competitive hierarchies. Power for the men is therefore a role at the top of a hierarchy. This local ideology reflects the ideology of the larger culture—hegemonic masculinity—which values some kinds of identities more than others. Men’s power is thus a role at the top of a hierarchy; however, men identify with roles in different hierarchies, leading them to construct different kinds of powerful identities. I suggest how power works in the men’s language in discourse, and how the same processes lead to variation patterns in their language-use system. Most importantly, variants have general, abstract meanings when considered globally; it is only when used in concert with other linguistic forms and strategies, and other social signaling systems, that specific meanings become clear

Publisher: Georgetown University
Year: 1996
OAI identifier:
Provided by: D-Scholarship@Pitt

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