Uncovering Implicit Social Hierarchies in Political Discourse: A Cross-Disciplinary Analysis of the 2019 United States Democratic Party Presidential Primary Debates
Hamilton, Heidi E
This study takes a social constructivist approach in the examination of ideologies that position one person, or one group, above another in political discourse. I analyze social hierarchies in the eight 2019 Democratic Party primary debates leading up to the 2020 United States Presidential election in three textual forms: the video-recorded interaction, published transcripts, and online news media recontextualizations. Each dataset reveals a distinct group or category constructed as dominant over another: American citizens over Latine immigrants, English language over Spanish language, and winning candidates over losing ones. I first show how references to time and space construct a dual discourse of immigration using Bucholtz and Hall’s (2005) relationality principle and Bakhtin’s (1981) “chronotope”, as candidates’ discursive choices contribute to the master narrative of America as a melting pot of peoples while simultaneously distancing themselves from present-day, Latin American immigrants. I then examine transcripts of the debates published by The Washington Post, arguing that while the debates themselves contained many instances of translanguaging (García, 2009), the entextualization (Bauman & Briggs, 1990) of the official record re-established boundaries between named languages. These transcription choices illuminate the linguistic ideologies of The Washington Post, reinforcing the subordinate social position of Spanish in White American Public Space, minoritizing and ostracizing Spanish speakers, and upholding English as the only language welcome in the United States. Finally, I investigate the positioning of candidates (Bamberg, 1997, 2011; Davies & Harré, 1990) as winners and losers in recontextualizations of debate speech. Journalists across five publications introduce winning candidates with negative evaluation and interaction description communicative verbs (Battaner et al., 2001; Calsamiglia & Ferrero, 2003) that evoke aggressive fighting imagery, whereas the speech of losing candidates is introduced with discourse action description verbs. This study demonstrates the importance of examining constructions of “us” and “them”, illuminating three of the numerous ways that preconceived ideologies about groups of people influence linguistic and discursive practices in political discourse.
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