The emergence of racism. On beliefs about language use and linguistic discrimination among two professional groups in Sweden and Germany

Field: Retorik
Project leader: Mats Landqvist
Starting year: 2010
Project type: Project

Linguistic choices play an important role in how we identify and classify each other and ourselves, i.e. we speak and refer to each other by using linguistic categories. In this project we want to examine how pejorative language use is perceived, what classifies as pejoratives, how this is construed and in other ways contextualized. We intend to compare attitudes to pejoratives and their actual use Germany and Sweden, two countries with quite different general approaches to discrimination and discourses regarding for example racism.

To speak badly of a group of people is not necessarily a criminal offense – an issue much discussed from a rhetorical perspective e.g. within the U.S. hate-speech debate – but to discriminate in real action might be. It could therefore be asked where the boundaries between linguistic action and other actions are drawn, and also what means are used to legitimizing, rationalizing and otherwise framing linguistic choices. Problems with racist tendencies in the former Eastern European countries are also a factor behind the need for a better understanding of how racism may be construed from a linguistic and interaction perspective. Our model for analysis is informed by linguistic pragmatics, which seeks to understand how language is used, mainly from a cognitively oriented pragmatics that focuses both the language use and the language user. Intersectionality theory is another important starting point.

The project will focus on police officers and health workers – their language, their perception of certain derogatory personal names and their attitudes to linguistic practices. These groups will be studied in several ways: in language-focused discussions (in which participants reflect on language and meaning), in role-plays (where participants demonstrate their and others ‘language) and in surveys (where the participants’ perception of language is reflected).