(un)common ground

a commonplace book

Language Beyond Referentiality

To say that words are indexically related to some ‘object’ or aspect of the world out there means to recognize that words carry with them a power that goes beyond the description and identification of people, objects, properties, and events. It means to work at identifying how language becomes a tool through which our social and cultural world is constantly described, evaluated, and reproduced.

Duranti (1997), quoted by Laura M. Ahearn, Living Language (2012)

Ahearn gives a couple useful examples of indexicality, the way language, as a socio-culturally embedded practice, “points” to social relations, identities or values, which in turn creates, reinforces or challenges those very relations, identities or values:

  • A college student mimics the voice of a character on a TV comedy show, thereby indirectly referencing not only that character and that show but also indicating that she is the sort of cool, hip, in-group sort of person who watches such a show.
  • Labeling someone as an “enemy combatant,” a “freedom fighter,” a “terrorist,” or an “insurgent” can index the speaker’s political views about the conflict in question and can also sometimes establish, strengthen, or transform legal, military, or political understandings, thereby having real effects in the social world.

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This entry was posted on July 27, 2015 by and tagged , .
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