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Keywords:

  • Gender identity;
  • power;
  • masculinity;
  • (ING) morpheme;
  • sociolinguistic variation;
  • discourse analysis

The variation patterns of the variable (ING) in an American college fraternity are explained by analyzing individual men’s contextualized discourse. While most of the fraternity men predictably use a lower rate of the ‘vernacular’ variant in weekly meetings, several men use a higher rate. I argue that all of the men index alignment roles associated with power, but that these alignment roles are powerful in different, specifiable ways. Qualitative discourse analysis shows that the men with high rates of the vernacular variant use (ING) to index working-class cultural models and confrontational stances, as part of identity displays based on physical, rather than structural, power. Thus, the variable has several potential abstract social meanings, but specific interactional meanings can only be constructed in contextualized practice.