Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Style and Stance #6: Defining These Terms

Reading ahead to Kiesling’s  “Style as Stance” was really great advice from Dr. Anderson.  I have been trying to understand the relationship between style and stance, and Kiesling presents a new idea for me to consider: "any choice of linguistic form made by speakers is based ultimately on the interpersonal or epistemic stance they wish to take with their various interlocutors at a particular time, and … it is stances that become associated, through cultural models, with various identities" (172). In other words, stance is at the heart of what then drives style choices and style-shifting.

This was a breakthrough for me as I have been trying to apply sociolinguistics to written texts.  In my study of the writing guidelines of traditional and digital journals, I have seen clear style differences. I have also seen clear content differences. I was unclear how to link the two, but Kiesling has given me a new lens.  My data set has shown me that academic writing wants to show a certain stance so adopts a certain style in presenting a given content.  For written texts, style has always been the main way to convey stance because we do not have the other options of voice inflection, dress, gestures, etc that are considered when we look for style in spoken language.  So, I believe that written texts support Kiesling’s argument in perhaps an even more vivid way than spoken language. "Stances are thus connected both to the ways we relate to the content of our talk and to the socialness of our talk" (172).

In academia, "it is not each individual linguistic and social practice that an interactant decides on, but what stance to take in a particular situation" (179). That is, there is a certain stance to academic writing, and my task now is to categorize that stance and define the style that combines with the content to create the chosen academic stance and how digital journals are intentionally disaligning from this stance by making different content and style choices.

Ultimately, I seem to maybe be saying something different than Kiesling – that rather than stance being the primitive that drives style, stance is the goal of style.  I agree with him that “stance is what children learn first, and then generalize other meanings from these stance meanings" (175).  However, I think that stance is the most visible because it is the surface that the style creates, and when a child learns the stance, they are also learning the style that created the stance but do not know this.  It is not until later that they might see the style aspects that create familiar stances.

Which came first? The desire to create a certain stance or the style tools to create it?

Work Cited
Kiesling, Scott F. "Style as Stance: Stance as the Explanation for Patterns of Sociolinguistic Variation." Alexandra Jaffe, ed. Stance: Sociolinguistic Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Kindle edition.  


  1. I think you've got it! Style for academic writing is meant to encode stance! Well-done. And I agree with you that the order seems different here than it does for Kiesling; for K. stance is the primitive. This reverse ordering is very provocative. I don't mean to lead you any particular direction (or stifle your creativity), but an awesome paper would be to argue that the style/ stance ordering is different for academic writing than for spoken language-- engaging directly with Kiesling and also with Bucholtz's first and second order indexicalities (and therefore bringing in that slippery beast, ideology). I can't wait to hear more! And call me on the phone if it would be easier to chat about it that way.

  2. I really need to read Kiesling now! This post and blog post #7 are fascinating!