Monday, May 18, 2009

Abstract #3: The Definition of a Dogwhistle and its Role in Establishing Narrative Coherence

This abstract is part of the Abstract Showcase, a continuously updated feature of the LGSA blog.
Name: Kim Witten
Presentation Date: 5/15/09
Paper Title: The Definition of a Dogwhistle and its Role in Establishing Narrative Coherence
Department: English, with emphasis on Linguistics

Politicians use many tactics to convey messages to the audience that they wish to represent. A dogwhistle is when a speaker sends a message that contains a second, hidden interpretation meant to be understood by select audience members only. It is a metaphor modeled after the function of a literal dog whistle, which emits a noise at a pitch that only dogs can hear.

A dogwhistle has not been defined in linguistic terms, and there is no dictionary definition as of yet. Dogwhistle politics — the act of sending these types of messages for political gains — has only been studied briefly in recent years (Fear, 2007). Here I define what a dogwhistle is using linguistic terminology, and outline the necessary requirements for a speech act to be understood as such. I also demonstrate the differences between dogwhistles and other similar tropes such as inside jokes, innuendos, and puns.

Using this framework, we can see how dogwhistles are not confined to political discourse. However, since political discourse is currently recognized as the predominant genre for this trope, I examined three dogwhistles from recent events in politics, to show how this form of veiled speech can set-up two, sometimes-contradictory narratives that can affect a politician’s credibility.

Analysis of the role a dogwhistle plays in identity construction and in establishing narrative coherence is crucial if we are to understand how we use tropes to communicate ideas to others and index solidarity, distance, and power.

Keywords: dogwhistle, politics, narrative, veiled speech, audience design, trope, innuendo.
For more information about this abstract, please contact Kim Witten at kimwitten at gmail dot com

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