Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Language and Societies abstracts, vol. 4 (2012)

The abstracts below are summaries of papers by junior scholars from the 2012 edition of my course, Language and Societies. The authors are undergraduate and graduate students in anthropology and linguistics at Wayne State University. Over the next few weeks, some students will be posting links to PDF versions of their final papers below their abstracts. Comments and questions are extremely welcome, especially at this critical juncture over the next week, when the authors are making final revisions to their papers.

Siobhan Gregory: “Detroit is a Blank Slate”: Metaphors in the Journalistic Discourse of Art and Entrepreneurship in the City of Detroit

Stephanie Nava: Language Loss and Maintenance in the United States: An Examination of Mexican and Japanese Immigrants and their Kin

Scott Shell: The Conversion of Scandinavia by Means of Script Transition

Sean Shadaia: Analyzing medical discourse through the lens of the non-English-speaking patient / interpreter / physician interaction

Lauren Powers: Hip-Hop Lyrics and the Defaming of Women in Hip-Hop Culture

Wendy D. Bartlo: Elderspeak: an examination of language directed at older adults

Alex Beaudin: 140 Characters

Amelia Baumgarten: “Okay, at this point you’re abusing sarcasm”: Figurative language and negative emotion in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Sophocles Sapounas: A contemporary cross-cultural study of politeness: The universal necessity of politeness in human interaction

Nadia Maraachli: Death-related discourse in assisted living facilities

Jennifer Schechter: Grammar Nazis, prescriptivism, and snobs, oh my! Social standards and spoken language

Colleen Face: Queer Russian intersectionality

Robert A. Johnson: “Frugal or spendy?”:  public accountability in an online debt support group

Junguk Spurrier: American indifference to foreign language learning

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April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 1 Comment

“Detroit is a Blank Slate”: Metaphors in the Journalistic Discourse of Art and Entrepreneurship in the City of Detroit

“Detroit is a Blank Slate”: Metaphors in the Journalistic Discourse of Art and Entrepreneurship in the City of Detroit

Siobhan Gregory

In the current discourse about Detroit’s renewal, metaphoric language often reflects tensions between ideas about the physical, economic, and the emotional “landscape” of the city: abandonment vs. investment, stagnation vs. movement, physical change vs. ideological change. This paper investigates metaphoric language in two Detroit discourse communities, artists and business entrepreneurs, to reveal ideas about race, class, identity, and sense of place. Local and national news sources and independent online publications from 2009 to 2011 are reviewed for themes reflecting metaphorical content. These sources include the Time. Inc, Detroit Blog, Time Magazine Online, CNN.com Assignment Detroit, The New York Times Online, Huffington Post Detroit, and the online publication Model D. The analysis is shaped utilizing Lakoff’s and Johnson’s three key frameworks for metaphorical concepts: orientational metaphors, ontological metaphors, and structural metaphors. A literature review of metaphors in gentrification discourse provides a background for this discussion. The metaphorical language of Detroit, particularly at this period in its history, serves both to confirm and challenge existing metaphors evident in gentrification discourse. Key metaphors are identified: DETROIT AS OUT-OF-PLACE, dissolving, vacant, and unbounded; DETROIT AS A SUICIDE VICTIM who, responsible for its own demise, can only to be brought back to life through the help of outsiders; DETROIT AS A SEXUALIZED FETISH, a prize to be both exploited and guarded, and which, in a state of submission and reckless abandonment, is aestheticized and glamorized. The local and national media attention to these discourse communities creates a prevailing narrative of the city that parallels the metaphorical construct of GENTRIFIER AS PIONEER, GUARDIAN, and SALVATIONIST. 


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 3 Comments

Language Loss and Maintenance in the United States: An Examination of Mexican and Japanese Immigrants and their Kin

Language Loss and Maintenance in the United States: An Examination of Mexican and Japanese Immigrants and their Kin

Stephanie Nava

This essay explores the effects of English language dominance on Mexican and Japanese United States immigrants and their offspring.  It also looks at the actions that Mexican and Japanese speakers take in order to preserve their heritage language while living in the United States.  Over the past hundred years, monolingual Americans have seen the English language as being essential for American nationalism and foreign languages were seen as a threat to the nation’s unity.  Many immigrants and their children have sacrificed their heritage language to become a member of American society and to lessen the discrimination held against them for being a “foreigner”.  Considering the fact that Mexican and Japanese individuals come from very different backgrounds both culturally and linguistically, it is suspected that English language dominance will affect Mexican and Japanese individuals differently.  Do Mexican, Spanish speaking individuals lose their language faster than Japanese speaking Japanese individuals in the United States, and why?  Is it important for parents to teach their children their heritage language and what actions do they take to ensure their children are familiar with their mother tongue?  A review of literature suggests that Japanese immigrants and their children lose their language faster than Mexican immigrants and their children due to various reasons.  For example, Spanish is more prevalent than Japanese in the United States, especially in schools and in the media allowing Spanish speaking individuals to have continued exposure to their language.  Intermarriage, trips to the mother country and living arrangements also play a role in language loss and maintenance.  In considering future explorations of this topic, much of the literature did not incorporate modern internet technologies and it would be interesting to explore how new technologies aid with the maintenance and loss of heritage language.

Keywords: Language loss; language maintenance, Mexican immigrants, Japanese immigrants, United States, English language dominance


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 2 Comments

The Conversion of Scandinavia by Means of Script Transition

The Conversion of Scandinavia by Means of Script Transition

Scott Shell

This is an attempt to show script transition and the cognitive consequences it caused on Medieval Scandinavia. Largely supported by evidence given by Flowers, Page, Thorsson, and Elliot, this essay examines topics such as the mixture of runic (Anglo-Saxon and the Younger Futhark runes) and roman writing on St. Cuthbert’s Coffin; the cognitive differences between Orlog and fate; linguistic evidence as to why certain names, amulets, and spells are written in runic as opposed to roman; and Christian elements assigned to certain Germanic deities (and vice-versa). This paper presents an explanation of phonetic values used in runes, while also taking into consideration their semantic associations used in Old English, Old Norwegian, and Old Icelandic poems. Lastly, this article gives etymological suggestions on how script transition helped Scandinavians conceptualize the world as Christian, and why it was necessary for certain texts to be written in runic as opposed to roman. In the future, I would like to test this theory using other writing systems that prototypically used runes as well (i.e. Frisian, Dalecarian, and Macromannic) to further support my argument.

Keywords: Medieval Scandinavia, Futhark, Futhorc, script transition, runes, writing systems, linguistics


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 3 Comments

Analyzing medical discourse through the lens of the non-English-speaking patient / interpreter / physician interaction

Analyzing medical discourse through the lens of the non-English-speaking patient / interpreter / physician interaction

Sean Shadaia

This paper examines the imbalanced exchange of power in medical discourse through the lens of the physician – non-English speaking patient – third party interpreter scenario. It analyzes the challenges in the current configuration through presenting the idea of discourse analysis and the impact of language and power dynamic on the dialogue, as well how this impacts effective communication and patient and doctor satisfaction. In terms of improvements, the strengths of the doctor as the third party interpreter are considered. However, the lack of availability in all situations is an issue.  The third party interpreter, both family and professional, and their role in the discourse are introduced. It analyzes the impact, as well as unique challenges and advantages, of both types of interpreter.

With regards to non-English speaking patients, it is crucial to understand all of the factors inhibiting their effective communication and actively working towards improving all of them. This means not only providing interpreters, but getting family members to act as advocates. It also means training the professional interpreters and multilingual physicians in understanding the sociolinguistic characteristics of the power dynamic within the medical discourse; particularly, to understand what types of “talk” patterns empower patients and encourage involvement, and to facilitate those communications. Through the application of these “talk” based strategies within the doctor-patient-interpreter discourse, it is possible to shift the basis of discourse away from an interview, where one party is innately active and the other is, therefore, innately passive, towards a conversation, in which both parties are engaged and empowered. Having a family member present who can act as an advocate and a professional interpreter present who can act as an information conduit and cultural broker for the physician allows both parties to “play to their strengths” and provide the best possible scenario for effective doctor-patient communication.


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 4 Comments

Hip-Hop Lyrics and the Defaming of Women in Hip-Hop Culture

Hip-Hop Lyrics and the Defaming of Women in Hip-Hop Culture

Lauren Powers

Hip-Hop has been influential in shaping popular culture since the 1980’s. Ideas of black women’s sexuality have been a long running theme in the genre’s lyrics. These ideas often use derogatory language such as the terms bitch and ho to describe women. The language used in hip-hop came out of “gangsta” rappers trying to prove their hardness , assert their masculinity , and to tell women their place. This language was initially used in gangsta rap in the 1980’s by Ice-T, Dr.Dre, Snoop Dogg, and N.W.A, to name a few.  Hip-hop lyrics were originally written as a response to racial tensions and feelings of disenfranchisement by the black community but it is now popular across the genre, and can be heard on every pop music radio station. Rap lyrics are written in the style of the “hip-hop nation language”, a termed coined by Samy Alim. This style of speaking is derivative of rappers and urban black culture and thought to be an oppositional language by many scholars including black studies scholar Geneva Smitherman.

This paper aims to explore the connection to gender, violence, and ideas of sexuality in mainstream culture and how hip-hop lyrics have shaped these ideas , and also how the demand for sexually charged lyrics by consumers has fueled the use of derogatory language directed at women. Other points of interest also include a review of black feminist literature and their critique of hip-hop music including discussion of bell hooks’ works on hip-hop, patriarchy, feminism, black culture, and violence.


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 5 Comments

Elderspeak: an examination of language directed at older adults

Elderspeak: an examination of language directed at older adults

Wendy D. Bartlo

This literature review examines a style of language, termed “elderspeak,” directed at persons identified as elderly.   Elderspeak is marked by all or some of the following components; changes in grammar, vocabulary, stress, and intonation.  The origins and employment of elderspeak in English-language environments are considered, in addition to an assessment of how this type of language indirectly serves to reinforce stereotypes about elderly individuals and elderly communicators.  The most common linguistic models used to understand language directed at older persons, Communication Accommodation Theory (CAT) and Communication Predicament Model of Aging, are reviewed to understand both what these models contribute to understandings of elderspeak and what they lack. This overview of elderspeak research extends to an examination of the implications use of this language has for older persons, by examining older adults’ perceptions of elderspeak and the use of language aimed at older adults in health care and dementia care settings.   Elderspeak is a complex linguistic style employed intentionally and unintentionally, and results in a variety of outcomes for both speakers and listeners. Future research on elderspeak should consider alternate linguistic models for analysis and the diverse characteristics that comprise individuals beyond their status as older adults.

Keywords: elderspeak; older adults; communication and aging


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 2 Comments

140 Characters

140 Characters

Alex Beaudin

Social media and social networks have become increasingly popular over the last decade, not only with individuals, but with companies as well. Companies are utilizing social media as a form of advertising and brand identity marketing, opening the door for a new way to attract customers. This paper examines how Starbucks Coffee uses the social networking site Twitter to communicate with their customers by asking how the 140 character limit to Twitter posts effects the overall message Starbucks sends to its customers. Through a review of literature on the topic of social media use by both individuals and companies and linguistic analyses of social media, general practices regarding social media were identified and an observation and analysis of four non-consecutive twenty-four hour periods of Starbucks’ Twitter feed, including posts and responses to customers’ questions and comments, an interesting use of the pronouns “I” and “we” by Starbucks was found. Viewing social media use as a form of social interaction, instead of computer mediated communication (CMC), this paper attempts to outline the use of social media as a viable tool for companies like Starbucks as well as encourage future research into other uses of social media.

Keywords: Starbucks, Twitter, social media, social network, pronoun, brand identity


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 2 Comments

“Okay, at this point you’re abusing sarcasm”: Figurative language and negative emotion in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

“Okay, at this point you’re abusing sarcasm”: Figurative language and negative emotion in Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Amelia Baumgarten       

Research on the uses of figurative language tends to concentrate on how people perceive and understand non-literal language.  Relatively few studies focus on the discourse goals achieved by figurative language or the relationship between popular media and language use.  This paper discusses how figurative language can be used to express negative emotions and the ways in which a popular television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, uses figurative language to achieve this goal.  A literature review of research on the discourse goals of figurative language, the theories on the use of verbal irony, the communication of emotion, and youth language provide the background information necessary for a content analysis of dialogue from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Examples of figurative language being used to fulfill nearly every discourse goal, linguistic theory, and emotional paradigm outlined in the literature review were found in the content analysis.  The paper also shows that figurative language is adept at communicating negative emotions.  It was determined that there is a parallel between the way figurative language is used on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the way it is used in American culture.  Further research is necessary to know if figurative language is equally adept at communicating positive emotions.  Additionally, to truly understand the relationship between the language used in a scripted television show and the language used in reality, a study must be done to measure the effects of popular language on script writers and the effect popular media has on language use in a culture.


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 5 Comments

A contemporary cross-cultural study of politeness: The universal necessity of politeness in human interaction

A contemporary cross-cultural study of politeness: The universal necessity of politeness in human interaction

Sophocles Sapounas

This paper builds upon notions set forth by linguists and researchers such as Brown and Levinson, Goffman, and Lakoff, while cross-referencing with contemporary researchers such as Terkourafi, Sifianou, Ide, Fraser and Bargiela-Chiappini on the subject of politeness, in an attempt to prove the universality of this notion not in framework, but in necessity in today’s rapidly accelerated world. To these already existing researches I applied a new area of research that has been dubbed “Cultural Intelligence” which is a notion of all-around politeness that is aimed mostly towards business-oriented people due to business’ international scope.  I believe this can be applied to the everyday person due to the increasing connectivity with other people around the globe, via the World Wide Web. In essence, what is Politeness today, and why do we need it? In order to illustrate my point that politeness should be used not only towards people of the same culture, but towards every person one might encounter, I drew upon politeness research from three differing cultures: England/America, Greece, and Japan/China. With this, I attempt to prove that whether one is in the West, the near-West, or the East part of the world, politeness exists unconditionally but with different methods of expression. Future research should focus on how people can focus more on being respectful, and treating others as equals, instead of attempting to follow customs which tend to be broken due to cultural differences.


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 3 Comments

Death-related discourse in assisted living facilities

Death-related discourse in assisted living facilities

Nadia Maraachli

This paper examines the communication styles found in assisted living facilities (ALFs) when discussing the death or process of dying of a resident. ALFs are places of community care for senior citizens needing assistance with daily activities and with end-of-life processes. The main focus of the paper is to understand how staff members discuss dying amongst themselves, with the dying resident and with the resident’s family members through the use of metaphor, circumlocution, and silence. Very few scholars have looked at death-related discourse in relation to what goes on in assisted living facilities. Current literature review of the linguistic research on death discourse, and interviews with six staff members in a southeastern Michigan ALF were used. The findings show that discussions between staff members frequently use taboo words about the dead or dying resident. Discussions between staff members and family members of the dying tend to employ the use of metaphor, circumlocution and euphemism. Discussions between staff and residents about their death or dying do not typically occur. This article also discusses the issues in discourse of not having definitions for key terms in ALFs. Many key words do not have concrete, agreed upon definitions. This work highlights the need for more in-depth ethnographies of ALFs as well as linguistic studies in death-related discourse. 


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 3 Comments

Grammar Nazis, prescriptivism, and snobs, oh my! Social standards and spoken language

Grammar Nazis, prescriptivism, and snobs, oh my! Social standards and spoken language

Jennifer Schechter

Within prescriptive linguistics, language experts believe it is proper to attempt to prescribe which forms of language are grammatical and which are ungrammatical. This paper argues that American society is prescriptive. One can see this simply by observing speech. Individuals will change their language as they navigate social situations, becoming more or less formal based on how the speaker perceives his/her audience. This paper discusses two reasons that motivate this behavior: to use language indexically to convey aspects of identity, and as a signifier of power. Individuals will also occasionally correct another’s speech based on some prescriptive rule learned in school or from a grammar book or even heard from another speaker. At the very base of this are value judgments created within an individual while speaking to another, judgments based purely on the other’s use of language.

When it comes to spoken language, prescriptivism does not really do what it is meant to; it does not work. One cannot apply rules to speech and have them stick. But it can be said that prescriptivism is “working” on a different level. While no speaker is going to stop spoken language from evolving simply by prescribing rules, prescriptivism allows speakers to gain and maintain power simply because they understand and adhere to strict prescriptive rules.

Keywords: prescriptivism, social standards, spoken language, power, hypercorrection, nationalism


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 9 Comments

Queer Russian intersectionality

Queer Russian intersectionality

Colleen Face

The language of identity, and the politics associated with language-based classification, is an issue faced the world over. The words and modes of speech one uses to define oneself and relate to varying communities can be empowering and validating. However, these identifiers and the associations carried with them can also be used as means of censorship, oppression, and erasure for certain groups. Marginalization of speakers based on the words, phrases, and modes of speech they use to identify themselves can lead to (possibly intentional) linguistic gaps in speech communities, reinforcing the censorship and erasure of certain experiences in one’s native language.

Such a phenomenon is currently being explored in the arena of Russian politics: the idea of what it is to be (and identify as) homosexual, transgender, or otherwise non-heteronormative in the post-Soviet Russian landscape. Through an analysis of the works of Dan Healey, Igor Kon, Adi Kuntsman and others, this paper works to build on the available literature by combining their efforts from a linguistic perspective. A brief overview of the system of mat, or Russian criminal language, is used to offer historical perspective on the origin of many current colloquialisms for homosexuality and non-binary gender, along with a discussion on how the impact the metalanguage surrounding mat has carried over to the language, and overall topic, of homosexuality in Russian media. Finally, this paper presents an approach for further study into the descriptive study of Russian queer perspectives and discuss how further dialogue could soon become politically relevant as much as socially.


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 3 Comments

“Frugal or spendy?”: public accountability in an online debt support group

 “Frugal or spendy?”:  public accountability in an online debt support group

Robert A. Johnson

The credit score is a key numerical standard in consumer capital decision-making in early 21st century economics.  Home mortgages, car loans, long-term interest rates, rental agreements, and even hiring decisions are made using credit data collected by financial agencies.  However, few anthropologists have published research directly related to the credit score and its impact on local or individual financial decision-making.  Despite the copious amounts of attention paid to the causes of the Great Recession among popular media and academic sources, little – if any – ethnographic research has focused on coping strategies used in relation to the credit score.   While large, depersonalized financial institutions assign credit scores to individuals and the personal credit histories those scores represent, few individuals appear to take ownership of their credit scores.  Instead, other numerical standards – personal debt reduction and private financial budget keeping – are often employed to gain or regain access to economic capital in times of economic crisis.  For the iVillage.com debt support group, socially private strategies are turned into public discourses of accountability.  This paper surveys and analyzes the posts of the users of the iVillage.com support group using Bourdieu’s concepts of practice theory and cultural capital.  This paper shows that public accountability is the habitus in which the users of the debt support group establish their creditworthiness.  Contrary to lending agencies, which use credit scores and credit reports as an index of worthiness in the gatekeeping of cash in the American economy, the users of the debt support group use their budgets to establish frugality as a means of proving their creditworthiness.

Keywords:  Credit; credit score; creditworthiness; frugal; accountability; habitus; social capital; cultural capital


April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 2 Comments

American indifference to foreign language learning

American indifference to foreign language learning

Junguk Spurrier

This paper examines why America has such negative attitudes toward foreign languages and foreign language learning. In particular, why is French not considered as a prestigious language any more in the United States? First, the author reviews previous literature showing that America used to be tolerant of foreign languages and cultures as a young nation. French was considered as the language of high culture, diplomacy and literature and was widely learned until America became the superpower of the world. Second, the author investigates how Cajun French was labeled as non-high class language as it was widely spoken among blacks and Indians, which further discredited the long-held image that French was associated with prestigious high culture. Third, the author further argues that growing power of United States in the world stage after World War I made its government and citizens alike complacent about foreign language learning. French was even used as a pretentious object of ridicule in recent political discourse. Fourth, a review of related articles establishes that the critical period of foreign language learning is wasted in primary schools in the United States. Finally, it is argued that by changing American indifference toward foreign language learning, United States will benefit from world heritage cultures and its political and economic influence on the world stage. Further case studies about how enhanced foreign language learning program benefits America’s political and economic influence in world stage will convince complacent skeptics around the nation.

Keywords: French, foreign language, American attitude, power, indifference

April 18, 2012 Posted by | abstract | 4 Comments