Language, religion, same-sex desire

An abstract for a talk by Erez Levon (Queen Mary, University of London) this coming Friday (1:30-3) at Stanford. I won’t be able to be there, but obviously the topic is of great interest to me.

Conflicted selves: Language, religion and same-sex desire in Israel

Abstract: A central tenet of recent sociolinguistic theorizing is the belief that individual subjectivity – and hence observed social and linguistic practice – results from the intersection of multiple potentially conflicting identifications (e.g., Cameron & Kulick 2003; Bucholtz & Hall 2005; Kulick 2005). In this talk I focus on the issue of identificational conflict and, in particular, how it gets materialized through language. My discussion is based on a case study of the intersection of sexuality and religion in Israel. Data are drawn from an interview I conducted with an informant I call Igal, a forty year-old Orthodox Jewish man who is married, has children, and also engages in sexual and romantic relationships with other men. I focus in my discussion on Igal’s use of creaky voice [also known as vocal fry] throughout the interview. Based on a quantitative and qualitative analysis of topic-conditioned style shifting (e.g., Schilling-Estes 2004; Coupland 2007), I argue that Igal uses creaky voice as a way of negotiating the conflict between his sexual and religious identifications. More specifically, I propose that Igal uses creaky voice in order to adopt a particular deontic stance (Shoaps 2004) through which he reaffirms a commitment to Jewish laws and customs despite the transgression of these laws that his identification with same-sex desire represents. I argue that in doing so Igal is able to orient to both of his conflicting identifications simultaneously, and in effect construct what Halbertal & Koren (2006) term a ‘multidimensional understanding of self.’ In the talk, I discuss the implications of this analysis for our understandings of the social meaning of creaky voice and of the relationship between language, stance and subjectivity more broadly.

Items cited in the abstract:

Bucholtz, Mary & Kira Hall. 2005. Identity and interaction: A sociocultural linguistic approach. Discourse Studies 7.4-5.585-614.

Cameron, Deborah & Don Kulick. 2003. Language and sexuality. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Coupland, Nik. 2007. Style: Language variation and identity. Cambridge Univ. Press.

Halbertal, T. H. & Koren, I. 2006. Between “Being and “Doing”: Conflict and coherence in the identity formation of gay and lesbian orthodox Jews. In D. P. McAdams, R. Josselson & A. Lieblich (eds.), Identity and story: Creating self in narrative (American Psychological Assoc.), 37-61.

Kulick, Don. 2005. Four hundred thousand Swedish perverts. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 11.2.205-35.

Schilling-Estes, Natalie. 2004. Constructing ethnicity in interaction. Journal of Sociolinguistics 8.2.163-95.

Shoaps, Robin. A. 2004. Morality in grammar and discourse: Stance-taking and the negotiation of moral personhood in Sakapultek (Mayan) wedding counsels. Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation. Univ. of California, Santa Barbara.

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