Dissertation Defense: Naomee-Minh Nguyen
Candidate Name: Naomee-Minh Ngoc Nguyen
Thesis Advisor: Cynthia Gordon, Ph.D.
Title: Power and Solidarity in Moral, Affective, and Epistemic Positioning: Constructing Identities in Everyday Vietnamese Family Discourse
Expanding scholarship on Vietnamese interaction (e.g. Luong, 1990; Sidnell and Shohet, 2013) and discursive identity construction in families (e.g. Tannen, Kendall, and Gordon, 2007), this study explores everyday conversations among members of one Southern Vietnamese dialect-speaking family. Taking an interactional sociolinguistic approach and building on Tannen’s (1993) theorizing on the relativity of linguistic strategies, I analyze how speakers discursively accomplish moral, affective, and epistemic “positioning” (e.g. Davies and Harré, 1990; Bamberg, 1997) of self and others, thereby constructing relationships and identities. Data are drawn from 10 hours of audio-recorded conversations among members of my own extended family.
To begin, I analyze how speakers use pronouns, kin terms, and referring terms to create moral and affective positions in conversational narratives. Drawing on Goffman’s (1981) “footing” notion, I show how narrators identify, refer to, address, and animate story world characters in order to evaluate characters’ actions, as well as how narrators’ alternations in person deixis index relationships of power and solidarity with story characters and the audience.
I then investigate how speakers self-position as moral, competent, and good mothers by displaying knowledge about their children. Employing Heritage’s (2012a) distinction between epistemic status and stance, I show how matters of access, primacy, and rights figure into epistemic authority construction. By establishing their rights to describe, interpret, and evaluate their children’s behaviors, participants create maternal identities while simultaneously negotiating power and solidarity with co-present family members.
Last, I investigate how speakers construct a shared, diasporic family identity grounded in mutual knowledge about the family’s natal village. Extending Tannen’s (2007a) discussion of scenes, I demonstrate how, through knowledge displays, speakers co-construct detailed hometown scenes and past experiences. As speakers attempt to establish relatively equal epistemic authority, they balance power and solidarity and position each other as expert co-tellers of the family history. Bringing together epistemics, positioning theory, and interactional sociolinguistics, this study lends insight into family interaction in an understudied sociolinguistic context, while also illuminating how norms and expectations in the Vietnamese sociocultural universe are reflected and reinforced in speakers’ linguistic choices. It thus explicates interconnections among knowledge, identity, and discourse.