What does ‘we’ mean?
National deixis in the media
The contextual nature of deictic expressions, including the personal pronoun ‘we’, is a given to linguists, but has only recently caught the interest of social scientists. The following article, firmly grounded in sociology, attempts to introduce some linguistic concepts while looking at the role of the personal pronoun ‘we’ in the discursive construction of national identities in the media. Focusing on Scotland, and looking at media language in the context of constitutional change in the United Kingdom, the article shows how different category relations are created through the ambiguous and under-specified use of deictic expressions. Scotland provides an interesting case study for such analysis, as references to the ‘nation’ during the 20th century have been ambiguous, sometimes referring to Scotland, sometimes to Britain. Consequently, the media/nation relationship has been contested, and this is reflected in media language. The paper introduces the concept of a wandering ‘we’ to describe the shifting reference point of the deictic expressions and situates this phenomenon in the wider nationalism literature. By doing this, the article revisits some of the notions introduced by Billig in his Banal Nationalism.
Keywords: deictic expressions, personal pronoun ‘we’, national identity, print media, banal nationalism, Scotland
Published online: 15 January 2008
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