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Identities in and across Cultures


Paola Evangelisti Allori

This volume is a collection of empirical studies investigating the ways and means through which culturally-shaped identities are manifested in and through discourse in documents and texts from multiple spheres of social action. It also looks at possible ways in which understanding and acceptance of diverse cultural identities can be moulded and developed through appropriate education.
Language being one of the most evident and powerful ‘markers’ of cultural identity, discourse and text are sites where cultures are both constructed and displayed and where identities are negotiated. The approaches to the analysis of culture and identity adopted here to account for the multifaceted realisations of cultural identities in the texts and documents taken into consideration span from multimodality, to discourse and genre analysis, to corpus linguistics and text analysis. The volume then offers a varied picture of approaches to the scientific enquiry into the multifaceted manifestations of identity in and across national, professional, and disciplinary cultures.
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‘Giving the Graduates an Earful’: Identity and Interaction in Commencement Speeches: Martin Solly



‘Giving the Graduates an Earful’: Identity and Interaction in Commencement Speeches

1. Introduction

Commencement speeches (CS) are intended here as the speeches traditionally delivered at graduation ceremonies in North American universities. The label itself is paradoxical - why are they called ‘commencement’ speeches when the students are not actually starting (commencing) their university degrees, but rather graduating? The idea is that the graduates are about to embark on (thus commence) their future careers. As actor Tom Hanks put it succinctly to the Vassar graduates in 2005: “Today’s main purpose is to celebrate your entering into society […]”.

CS are generally given by prominent figures from various fields of endeavour, often famous ones: recent speakers in US universities include Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Tom Hanks, J.K. Rowling… Originally addressed to a more restricted audience, these days CS constitute an increasingly public moment in the life of an academic institution: they are often widely reported in the national press as well as being available on the Internet.

Although CS are an integral part of the North American academic scene they are generally analysed in terms of their content and interest value rather than from a discourse analysis perspective. Here I actively engage with CS as communicative events which take place in a defined higher education context, thus as socially situated texts (Fairclough 2003, Scollon 2008), with the aim of identifying underlying patterns in their discourse structure and organization. Some...

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