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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Constructing Otherness: A Linguistic Analysis of the Politics of Representation and Exclusion in Freshmen Writing

  • Author(s): Pandey, Anjali
  • et al.

This study examines the extent to which college freshmen compositions seek to reflect and construct differences between the self and the other. The data sample consists of over 100 freshmen compositions on a variety of topics spanning a period of three years. The framework of analysis is derived from critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1994; Riggins, 1997; van Dijk, 1993). This study demonstrates that lexicalizations of outsiders, of others, in freshmen writing can often reflect univocal attitudes of ambivalence, derision, or impersonalization. Usually, differences in social groups are resolved via linguistic categorizations that absolve feelings of guilt or shame particularly if the student writes as a member of the powered group. Sometimes, however, lexicalizations reflect a unique critical stance on the part of the student writer who creatively utilizes such linguistic representations of ‘others’ to challenge status quo othering practices. Access to and the use of othering strategies, it is argued, is a powerful rhetorical tool. As the excerpts examined in this study will demonstrate, overt as opposed to covert lexicalizations of othering—encoded in language evocative of hierarchy, subordination, and dominance—often reflect differential rhetorical ability on the part of the student writer. The implications of this study are pedagogical, and call for a re-imagining of the teaching of writing via an examination of the actual discursive tools accessible to different writers, and how these serve in judgments of rhetorical skills in particular, and creative and critical thinking in general.

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