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Theorizing identity in language and sexuality research

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 October 2004

Department of Linguistics, 3607 South Hall, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3100,
Department of Linguistics, Campus Box 295, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309-0295,


The field of language and sexuality has gained importance within socioculturally oriented linguistic scholarship. Much current work in this area emphasizes identity as one key aspect of sexuality. However, recent critiques of identity-based research advocate instead a desire-centered view of sexuality. Such an approach artificially restricts the scope of the field by overlooking the close relationship between identity and desire. This connection emerges clearly in queer linguistics, an approach to language and sexuality that incorporates insights from feminist, queer, and sociolinguistic theories to analyze sexuality as a broad sociocultural phenomenon. These intellectual approaches have shown that research on identity, sexual or otherwise, is most productive when the concept is understood as the outcome of intersubjectively negotiated practices and ideologies. To this end, an analytic framework for the semiotic study of social intersubjectivity is presented.We are deeply indebted to Rusty Barrett, Jennifer Coates, Rudi Gaudio, Donna Goldstein, Jane Hill, Sally McConnell-Ginet, Bonnie McElhinny, Robin Queen, and Sara Trechter for their incisive comments on an earlier version of this article. In-depth conversations with Stacey Duke, Deena Hill, Anna Livia, and Jon McCammond helped us work through many thorny issues. For helpful feedback on oral presentations of some of this material, we are also grateful to audiences at the International Gender and Language Association Conference in Lancaster, the Lavender Languages and Linguistics Conference, the Department of Linguistics at Stanford University, and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Chicago; special thanks to James Fernandez for detailed suggestions. Any remaining weaknesses are our own responsibility.

Research Article
© 2004 Cambridge University Press

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