The language of change? Characterizations of in-group social position, threat, and the deployment of distinctive group attributes


Correspondence should be addressed to Andrew G. Livingstone, School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff CF10 3AT, UK (e-mail:


A considerable body of research has shown that group members establish and emphasize characteristics or attributes that define their in-group in relation to comparison out-groups. We extend this research by exploring the range of ways in which members of the same social category (Welsh people) deploy a particular attribute (the Welsh language) as a flexible identity management resource. Through a thematic analysis of data from interviews and two public speeches, we examine how the deployment of the Welsh language is bound up with characterizations of the in-group's wider intergroup position (in terms of power relations and their legitimacy and stability), and one's position within the in-group. We focus in particular on the rhetorical and strategic value of such characterizations for policing in-group boundaries on the one hand, and for the in-group's intergroup position on the other. We conclude by emphasizing the need to (1) locate analyses of the uses and importance of group-defining attributes within the social setting that gives them meaning and (2) to appreciate such characterizations as attempts to influence, rather than simply reflect that setting.