Reported Speech in Talking Race on Campus



    1. Richard Buttny (Ph.D., University of Massachusetts, 1983) is an associate professor in the Department of Speech Communication at Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY 13244, USA; e-mail:
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  • Partial support for this project came from a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar Fellowship, 1994. The author gratefully acknowledges the helpful comments from R. Deborah Davis, Marsha Houston, Jodi Cohen, Andrei Simic, Castle McLaughlin, Patrick Johnson, Kim Buansi, Mike Smithee, Karen Tracy, and the two anonymous reviewers.


In talking race, university students sometimes report the speech of others, or themselves, to recreate what happened during an incident. Reported speech is used within narratives to vividly convey what was said, purportedly through the actor's own words or as evidence to support general claims. The speaker is not merely reporting speech but also assessing the problematic character of the actions performed through others’words. Reported speech is relevantly tied to assessment. Assessment reveals the reporting speaker's positioning toward the reported speech. The reported speech used in talking race presents the other as ignorant, biased, racist, ridiculous, or honest. African Americans discursively portray Whites as unwilling to admit racism, as stereotyping, or as duplicitous in intergroup relations. Whites, on the other hand, frame African Americans as exaggerating racism or as overemphasizing their ethnicity. Representing others’actions through invoking their words is a way of criticizing, challenging, or resisting such troublesome racialized events.