Pretextuality and pretextual gaps: On de/refining linguistic inequality

Katrijn Maryns and Jan Blommaert


Drawing on the rich tradition of investigations into linguistic inequality, this paper seeks to define the phenomenon of pretextual gaps, i.e. socially anchored and often invisible differences between what is expected in communication and what people can bring and deploy in communication. Pretextual gaps refer to conditions on sayability, differential distribution of access to these conditions, and social evaluations attached to such differences. We shall investigate pretextual gaps in three sets of data, all of them instances of experiential narration: Asylum seekers’ narratives, hand-written life histories from Shaba, Congo, and narratives of suffering produced during the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. We will attempt to demonstrate how a fine-grained discourse analysis focused on linguistic resources and models of deployment can refine existing views on linguistic inequality.

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