The King’s Speech

Andrea Price, a second-year MLC student with an interest in the Higher Education and Communication.

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Last summer, my roommate asked me how I felt about LeBron James, the famous basketball player, and his newly announced return to the Cleveland Cavaliers after a four-year hiatus with Miami Heat. As a native Clevelander with more interest in loyalty than sport, I replied that I did not actively welcome his return. After reading James’s Sports Illustrated article, however, I changed my mind, but I wondered how his essay had been so effective in doing so. This semester I’m taking a language and identity class, and so I decided to investigate how James’s essay might have triggered my emotional response.

After reading and re-reading the essay, and considering all of the research I had read so far, I decided to analyze James’s essay using ideas from Bucholtz and Hall (2005). In their article “Identity and interaction: A sociocultural linguistic approach,” Bucholtz and Hall explain that people construct their identities in the process of speaking to their listeners. One principle they promote is the idea that speakers construct their identity in relation to whom they’re speaking, basically construing themselves as similar to or different from their listeners.

Bucholtz and Hall also explain their idea of “adequation,” meaning that in order to construct their identity, some speakers portray themselves as adequately similar to their listeners, rather than exactly the same as them. In my midterm, I will be writing about how LeBron James positions himself in his essay as more or less the same as other Northeast Ohioans. For example, he compares his four years in Miami to the four years other people spend away from home, at college. He also speaks personally about his family and his investment in the future of Northeast Ohio (both topics are cultural touchstones for the area). While analyzing my emotional response to this essay might have more to do with psychology than linguistics, I find it exciting that I can pinpoint linguistic strategies in a non-academic piece which held such importance for my home state.

In the grand scheme of things, my midterm is really is only the tip of the iceberg. Words are everywhere, including in the way Cleveland markets itself, in the way outside influencers talk about the city, and even in the way Northeast Ohioans complain on Facebook about the ridiculous snowfall. I am eager for my chance to move back home and see firsthand how language is used in Cleveland, especially in order to use my language skills in dynamic projects rather than in eight-page midterms.