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Discourse and Identity

  1. Anna De Fina

Published Online: 5 NOV 2012

DOI: 10.1002/9781405198431.wbeal0326

The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics

How to Cite

Fina, A. D. 2012. Discourse and Identity. The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 5 NOV 2012


The relationship between language and identity has been a topic of interest for language scholars for centuries. As early as in the 1800s many philologists, including the famous brothers Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, were proposing the idea that language reflected the collective identity of national communities. Benveniste (1971), one of the most important linguists of the 20th century, also stressed the centrality of identity in language through the notion of subjectivity. In his view, the direct or indirect presence of the speaker as a subject in the utterance had the power to transform language as an abstract system into discourse as an act of communication. In sum, theorizations about language and identity have always had a significant place in linguistics, but it is only in the last 20 years that this field has established itself as an area of investigation in its own right and as a field fundamentally concerned with discourse. Indeed, modern research on ways in which identity is constructed and conveyed in talk is firmly grounded in a view of language as discourse, that is as “actual instances of communication in the medium of language” (Johnstone, 2002, p. 2), and as phenomena embedded in concrete social contexts.


  • discourse analysis;
  • sociolinguistics;
  • ethnicity;
  • identity;
  • interactionist language studies