The 94th Annual Meeting of the Linguistic Society of America, https://www.linguisticsociety.org/event/lsa-2020-annual-meeting (2020)
Compared to the study of phonetic and grammatical variables, lexical variation remains a marginal domain of research on language variation and change. While phonological and morphosyntactic variables demonstrate the patterned regularity of language change, the lexicon exists above the “level of awareness” (Silverstein 1981), making it open to self-conscious intervention on the part of speakers. By contrast, politically-minded approaches to language – such as feminist and queer linguistics – have often focused on the lexicon as a level of language in which oppressive ideologies are encoded referentially, as well as indexically, but also through which speakers can exercise agency and political resistance.
This talk presents a corpus-based sociolinguistic analysis (Baker 2010) of changes in identity terms for transgender, cisgender, and non-binary individuals. We examine data from four online communities on the social media blogging site, LiveJournal.com – one for trans women, one for trans men, and two for genderqueer and non-binary people – all of which were popular in the 2000s. We use innovative methods for corpus creation and analysis that utilize general purpose cloud computing tools in order to track changes in norms surrounding identity terms for these groups. The analysis centers around three questions:
1) What are the most popular terms for trans, cis, and non-binary people in these communities of practice (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet 1992) and how did this change over time?
2) How are the changes observed in the dataset – e.g. the increasing presence for transgender over trangendered – relate to sociopolitical changes trans people experienced during this time?
3) What differences can be observed across communities for trans men, trans women, and non-binary/genderqueer people?
This paper makes several contributions to the study of language in its social contexts. First, it complements qualitative examinations of identity labels in language, gender, and sexuality studies (e.g. Chen 1998, Hazenberg 2017) by quantitatively tracking the process through which new lexical items spread throughout communities of practice and identifying key time periods when new labels came into use. Second, it explores differences across trans communities that cater to different identity groups, revealing the social differences and similarities that structure “the trans community.” Third, it presents new methods for corpus creation and analysis. Finally, it explores short-scale language change in a case where speakers agentively shape the course of that change. Far from a unique case, this instance of linguistic intervention highlights the highly political nature of lexical change.
Chen, Mel Y.-C. 1998. “I am an animal!”: Lexical reappropriation, performativity, and queer. In Suzanne Wertheim, Ashlee C. Bailey & Monica Corston-Oliver (eds.), Engendering Communication, 129–140. Berkeley, CA: BWLG.
Hazenberg, Evan. 2017. Naming ourselves: Trans self-labelling. In Evan Hazenberg & Miriam Meyerhoff (eds.), Representing Trans: Linguistic, Legal, and Everyday Perspectives, 204–225. Wellington, New Zealand: Victoria University Press.
Eckert, Penelope & Sally McConnell-Ginet. 1992. Think practically and look locally: Language and gender as community-based practice. Annual Review of Anthropology 21:461–490.
Baker, Paul. 2010. Sociolinguistics and Corpus Linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Silverstein, Michael. 1981. The limits of awareness. Working Papers in Sociolinguistics 84:1–30.View details
Proceedings of the Linguistic Society of America, Linguistic Society of America (2020), pp. 499-513
Though understudied in research on language variation and change, the lexicon is a crucial domain for sociopolitical transformations of language. This paper presents a corpus-based sociolinguistic analysis of changes in terms for transgender, cisgender, and non-binary individuals in four online communities on the social media blogging site, LiveJournal.com – one for trans women, one for trans men, one for non-binary people, and another for transgender people in general – that were popular in the 2000s. Using innovative corpus methods that utilize general purpose cloud computing tools, we focus on changes in the popularity of labels for trans, cis, and non-binary people, the factors that impact the variable use of these terms, and what kinds of differences can be observed across the four LiveJournal communities of practice studied. It thereby contributes both to the study of language and identity in trans and queer communities and to the development of methods for studying large datasets of technologically-mediated communication.View details
Selected Papers from NWAV47, Penn Graduate Linguistics Society (2020), pp. 143-152
This paper uses corpus linguistic methods and general purpose computing tools to explore short-scale lexical change in the identity terminology used in an online community for transgender men and other transmasculine people. It focuses on the rapidly changing landscape of labels for trans people, cis people, and non-binary people in a trans community on LiveJournal.com, which was a popular social media venue among trans people in the 2000s. We consider a number of questions about lexical change, including when currently popular forms (e.g. cisgender, non-binary, transmasculine, etc.) were introduced; the decline of labels that have been problematized (e.g. transgendered, transsexual, etc.); and the sociocultural discourses that contextualize and account for these changes.
We also describe novel methods for social media data collection, which rely on simple custom software, which we call livecorpus. livecorpus was built for use with widely-available cloud computing tools, meaning that it is serverless (i.e. does not require the creation of the analyst’s own servers) and offers flexible configuration that can be modified as data collection progresses. These methods can be applied to other social media sources that are not pre-formatted in ways that facilitate automated analysis, which in practice means we can reach further back into the history of social media language.
While scholars of language variation and change have tended to focus on phonological and morphosyntactic variables in unselfconscious vernacular speech rather than the lexicon, we argue that speakers’ awareness of – and metalinguistic discourses about – lexical choices makes this level of language an ideal site for considering linguistic manifestations of sociopolitical change. Far from an unfortunate exception to the normal, non-conscious process of structural linguistic transformation, these types of intentional interventions into lexical usage must be recognized as a critical component of language change.View details
New Ways of Analyzing Variation (NWAV) 47, New York University, https://wp.nyu.edu/nwav47/ (2018)
Compared to the study of phonetic and grammatical variables, the study of lexical variation remains marginal in quantitative sociolinguistics. While the lexicon is often ignored because of its propensity for rapid, non-linear changes and its status as “above the level of awareness” (Silverstein 1981), these characteristics also make it amenable for the analysis of rapid sociopolitical change. Corpus linguistics provides a set of tools for the analysis of sociolinguistic variation in lexical usage (e.g. Baker 2010), but these methods have yet to be integrated into the study of language change. Corpus studies are often limited to synchronic perspectives and, more often than not, include data from relatively non-vernacular speaking contexts (e.g. newspapers). The current study departs from existing corpus sociolinguistic research in a number of ways, offering two primary contributions. The first comes from the examination of change in everyday counter-hegemonic discourse in a transgender community, while the second concerns the use of novel, general purpose computing tools for the analysis of relatively unstructured internet data.
The first contribution is an analysis of change in the use of body part terminology over the course of more than 15 years of interactions (2000-2017) in an online community for trans men and others on the trans masculine identity spectrum. For decades, the most important principle of transgender language activism has been the notion that gender identity is a matter of self-identification (Zimman 2016, 2017). During the time period in which this online community was active, there emerged an empowering parallel discourse that biological sex, too, is open to self-identification, rather than being an objective fact about the body. A preliminary synchronic analysis of talk about genitals demonstrates that trans speakers in this community implement a combination of terms that are normatively “male” (e.g. dick), normatively “female” (e.g. vagina), gender-neutral (e.g. privates), and creative or trans-specific (e.g. front hole), all in reference to trans men’s surgically-unmodified genitals. These practices were part of a complex expansion of self-identification discourse that gained traction within English-speaking trans communities during the time period examined, and this analysis highlights the relationship between the emergence of non-normative lexical usage and discourses that overtly challenged medical and scientific authority. Whereas most corpus studies of language, gender, and sexuality focus on hegemonic and oppressive discourses (e.g. Baker 2004), this study offers a view of linguistic strategies of empowerment.
The other major contribution of this paper is methodological. The creation of corpora based on relatively unstructured internet-based data is generally a laborious process. We demonstrate a series of corpus methods that rely on cutting-edge computing techniques for information retrieval and analysis. Specifically, data were collected through a crawling pipeline that parses social media data, stores it in a cloud database, and allows for analysis using commodity tools on offer from major cloud providers. The pipeline and examination tools are “serverless,” scaling on demand with no fixed infrastructure investment and at minimal cost. Our methods thus provide a reference architecture for flexible sociolinguistic analysis of social media and other Internet-based data for a range of sociolinguistic purposes.
Baker, Paul. 2004. “Unnatural acts”: Discourses of homosexuality within the House of Lords debates on gay male law reform. Journal of Sociolinguistics 8(1). 88–106.
Silverstein, Michael. 1981. The limits of awareness. Sociolinguistic Working Paper 84. 1–30.View details
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