Language, Identity, and Non-Binary Gender in Hawaii

Kirtley, Megan
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [December 2015]
This dissertation provides a close examination of the linguistic stylings of three individuals in Hawai‘i who identify with non-binary gender: one as māhū, one as a trans man, and one as a masculine lesbian who considers herself ‘one of the guys.’ These three individuals use linguistic resources to construct and project their identities, and through their interaction, they build and communicate their gendered selves. The dissertation uses a combination of methodological approaches in order to thoroughly investigate how language is used in the three speakers’ interactions to do identity work. I spent almost two years getting to know the participants in order to better understand their experiences and motivations. I asked them to collect data in environments that were typical of their daily interactions with their friends and loved ones. I used careful examination of the discourse together with phonetic analysis to examine how linguistic resources were being deployed to make meaning in particular contexts and therefore working in that specific moment to construct each individual’s unique identity. The three individuals use resources that index characteristics and behaviors associated with masculine, feminine, and māhū identity, and in doing so, construct and project an identity that feels authentic to their experience and their conception of self. Because their experiences and identities are different from one another, they use a wide variety of linguistic resources in this pursuit. Furthermore, each individual’s use of linguistic resources changes as his or her motivations and targets change, showing that identity is not a single inherent entity but an everchanging, evergrowing thing made up of the many different facets and experiences of the individual. Language provides a window into that process.
Ph.D. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2015.
Includes bibliographical references.
Gender, Hawai‘i, Sociocultural Linguistics, Phonetic Variation, Masculinity
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