2012 Annual Meeting

I’m very pleased to report that we have been invited to present a panel discussion on Language and Professional Identity at this year’s Annual Conference of the American Anthropological Association in San Francisco!

The collection of papers in this panel shed light on moments of transition where professional identities are “not fixed, but open to renegotiation.”  One such vital site is the educational context, where such identities are actively and interactionally tested out, cultivated, and performed.  Data are drawn from a variety of educational settings, including a law school, business schools, a master’s level counseling class, an MA program in Linguistics, and an Anthropology department with focus on the moments of negotiation of professional and academic identities therein.  Panel participants consider the classroom context, and also the constellation of discursive events and activities which surround and support this site of interaction, including recruiting and orientation events, websites, pre-and post classroom talk, departmental meetings, reflective interviews, etc.

Anchoring our analyses in linguistic aspects of identity performance, we explore how elements including:

  • Use of Narratives
  • Person-referencing practices
  • Speech Acts (questioning, explaining, and joking)
  • Voicing and Revoicing of experience, entextualization
  • Verbal demonstrations or contestations of authority
  • Positioning and alignment / Stancetakeing
  • Assesment rights

Enable us to consider such themes as:

  • Balancing multiple identities (i.e. how does a business expert maintain expert identity alongside their identity of student, explored among a cohort of executive MBA students?)
  • Mismatches between the ideal and actual in identity performances
  • The materialization of experience into objects and vice-versa, objects shaping the experience of interactants (i.e. case studies, talking about “the research,” creation of a resume, the physical space and materials of the classroom/meeting contexts)
  • Identity as performed through mediated relationships with ideas (i.e. when crossing academic disciplinary boundaries)

Building on the rich tradition of identity research in the interactional sociolinguistic tradition, which has shown that all identities are dynamic, situationally and discursively negotiated (de Fina et al 2006), this collection of papers is designed to illuminate the resources which individuals draw upon in the creation of professional identities.  By focusing on moments in which these may be contested or in flux, we seek to add understanding to their constituent complexity, which might otherwise go unnoticed.

Who’s who on our panel: Kenneth N Ehrensal (Kutztown University), Cynthia Gordon & Melissa Luke (Syracuse University), Carolyn Reed (Georgetown University), Kathryn Ticknor (Georgetown University), Anna Marie Trester (Georgetown University), Laura West & Gregory Bennet (Georgetown University)

Discussant: Charlotte Linde (NASA)

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In her article “Arguments with Khomeini: Rhetorical situation and persuasive style in cross-cultural perspective”, Barbara Johnstone parses a 1979 interview of Iran’s Ayatolla Khomeini by Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci in regards to the breakdown of communication due to incompatible communication strategies. Johnstone’s analysis illustrates how Khomeini and Fallaci’s failure to adapt to one another’s persuasive styles, influenced by but not inherently tied to their ethnic backgrounds, turned the interview into a verbally abusive argument. Johnstone is right to point out that the degradation of the interview was not necessarily the result of inherent cultural differences, but of irreconcilable communicative differences. To illustrate the significance of communicative dichotomy over cultural dichotomy in determining the success of an exchange, we need but look to the now infamous Crossfire interview of Jon Stewart. Gumperz notes that “people make decisions about how to interpret a given utterance based on their definition of what is happening at the time of the interaction. In other words they define the interaction in terms of a frame or schema which is identifiable and familiar.” (130) Furthermore, he explains that “constellations of surface features of a message form are the means by which speakers signal and listeners interpret what the activity is.” (131) The Stewart interview illustrates how dismantling contextualization conventions and flouting frame within an established discourse such as an interview can implode communication even amongst members of very similar cultural communities.

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Given the relatively recent adoption of medicinal marijuana legislation on the State level, there is has been little to no linguistic research on how marijuana is spoken about, nor about how the way people speak about marijuana is changing along with the legal, political, and medical changes. While writings and discussion about taboo health-related subjects (including death, AIDS treatment, and mental illness) have received attention from linguists in the field of health communication and discourse analysis, the subject of medicinal marijuana seems to be a silence in of itself in current linguistic and communications studies.

For this analysis, I draw from Charlotte Linde’s work on the concept of “noisy silences.” These noisy silences often include “official and unofficial silences, counter-stories, erasures, and story-telling rights.” Using the frameworks of discourse and geosemiotic analysis, I hope to identify 1) what silences exist in text and talk about marijuana in the District of Columbia, following its approval of medicinal marijuana ballot initiatives, and 2) how these silences contribute to the current state of public discourse regarding the transition of marijuana from an illegal, targeted drug of abuse, to a doctor-recommended treatment option. Specifically, I will look at what words are purposefully avoided (whether consciously or not), where and when silence is imposed (in which contexts, by whom, etc.) and finally, how ‘official’ institutional texts frame marijuana in its newly legalized—even promoted—status, despite its century-long history of prohibition, and its ongoing illegality on the Federal level.

The presentation is available here: Invisibility and Silence



In this paper called Linguistics in Law School, I ethnographically explores what it means to talk like a lawyer and how Law School teaches one to do just that:

“No one questions the importance of language in law school. Indeed, the production and interpretation of language constitutes a large part of what it means to “be a lawyer.” Embodying this professional role demands the ability to parse large amounts of complex, jargon-rich text and utterances considered so different from standard conversational English, it has its own name: ‘legalese.’ Although none of the prospective student brochures you poured over ever mentioned a foreign language requirement, acquiring fluency in legalese is a fundamental part of the education you receive in your three years of law school. Unlike many other kinds of communicative competence, legalese is not simply “picked up”; it is a learned communicative skill or craft which produces a craftbound discourse (Maley 1987). In other words, a significant aspect of learning how to be a lawyer includes the acquisition—through trial and error—of a way of speaking, reading and writing that is unique to the work of “doing law.” Law schools around the country are tasked with teaching not only the laws themselves, but also the language of law. Law school is a speech community where students are immersed in institutionally-specific styles of writing, speech and thought. At the intersection of language and community, we find a valuable nexus for learning…” (read the complete ethnographic study here).


Company in the Spotlight: Active Voice, San Francisco

Active Voice is a strategic communications firm with a clear goal: to use the power of words to facilitate social justice. As a team, they work with mediamakers, funders, advocates and thought leaders to ensure that the social justice issues have a human face and a story to tell us.

AV’s work includes three branches: campaigns, consulting, and the lab. Their campaigns designed after extensive message and framing research with the goal of audience engagement. These projects have included feature length films such as The Visitor, as well as documentaries, television dramas and webisodes, including Food, Inc., The New AmericansWhy Poverty, and the Equal Voice Youth Empowerment Project. For each project, the consulting team designs engagement events, educational materials, and digital content to create a dialogue between those of us watching, the stories themselves, and the sector leaders. Meanwhile, back at the lab, the AV team is immersed in R&D: coming up with innovative models for more accurate and effective leverage of “social-issue media.”

Here at the MLC we’re well-versed in the notion of EOC in the context of ethnography of communication. At AV, the acronym refers to “Ecosystems of Change”, or the intercommunication between diverse groups of people and an interdisciplinary approach to research and implementation.  To this end, AV promotes the Three Ss of Framing: story, strategy, sustainability. The story comes first: without a personal narrative that resonates with and revolves around real people, a message can’t take root. Once the grassroots are in place, it takes a coherent and dynamic strategy to ensure that the message reaches people from each sector involved with the issue: government, non-profits, voters, public policy researchers, and (of course) funders with the money to support the movement.  Active Voice director Ellen Schnieder stresses that successful messaging requires framers to preach “beyond the choir”: not just to groups that already support the issue, but also to the voice that has yet to invest in the issue. Lastly, sustainability ensures that the story isn’t over once the lights come up in the theater: social change requires tireless effort, and campaign plans that make sure the story is not just told, but re-told and remembered.

As linguists, we’re familiar with the “active voice” as a way of grammatically expressing a relationship between cause and effect. At Active Voice, social change is not viewed as something that happens to the world. We create the change.

Active Voice recently partnered with American University’s Center for Social Media for the 8th annual Media that Matters conference. For information on how media can make change for good, including case studies and best practices, visithttp://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/. Learn more about Active Voice and how they are helping producers, organizations and foundations work together to harness the power of story-based media to spark social change at www.activevoice.net.


Kathryn Ticknor



Here I present a brief summary of current research on the link between urbanicity, gun ownership, and 2nd Amendment rights support. This phase deals solely with gun ownership and opinion as it correlates with living in a rural, suburban, or urban community. For the next phase of the project, I am researching hashtag concordances in gun control discourse on Twitter, in hopes of developing a better understanding of how gun control is conceptualized by the public today.

Gun Ownership and Opinion in the United States.

An article review and handout on the changing nature of climate change frames.

The Changing Nature of Climate Change Frames


February 2, 2012

A beautiful walk-through of cognitive linguistics, in very few words:


Brought to you by the always wonderful RadioLab.

So you know a linguist.

February 2, 2012

This video has quickly swept the Linguistics Department at Georgetown. An easy-to-follow explanation of who the Hippie Linguists are.

So you know a linguist 


Bilingual communities in the United States are growing at a fast pace, and the effects on language in conversation and legal documentation, as well as in the media, from television and radio to consumer materials such as magazines, books, and product packaging. This language “hybridization” has been given many names, often depending on which cultural has been the subject of many studies in sociolinguistics. The majority of these previous studies have focused on code-switching in spoken interaction by bilingual speakers. Less attention, however, has been paid to the use simultaneous use of two or more codes in written language.

Latina magazine was founded in 1996 by Christy Haubegger, a Stanford Law School graduate who felt there were too few adequate role models for Latinas in the United States. This paper will focus on code-switching in snippets from the covers of a bilingual magazine called Latina, from its inaugural issue to today. Drawing from previous studies of Spanish-English code-switching and intra-sentential code-switching, I will present an analysis of language hybridization on the covers of Latina magazines in terms of both triggers for Spanish words as well as changes in frequency of Spanish use over time. Identifying patterns not only furthers our understanding of when and how code-switching occurs, but by examining the semantic elements of what lexical items are code-switched can also reveal what associations speakers have socially and psychologically with the content of the text and the languages being hybridized.

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