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Towards an Environmental Linguistics: Sociolinguistic Style and Discourses of Conservation among Rural American Hunters and Fishers


This dissertation examines the interaction of language use, identity, and environmental ideologies among hunters and fishers in the western United States. I draw on multiple methods—ethnographic interviews and participant-observation, an intraspeaker sociophonetic analysis, and a discourse analysis of media texts—to illustrate the complex ties between language and environmental ideologies. My specific focus is on the mobilization of linguistic resources when taking environmental stances and the ways in which local identities are made relevant when discussing environmental changes and problems. This study first explores the historical contexts which have contributed to the creation of the contemporary sportsman person-type and describes the present-day social structures which shape the sportsman persona and conservation ideologies within this community. I then analyze ethnographic interviews, demonstrating how contemporary sportsmen discursively construct a changing climate and its effects and, in turn, how they position themselves through this discursive construction. Through a sociophonetic analysis, I then examine the interaction of sociolinguistic styles and environmental stances; I argue that these environmental stances—and, more broadly, ideological stances—should be considered integral parts of the semiotic bundles that form styles or identities. Finally, the dissertation investigates the chronotopic stances mobilized in climate change messages produced by hunting- and fishing-oriented non-governmental organizations, showing the prevalence of stances towards a positively evaluated past wilderness and a negatively evaluated disappearing present. I find that the juxtaposition of these spatiotemporal stances situates the sportsman person-type as prototypically at home in the chronotope of the idyllic wilderness past and as anachronistic in the contemporary modern and urbanizing world. Methodologically, the dissertation explores the implications of integrating ethnographic analyses of identity and conservation ideologies at the local level with linguistic analyses of the mobilization of sociolinguistic styles and chronotopic stances. In contrast to the top-down approach often taken in previous work on language and environmental practices and ideologies, this study works to build theory from the bottom up, grounding the conceptual framework in the experiences of speakers negotiating their identities with respect to environmental interactions, broader social and political structures, and ongoing environmental changes. I highlight the ways in which a greater focus on local identities can deepen work in environmental communication and environmental psychology and conversely how a greater theorization of environmental interactions can contribute to linguistic analyses. Ultimately, I argue for more research which takes the environmental linguistic approach exemplified in this dissertation.

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