26.1819, Review: Cog Sci; Discourse; Pragmatics; Socioling: Pishwa, Schulze (2014)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-26-1819. Mon Apr 06 2015. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 26.1819, Review: Cog Sci; Discourse; Pragmatics; Socioling: Pishwa, Schulze (2014)

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Date: Mon, 06 Apr 2015 14:03:37
From: Timothy Jewell [tajewell89 at gmail.com]
Subject: The Expression of Inequality in Interaction

Discuss this message:

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/25/25-2849.html

EDITOR: Hanna  Pishwa
EDITOR: Rainer  Schulze
TITLE: The Expression of Inequality in Interaction
SUBTITLE: Power, dominance, and status
SERIES TITLE: Pragmatics & Beyond New Series 248
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2014

REVIEWER: Timothy Jewell, California State University, Fullerton

Review's Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


The Expression of Inequality in Interaction encompasses nine essays that
represent a variety of linguistic, pragmatic, and critical approaches to the
study of inequality in discourse. Prefaced by an introduction by Hanna Pishwa
and Rainer Schulze, the volume’s editors, the volume is divided into two
motifs: Focus on third persons, comprising five related chapters, and Focus on
speaker/author, composed of four similarly interrelated chapters.

The volume opens with a discussion by the volume’s editors about the role of
language in expressing power within interaction between interlocutors,
extensively citing significant models about asymmetrical and unequal power
dynamics such as Turner’s Three Process Theory (2005), which proposes that
“psychological group information produces influence…[and] that influence is
assumed to be the basis of power…[that] leads to the control of resources” (3)
and culturally-based studies such as Wierzbicka’s investigation into the
problematic dynamics of power differentiation in democratized Anglo cultures
(6). The authors also articulate five specific research questions to guide the
reader through each of the succeeding chapters of the volume: 

-How can we classify different types of inequality, power, dominance or
-How do these different types impact on linguistic choices and behaviors? 
-In which way are written or transcribed texts representative of unequal
-How do powerful speakers exert power and authority over less powerful ones?
-How are interactants’ assessments of societal, economic, or political
inequality encoded in     language? (2-3)

Finally, the authors offer a brief summary of each of the volume’s

The first chapter, entitled “Representing inequality in language: Words as
social categorizers of experience”, opens the thematic portion of the book
focusing on third persons and details Schulze’s corpora-based research on the
semantic contextual distinction between the two English verbs “brook” and
‘countenance’ (both of which mean “to suffer” or “tolerate”). Using data from
both American and British English corpora within a framework of Critical
Discourse Analysis (Fairclough and Wodak 1997), Schulze argues that while
“brook” inhabits a generally fixed semantic position in any given English
sentence, ‘countenance” varies in syntactic position. Ultimately, Schulze
concludes that the use of each word is contingent not on the prescribed role
of the speaker but rather on their ability to fit their conceptual role in the
perception of the critical conceptualizer (i.e. the listener in a lower
position of power).

The second chapter, entitled “Sexual Network Partners in Tanzania: Labels,
power, and systemic muting of women’s health and identity” by Jennifer J.
Harman, Michelle R. Kaufman, Eric Aoki, and Carlie D. Trott, discusses the
various labels assigned to men and women in a spectrum of sexual promiscuity.
The authors frame their analysis within Labeling Theory (a four-stage process
in which a group loses status through discriminatory social labels) and Muted
Group Theory (the displacement of group agency through the construction of
negative stereotypes; Ardener 1975, 2005), utilizing extensive conversational
data from Tanzanian men and women about their views on multiple and concurrent
partnerships (MCP). The authors then examine the distinct terms that exist for
many sexual roles in Tanzanian culture, such as monogamous/non-monogamous
partners, girlfriends or boyfriends, married women or men. Furthermore, the
authors argue for the existence of more nuanced categories for negative female
stereotypes such as women as functional objects and women as promiscuous
whores, concluding that labels for female sexual roles have decreased female
agency through the reinforcement of linguistic patriarchy.

The third chapter, “A ‘rape victim’ by any other name: The effects of labels
on individuals’ rape-related perceptions” by Jericho M. Hockett, Lora K.
McGraw, and Donald A. Saucier, analyzes the conceptual and perceptual
differences between labelling women as “rape victims” or “rape survivors”
through a self-perception test of women and three studies conducted on the
influence of such labels on others; the authors claim that “victim” implies
weakness while “survivor” additionally implies agency and strength on the part
of women who have been raped. However, the authors believe that both labels
are riddled with assumptions and must be altered in order to account for
individual rape experiences and spare women who have been raped the oppressive
connotations of blame and responsibility inherent in each term.

The fourth chapter, “Unveiling the phantom of the ‘Islamic takeover’: A
critical, cognitive-linguistic analysis of the discursive perpetuation of an
Orientalist schema” by Andreas Langlotz and Danièle Klapproth Muazzin,
describes the use of symbolic, anti-Islamic linguistic and pictorial cues in a
campaign by a right-wing Swiss populist party intended to selectively repress
Swiss Muslims by banning minarets and the public wearing of head scarves
because of their threat to Swiss mainstream society. Using Conceptual Metaphor
Theory (CMT; Lakoff and Johnson 1980) and Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA),
the authors argue that power can be expressed in symbolic discursive practices
that preclude inequality, exploitation, and/or exclusion in relation to
marginalized social groups, such as Swiss Muslims, through the manipulation of
unstructured cognitive material into structured yet erroneous cognitive models
about a perceived Islamic takeover in Switzerland. 

The fifth and final chapter of the first part, “Power eliciting elements at
the semantic-pragmatic interface: Data from cyberbullying and virtual
character-assassination attempts” by Konstanze Marx, discusses new forms of
cyberbullying such as virtual character assassination, in which violent or
repressive messages are sent not to the individual who is the object of
bullying but rather to third parties, i.e. readers in online discussions and
social media. Marx proposes that such nuanced cyber-bullying tactics are not
only more harmful than traditional bullying because of their anonymity and
often imperceptible negativity but also more protective of the perpetrator
because of their general adherence to communicative norms in online discourse,
which allows them to use cyberbullying devices relatively undetected by third
party readers who do not perceive any overt linguistic cues related to
bullying. The power of the perpetrator’s message, as Marx argues, is thus not
lexically constructed, but rather “linked to specific communication
modalities” (159) within online discourse, shielding the message’s intent to
assassinate an individual’s character within the customs of Internet

 The volume’s subsequent thematic focus on speaker/author opens with a chapter
by Hanna Pishwa entitled “Powerless language: Hedges as cues for interpersonal
functions”, in which Pishwa analyzes implicatures inherent in the use of
linguistic hedges within interpersonal, political, and pragmatic contexts.
Though social psychologists have generally described the linguistic hedge as
representing an individual’s powerlessness, Pishwa proposes that the functions
of hedges are contextual and that hedges can be better understood as
interpersonal implicatures, which Pishwa believes would more accurately
characterize their variable discursive uses as politeness markers, creators of
interpersonal rapport, or indicators of appropriate vagueness.

In the second chapter in part two, “A true authoritarian type: How fonts can
facilitate positive opinions for powerful groups”, John Donahue assesses the
power differentials inherent in different typefaces. Using results from a
twenty-item survey on a “General Attitude toward Institutional Authority
Scale” given in two distinct fonts to two groups of participants, Donahue
demonstrates that sans serif typefaces tend to be more associated with
authoritarianism than serif fonts. Donahue argues for the possible roles of
priming (previous exposure to a font in certain meaningful contexts), repeated
exposure (consistent, repetitive contact with a stimulus), and cognitive
fluency (the ability to process external information) in the effect of
typefaces on perceptions of authoritarianism or even, as Donahue argues,
acceptance of authority exercised by powerful groups.

In the third chapter of part Two, “We and I, you and them: People, power, and
solidarity”, Anita Fetzer discusses the strategic political use of personal
pronouns in distinguishing between the speaker’s appeal to individuality and
collectivity or dominance and solidarity. By illustrating cases in which
politicians do politics in their communicative strategies, Fetzer demonstrates
that politicians balance their “multifaceted discourse identities in line with
their communicative goals” (217) within the institutional, public, media, and
professional contexts of political discourse, treating their interlocutors
variably as individuals and as members of a collective depending on the social
construction of the discourse and the indexing of personal/political identity.

The final chapter of the volume, “Language, normativity, and power: The
discursive construction of objectophilia” by Heiko Motschenbacher, describes
the subjection of the discourses of non-normative sexualities, such as
objectophilia, to discursive regimes that characterize such sexualities not as
identities (as normative sexualities are generally perceived) but as desires
stigmatized as “weird, pathological, in need of explanation” (261).
Motschenbacher inventively explores the individual expression of objectophilia
through data extracted from transcripts of the German radio show Domian,
illustrating that objectophilia has gained greater discursive normativity
within the context of the show. Motschenbacher proposes that such sexualities,
like language itself, gradually become integrated within a society’s sexual
discourse, validating formerly non-normative sexualities because “discourse of
identity is more powerful than that of desires” (12).


This volume will prove useful to students of Sociolinguistics, Discourse
Analysis, Pragmatics, Sociology, Psychology, and any other academic field
attempting to find patterns in the connections between power dynamics and
their manifestation in language. This volume offers a wider understanding of
interactional inequality encoded by language, substantially expanding the
potential of linguistic inquiry into discursive and pragmatic power dynamics
by utilizing extensive and recent data from linguistic corpora, discourse
analysis, traditional media outlets (i.e. political campaigns, radio, etc.)
and innovative unions of social-psychological frameworks with linguistic
models. The volume leans heavily towards English-based data and studies, but
the inclusion of chapters investigating discursive inequality in Swahili (in
Tanzania) and German (in Switzerland and Germany) contexts are welcome
additions to the volume’s emphasis on intercultural examinations of linguistic
inequality. Furthermore, the volume’s diverse coverage of linguistic data from
both spoken and written language is crucial to the argumentation outlined in
the authors’ introduction; with the advent of social media and other real-time
online discourse in the twenty-first century, speech can no longer claim to be
the sole domain of living language, and this volume admirably addresses the
role of online language in the social constructions of inequality, especially
in its treatment of virtual character assassination and the subtle influence
of typefaces on power differentiation. Linguists have carefully tread into the
study of new frontiers of discursive inequality in the Internet Age, and this
volume successfully seeks to sprint into more nuanced conceptions of the
implications of digital as well as spoken discourse between social groups,
genders, politicians and their constituencies, and interlocutors of any
conceivable type. 


Ardener, Edwin (1975). The ‘Problem’ Revisited. In Perceiving Women, ed. by
Shirley Ardener. London: Malaby Press.

Ardener, Shirley (2005). Ardener’s ‘Muted Groups’: The Genesis of an Idea and
Its Praxis. Women and Language, 28(2), 50-54.

Fairclough, Normal and Wodak, Ruth (1997). Critical Discourse Analysis. In
Discourse as Social Interaction. Discourse Studies, vol. 2, ed. by Teun van
Dijk, 258-284. Thousand Oaks, CA, London and New Delhi: Sage.

Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press.

Turner, John C. (2005). Agenda 2005. Explaining the Nature of Power: A
Three-process Theory. European Journal of Social Psychology, 35, 1-22.

Wierzbicka, Anna (2007). Reasonably well: Natural Semantic Metalanguage as a
Tool for the Study of Phraseology and its Cultural Underpinnings. In
Phraseology and Culture in English, ed. by Paul Skandera, 49-78. Berlin and
New York: Mouton de Gruyter.


Tim Jewell is a graduate researcher in Sociolinguistics, Dialectology, and
Linguistic Typology at California State University, Fullerton. His current
work focuses on language change and contact in dense urban environments, and
he aspires to develop new typological and sociolinguistic frameworks for
understanding the emergence of multiethnic, multilingual language situations
around the world.

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