Talking Anchorage

Who is Anchorage?

Who is Anchorage?: An Investigation into the Local and Extra-Local Construction of Anchorage Identity through the Use of Social Deixis

in Oral Narratives By Yvette Pype, yepype@uaa.alaska.edu

Abstract and Specific Aims

Individuals use language to index their changing identities and orient themselves in the sphere of the local (Silverstein 1998). This research looks specifically at the speech surrounding oral histories and how storytellers construct their identity through the telling of their narratives. The project included the collection and analysis of stories from 12 Anchorage-ites—that is, those who have lived in the municipality of Anchorage, Alaska for most of their lives—based on two events in recent history: the 1964 Alaska Earthquake and 9/11. Both of these events were catastrophic and embedded deeply into the social consciousness of those who experienced them; yet each event positions the speaker in different contexts. The 1964 Earthquake was a uniquely local experience while 9/11 marks a shared national experience. These stories were examined through the lens of what linguists refer to as social deixis markers (Manning 2001). These social deixis are discourse markers that indicate self, place, space, and time as they are encoded into speech (e.g., I v. you; here v. there; near v. far; today v. yesterday). How speakers utilize deictic markers within their discourse symbolically represents how they situate themselves in relationship to their communities—both local and extra-local (Galbraith 1995).

Anchorage, AK is a young urban environment on the edge of the wilderness, whose identity has been consistently elusive.  Indeed, Anchorage is largely defined in relationship to other spaces and places rather than by characteristics that are wholly its own.  Anchorage is differentiated by Alaskans as not truly and authentically Alaska due to its size and urban qualities; moreover, several Alaskans already interviewed in a corresponding linguistic anthropology project on neighborhood have dubbed Anchorage little Seattle.  This interesting position that Anchorage is in makes it an exciting place to study the relationship between social deixis markers in speech and the identity and orientation of the speaker. This research examines the symbolic expression of individuals within Anchorage, explores the negotiated construct of social identity, and adds a voice to the existing research related to this construction. Specifically, this project focused on the research question: how do the narratives of Anchorage citizens lend insight into their symbolic construction of identity in relationship both to the local and the extra-local?

Introduction

“The essence of humanness, long characterized as the tendency to make sense of the world through rationality, has come increasingly to be described as the tendency to tell stories, to make sense of the world through narrative” (Johnstone 2001, p. 635). Narratives have long been analyzed as a way to understand how communities view the world. This research takes a similar approach in the analysis of narratives in order to understand how speakers orient themselves in their world.

This study draws from a long and sustained body of work utilizing qualitative—specifically ethnographic—methodologies within the field of linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics in order to investigate the notion of communicative competency and the role of oral narrative in negotiating culture spaces. Communicative competency is the ability to speak a language effectively and also to understand it (Hymes 1972).

At the same time that communicative competency argues that language influences culture and culture influences language, the two are not necessarily deterministic of the other (Duranti 2009). Nevertheless, Linguistic Anthropologists investigate language use in order to move towards a better understanding of the symbolic representation of a culture and of cultural views. Franz Boas, an anthropologist who studied American Indian languages states, “if ethnology is understood as the science dealing with the mental phenomena of the life of the peoples of the world, human language, one of the most important manifestations of mental life, would seem to belong naturally to the field of work of ethnology” (Boas 1911). Indeed, language is widely recognized in linguistic scholarship as a vehicle through which to observe the symbolic representation of self within contexts of lived experience.

In order to systematically investigate the situated and symbolic representation of Anchorage-ite local and extra-local identities, this project examines the constellation of social deixis markers within the discourse of the participants. Deixis are discourse markers that identify and orient speech in order to reference a specific time, place, or person (Galbraith 2012). Examining deixis markers within discursive events has gained quite a bit a footing in the literature. Specifically, Murray Garde (2013) uses deixis to analyze conversational data where she adapts the term “social deixis” to step beyond strictly the grammatical analysis. Social deixis markers indicate self, place, space, and time as they are encoded into speech (e.g., I v. you; here v. there; near v. far; today v. yesterday). Social deixis in Murray’s (2013) study were examined to investigate how relationships and social identity manifest themselves in the interactions of participants. How speakers utilize deictic markers within their discourse symbolically represents how they orient themselves within the context of their worlds (Galbraith 2012).

In sum, then, this research looks at the personal narrative as outlined by Johnstone. Crucially this analysis works within the tradition of linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics.  That is, this study does not argue that language and culture are deterministic of each other ala the Linguistic Relativity Hypothesis.  This project, instead, works under the theoretical premise of language use as a marker of symbolic identity.  As such, this study has attempted to gain insight into the culture of Anchorage by studying the language encoded in the stories of its residents.

Relying on this theoretical premise helps us to move towards a deeper understanding of the community itself and the language that is uses. This study also utilizes deictic markers within narrations to study personal identity within the speech community of Anchorage. Together, this analysis seeks to broaden the scope of social and personal identity. The research takes the term “social deixis” and looks past locally constructed relationships to extra-local relationships with country and state.

Project Design

This project relies on well-established, qualitative methodology utilized within the field of linguistic anthropology. Ethnographic methods rely on observation and interviews. This research involved the collection of interviews from 12 participants who were long-term residents of Anchorage and who were in town for the 1964 Earthquake. Participants were found through snowball sampling (i.e., classic “friend-of-a-friend” technique). These interviews were loosely structured and informal; the questions were open ended but constructed around both events. This is to elicit natural and spontaneous speech. Interviews of this ilk are a staple of sociolinguistic/anthropological research, where the theory is predicated on the idea that relaxed flow of conversation allows for the most accurate representation of symbolic language behavior (Labov 1966b, Duranti 2009).

The interviews were transcribed by a local transcription company—Accutype Depositions—using basic transcription techniques. The company was used to ensure that transcriptions were completed in a timely manner. After the interviews were transcribed, I isolated the stories of 9/11 and the 1964 Earthquake from the transcripts as well as the audio recordings of the stories. I then went through and found instances of the deictic markers which I was analyzing (we v. they, ours v theirs, and here v. there) in each of the narratives. The markers were then analyzed based on surrounding speech and context in order to pinpoint where the speakers were indexing to.

Results

Overall, I found that the Earthquake narratives contained significantly more instances of deictic markets than did the narratives of 9/11. This indicates that participants may be aligning their sense of community along the lines of the Earthquake story. This research analyzed markers that showed inclusion (i.e. we, ours, and here) as well as markers of difference (i.e. they, their, and there). In analysis, I looked at each narrative’s markers individually as well as contrasted with instances in other narratives.

Here is an inclusive marker indicating that the speaker has a local orientation (e.g. “I’ve been here all of my life”). In both of the narratives, the majority of makers indexed to the city of Anchorage. This indicates a micro-local identity oriented towards the city; this also indicates that Anchorage residents consider themselves to be a part of the Anchorage Community.

Opposite of here, there is a marker that distances the speaker from the place or event. In both narratives, the speakers have differentiated themselves from areas of disaster. Figure 2.1 shows a marked differentiation from New York City, which was a place of great devastation during the attacks of 9/11. In the case of the Earthquake, Turnagain and Downtown Anchorage are neighborhoods, which suffered some of the most significant damage because of the Earthquake; these are both areas where the ground sloughed away due to tremendous shaking and several people died.

Like here, we is another inclusive marker which places the speaker as part of the community being indexed towards. The instances of we markers in the 9/11 discourse suggest that the speaker’s orientation is foremost indexed towards the United States. In the case of the Earthquake narrative, the storytellers most often indexed themselves as part of their family unit. This narrowing of orientation in the Earthquake narratives indicates that the speakers were orienting towards a tighter community in the context of those stories as apposed to the broader orientation with 9/11.

They is a marker of differentiation which is in contrast to we. In the 9/11 narrative, participants marked a difference between themselves and the current generation of Americans as well as groups seen as potential threats (notably terrorist groups). The most salient markers in the 1964 narratives  mark a differentiation between the speakers and those making decisions for the city (i.e. government/aide workers and the military).

Our suggests ownership and belonging. The orientation of our markers in both narratives is very similar to that of the we markers in each respective story. 9/11 reveals an orientation towards the United States and the Earthquake narratives  index towards a tighter orientation towards the family.

Their is analyzed in contrast to we which is why it is included in this analysis although some of the data is lacking statistical significance. Although the data for 9/11 is not statistically significant, the cases of their in the Earthquake narratives again demonstrate an orientation away from local businesses.

Through this investigation of the construction of local identity in Anchorage, I found that the narratives of the 1964 Earthquake invoked a local sense of identity that narrowed to the nuclear family and the city of Anchorage. This finding is aligned with my initial hypothesis, which reasoned that the Earthquake narratives would elicit a local orientation because the event defined the early generation of Anchorage residents; they were recovering from the catastrophic event for years afterward. This event would, theoretically stand out in their collective memory. Secondly, the 1964 Earthquake happened in the city in which the participants were living. It directly and very immediately shaped their lives and the lives of those they knew (hence, the orientation to the nuclear family because those are the people most of the participants were with during the event).

What was surprising about the participant’s orientation with the 9/11 narratives was that the deixis markers around the narratives indicated an orientation towards the United States as well as Anchorage. My initial hypothesis suspected that the 9/11 narratives would indicate a distancing from the United States because of a generational difference between the participants and the events as well as the distance between Alaska and New York City. However, what I found was that Anchorage residents identified themselves as part of the United States in relation to the disaster of 9/11 and considered the attack to be a personal one on their country. However, this locality—while it did exist—was to a lesser degree than the locality associated with the 1964 Earthquake narratives. I think this is because, although New York is part of the United States and 9/11 affected Anchorage for that reason, it appears that Anchorage residents do not identify the attacks of 9/11 as holding the same personal impact as that of the Earthquake.

As a whole, this analysis has revealed that areas marked by disaster are salient and on the minds of the speakers. It also revealed that people appear to symbolically distance themselves from those places of disaster through their language and deixis markers. In both narratives, speakers distanced themselves from disaster while also orienting towards broader spaces. This act of inclusion and distance based on topic of conversation reveals a kind of “nested locality.” This means that locality and what is seen as “local-ness” seems to exist on a continuum, and, depending on the topic of conversation, speakers were at different points on the continuum at different times. Orientation varied from as broad a boundary as the United States down to the small unit of the nuclear family. This adaptation of locality demonstrates the situated-ness of the concept as well as the social applicability of the grammatical concept of deixis markers (Garde 2013).

 

References

Boas, F. 1911. Introduction. Handbook of American Indian Languages (Vol. 1, p. 63).

Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 40. Washington: Government Print Office (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology).

Duranti, A. (2009). Linguistic Anthropology: History, Ideas, and Issues. In A. Duranti

(Ed.),Linguistic anthropology: A reader (2nd ed.). Malden, Mass., MA: Blackwell.

Galbraith, M., Bruder, G., & Hewitt, L. (2012). Deictic Shift Theory and the Poetics of

Involvement in Narrative. In J. Duchan (Ed.), Deixis in narrative: A cognitive science perspective (p. 20-21). Hillsdale, NJ: Psychology Press. https://books.google.com/books?id=9AbEZ6m9V6UC

Garde, M. (2013). Culture, Interaction and Person Reference in an Australian Language an ethnography of Bininj Gunwok communication. (1st ed., Vol. 11, p. 9). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. https://books.google.com/books?id=4q8bAgAAQBAJ

Hymes, D. (1972). On Communicative Competence. In J.B. Pride and J. Holmes (eds.),

Sociolinguistics (p. 269-93). Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Jefferson, G. (2004). Glossary of transcript symbols with an Introduction. In G. H. Lerner (Ed.)

Conversation Analysis: Studies from the first generation (p. 13-23). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Johnstone, B. (2001). Discourse Analysis and Narrative. In D. Schiffrin, D. Tannen, & H.

Hamilton (Eds.), The Handbook of Discourse Analysis (p. 635). Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.

Labov, W.  (1966). The Social Stratification of English in New York City. Washington, D.C.:

Center for Applied Linguistics.

Manning, Paul H. 2001. On social deixis. Anthropological Linguistics 43. 54-100.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/30028583

Schiffrin, Debora. 2009. Crossing boundaries: the nexus of time, space, person, and place in    narrative. Language in Society 38. 421-445. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20622659

Schiffrin, Debora 1996. Narrative as Self-Portrait: Sociolinguistic Constructions of Identity.           Language in Society 25. 167-203. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4168695

Figure 1.2

Opposite of here, there is a marker that distances the speaker from the place or event. In both narratives, the speakers have differentiated themselves from areas of disaster. Figure 2.1 shows a marked differentiation from New York City, which was a place of great devastation during the attacks of 9/11. In the case of the Earthquake—as indicated in figure 2.2—Turnagain and Downtown Anchorage are neighborhoods, which suffered some of the most significant damage because of the Earthquake; these are both areas where the ground sloughed away due to tremendous shaking and several people died.

 

Like here, we is another inclusive marker which places the speaker as part of the community being indexed towards. The instances of we markers in the 9/11 discourse (figure 3.1) suggest that the speaker’s orientation is foremost indexed towards the United States. In the case of the Earthquake narratives (figure 3.2), the storytellers most often indexed themselves as part of their family unit. This narrowing of orientation in the Earthquake narratives indicates that the speakers were orienting towards a tighter community in the context of those stories as apposed to the broader orientation with 9/11.

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.2

They is a marker of differentiation which is in contrast to we. In the 9/11 narrative (figure 4.1), participants marked a difference between themselves and the current generation of Americans as well as groups seen as potential threats (notably terrorist groups). The most salient markers in the 1964 narratives (figure 4.2) mark a differentiation between the speakers and those making decisions for the city (i.e. government/aide workers and the military).

Figure 4.1

 

Figure 4.2

            Our suggests ownership and belonging. The orientation of our markers in both narratives is very similar to that of the we markers in each respective story. 9/11 (figure 5.1) reveals an orientation towards the United States and the Earthquake narratives (figure 5.2) index towards a tighter orientation towards the family.

Figure 5.1

 

 

 

Figure 5.2

           

            Their is analyzed in contrast to we which is why it is included in this analysis although some of the data is lacking statistical significance (see figure 6.1). Although the data for 9/11 is not statistically significant, the cases of their in the Earthquake narratives again demonstrate an orientation away from local businesses.

Figure 6.1

 

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 6.2

Through this investigation of the construction of local identity in Anchorage, I found that the narratives of the 1964 Earthquake invoked a local sense of identity that narrowed to the nuclear family and the city of Anchorage. This finding is aligned with my initial hypothesis, which reasoned that the Earthquake narratives would elicit a local orientation because the event defined the early generation of Anchorage residents; they were recovering from the catastrophic event for years afterward. This event would, theoretically stand out in their collective memory. Secondly, the 1964 Earthquake happened in the city in which the participants were living. It directly and very immediately shaped their lives and the lives of those they knew (hence, the orientation to the nuclear family because those are the people most of the participants were with during the event).

What was surprising about the participant’s orientation with the 9/11 narratives was that the deixis markers around the narratives indicated an orientation towards the United States as well as Anchorage. My initial hypothesis suspected that the 9/11 narratives would indicate a distancing from the United States because of a generational difference between the participants and the events as well as the distance between Alaska and New York City. However, what I found was that Anchorage residents identified themselves as part of the United States in relation to the disaster of 9/11 and considered the attack to be a personal one on their country. However, this locality—while it did exist—was to a lesser degree than the locality associated with the 1964 Earthquake narratives. I think this is because, although New York is part of the United States and 9/11 affected Anchorage for that reason, it appears that Anchorage residents do not identify the attacks of 9/11 as holding the same personal impact as that of the Earthquake.

As a whole, this analysis has revealed that areas marked by disaster are salient and on the minds of the speakers. It also revealed that people appear to symbolically distance themselves from those places of disaster through their language and deixis markers. In both narratives, speakers distanced themselves from disaster while also orienting towards broader spaces. This act of inclusion and distance based on topic of conversation reveals a kind of “nested locality.” This means that locality and what is seen as “local-ness” seems to exist on a continuum, and, depending on the topic of conversation, speakers were at different points on the continuum at different times. Orientation varied from as broad a boundary as the United States down to the small unit of the nuclear family. This adaptation of locality demonstrates the situated-ness of the concept as well as the social applicability of the grammatical concept of deixis markers (Garde 2013).

References

Boas, F. 1911. Introduction. Handbook of American Indian Languages (Vol. 1, p. 63).

Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin 40. Washington: Government Print Office (Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology).

Duranti, A. (2009). Linguistic Anthropology: History, Ideas, and Issues. In A. Duranti

(Ed.),Linguistic anthropology: A reader (2nd ed.). Malden, Mass., MA: Blackwell.

Galbraith, M., Bruder, G., & Hewitt, L. (2012). Deictic Shift Theory and the Poetics of

Involvement in Narrative. In J. Duchan (Ed.), Deixis in narrative: A cognitive science perspective (p. 20-21). Hillsdale, NJ: Psychology Press. https://books.google.com/books?id=9AbEZ6m9V6UC

Garde, M. (2013). Culture, Interaction and Person Reference in an Australian Language an ethnography of Bininj Gunwok communication. (1st ed., Vol. 11, p. 9). Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company. https://books.google.com/books?id=4q8bAgAAQBAJ

Hymes, D. (1972). On Communicative Competence. In J.B. Pride and J. Holmes (eds.),

Sociolinguistics (p. 269-93). Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Jefferson, G. (2004). Glossary of transcript symbols with an Introduction. In G. H. Lerner (Ed.)

Conversation Analysis: Studies from the first generation (p. 13-23). Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

Johnstone, B. (2001). Discourse Analysis and Narrative. In D. Schiffrin, D. Tannen, & H.

Hamilton (Eds.), The Handbook of Discourse Analysis (p. 635). Malden, Mass.: Blackwell.

Labov, W.  (1966). The Social Stratification of English in New York City. Washington, D.C.:

Center for Applied Linguistics.

Manning, Paul H. 2001. On social deixis. Anthropological Linguistics 43. 54-100.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/30028583

Schiffrin, Debora. 2009. Crossing boundaries: the nexus of time, space, person, and place in    narrative. Language in Society 38. 421-445. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20622659

Schiffrin, Debora 1996. Narrative as Self-Portrait: Sociolinguistic Constructions of Identity.           Language in Society 25. 167-203. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4168695

 

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