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Language, power and identity

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 March 2011

Ruth Wodak*
University of Lancaster,


How are identities constructed in discourse? How are national and European identities tied to language and communication? And what role does power have – power in discourse, over discourse and of discourse? This paper seeks to identify and analyse processes of identity construction within Europe and at its boundaries, particularly the diversity of sources and forms of expression in several genres and contexts. It draws on media debates on Austrian versus Standard High German, on focus group discussions with migrants in eight European countries and on public and political debates on citizenship in the European Union which screen newly installed language tests. The analysis of different genres and publics all illustrate the complexity of national and transnational identity constructions in a globalised world. What is experienced as European or as outside of Europe is the result of multiple activities, some of them consciously planned in the sense of political, economic or cultural intervention, others more hidden, indirect, in the background. Such developments are contradictory rather than harmonious, proceeding in ‘loops’ and partial regressions (rather than in a linear, uni-directional or teleological way). Thus, an interdisciplinary approach suggests itself which accounts for diverse context-dependent discursive and social practices.

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