Workshop: Analysis of lavender text.

Birch Moonwomon-Baird.



The text for close analysis is a transcription of about 30 seconds of talk from a narrative given during an ethnographic interview about lesbian lives. The storyteller is Maggie, a 65-year old retiree who identifies strongly as butch and ‘a masculine woman’. The story is about Maggie’s acquisition of a word for same-sex orientation, ‘homosexuality’, at 16, while working on a Women’s Land Army farm in upstate New York in WWII. Analysis of this story portion allows a fine consideration of identity construction in story talk and also lets us walk through the text using the tools of several approaches to discourse study.



In general, I use a mix of methods: critical discourse analysis (sometimes in a very loose sense), Labov-Polanyi narrative analysis, and some of the helpful tricks from the bags of interactional sociolinguistics and conversational anaysis. And, frankly, whatever else comes to hand. Although it’s unnecessary to introduce these approaches to any of you, I lay out briefly here my understanding of the backgrounds and bents of the main two, CDA and Labov-Polanyi narrative analysis, and what, in my work, they have been good for. This puts my relation to them on our record, and may help us begin to talk about them in the workshop session.


CDA, associated with critical theory work, and having a Marxist political bent (at least in its history), is interested in ideological and institutional powers that have reality outside the language event; the orientation is to something larger than the immediate, linguistic discourse situation. Fairclough presents tools to use in a rigorous analysis (in particular for voice, transitivity, nominalization, and various forms of mitigation), in considering three levels of a linguistic discourse (interactional, discourse process, and text). CDA is sophisticated in looking at discourse echoings—intertextuality, interdiscursivity. CDA has focused on events of public language use rather than private or semi-private talk and has emphasized power imbalances and conflicts of interest rather than solidarity and cooperative communication. I find it good for analysis of casual conversation and ethnographic interviews, though, especially for noting intertextualities and the effects of cohesion. (CDA is aligned with Halliday’s grammar, which makes cohesion easy to look at.) Also, while CDA has focused on economic or institutional power differences, it can be and has been used in work on gender and sexuality. I find critical discourse work a much-needed counter-balance to Americanist approaches that ignore or deal only vaguely with isntitutional/societal structure differences in power and interests that are brought to as well as constructed in events of language use. The critical approach has made it possible for me to do discourse analysis that I can believe in as sociolinguistics, not simply language event linguistics.


The Labov-Polanyi analysis of oral narrative format and evaluative force examines syntax (also lexicon and phonology) to find the structure of the linear unfolding of story and to specify what text is evaluative; then how evaluative text makes the story point and justifies the story self of the narrator. The method finds the story parts (orientation, complicating actions, coda, at least), separates narrative clauses from others by verb form, and then examines the devices of evaluation. L-P analysis is a response to narrative study outside of linguistics that looks at story mainly for theme. The work set out to show and has shown that converstional narratives have clear and reliably regular structures. Labovian efforts have a long history of asserting and formally demonstrating the structural integrity of grammars and styles associated with casual talk and less rather than more privileged social identities, especially identities of class and race. The narrative work has some place in that history. The ethnographic interview tapes I have—and of course, tapes of more ordinary conversation—are just full of narratives and other sequences that are narrative-like. (It seems we talk in story and near story much of the time). I have therefore found the L-P method invaluable, just handy all the time, for analyzing portions of interview conversations. By considering evaluation within stories and story-like structures I can talk about the construction of continuent selves and social identities. It is also possible to say, sometimes, what particular kind of narrative a story is; that is, a personal story from an interview conversation may ‘belong to’, serve the purposes of, another kind of discourse, for instance, the discourse of a 12-step program.


Below is a transcription of a portion of talk between the study participant Maggie and my colleague Welcome. It contains a story. I have given a good deal of text here, for context, but hope to look closely at only the few lines given in bold (ll. 36-43) during our workshop.




The word. Speakers Welcome (interviewer) and Maggie (interviewee, storyteller)






An7 how old were you when you (3) said to yourself that you were (3), well, I guess in your case I’m going to have to do two t, two things here. How old were you when you . said to yourself that you were a lesbian?









(H) (h) Well, I didn’t say that to myself, becau:se, there’s a funny story connected with this too. In those days, (H) the word ‘lesbian’ was not . generally u:sed in . straight, American society. (H) What happened to me, as I’ve s said in talking about my earlier years, I /knew I was different, right? and when, then when I fell in love with Doris, again, I, I ethat I was diffrent. An, an /I even said to some of my classmates in high school, ‘I know that I have a ma:n’s psyche in a woman’s body.’


[ @90 secs]










And /I: went to work on a farm, u::m . on, on the farms in, this was during the Second World War, an7 they set up som7um called the Women’s Land Army, because most of the crop pickers’d been. /drafted. (H) An they didn’t have anybody to pick cro:ps. So: the govment invented this thing, an what they was did they talked these farmers into converting their old barns into dormitories, and then they u:m uh7 hired all these women . from . the /cities. (H) (h) A:n so I w went up one summer to upstate New York, well, it’s jist up on the Hudson River, (H) a::n to pick . crops.



How old were you?
















Well, I was uh sixteen. Still. I was in love with Doris, then, this was all in there, Fifteen, sixteen. (1) A:nd um. (2) Course (1) I don’t need to tell you /now,

you cld guess who came up there. (2) Wz a lot of lesbians. (H) Well, it was very

(laugh voice ----------------------------------------------------->)

ineresting. There was a woman there, who was u:m very bu:tchy a:n obstreperous, a:n hostile, an always getting in fights. (H) A:n, I can’t remember any the more the incident, bt somehow this all fully came to a head and all the other . older girls there, who were jist college kids, y’;know, bt they seemed, they were kinna organizing n running this thing (H) in the dormitory. (H) U:m they decided something had to be done, and so they said they were gonna have a meeting out in a field where it would be private an talk about this women, n what did this young women, what to do about her. (H) An I tagged along. I was not. supposed . to participate in this meeting. I was, well, I was too young. I mean, they were the7, the cool, older heads who were gonna make a [decision] about



[O:: ]












what, what to do, see? But u:m, they went, I don’t mine, mean to give you the impression there women were all lesbians. I don’t think most a these, in this particular incident were. (H) But anyway, they went out to this field and I tagged along an insisted on . uh . eavesdropping. (clucks) A:n they began to talk about this girl, an they said, one of them said, she probably had Psych One or som7um, she said, ‘Well, it’s called ‘homosexuality’. A:n u:h it’s jist, it’s jist differnt. It, there’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s just differnt.’ Why, it was the first time I had ever heard the word . for myself. An I knew, now, what the word was.



Because you identified with the=



O:: I, I knew that she was yes, [yes], I, I identified with that. Well, yes, in that



[a butch]





sense I identified with er. Yes, I knew, w well, I mean, they were all talking about that she was attracted to women, y’know, an, an I knew I was attracted to women. An so here was this word, finally, and that was the word I had.


a:n long vowel

7 glottal stop

word creaky voice

(laugh voice) paralinguistic

(h) exhale

(H) inhale

/ one-syllable upturned intonation



[a butch] overlap


= latching

(3) number of seconds pause

. brief break

[@ 90 secs] omitted text