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The interrelation of sexual and national identity construction in talk: Greek homosexuality

Greek national identity has been for centuries bonded with Orthodoxy, which explicitly recognizes two genders and one sexual identity (heterosexual), inclusive of the fixed and stable relation between them. Thus, it is unsurprising that “Discourses that seek to align ethnicity, religion and heterosexuality against homosexuality and LGBT visibility” (Canakis 2013: 305) predominate in Greece and in the Balkans generally (see end note 1). However, at the same time, the growing influence of other Western societies has sensitized a part of the Greek population and has urged more Greek homosexuals to come out claiming their right to personal identity (see also Canakis 2015).

The conflict that emerges regarding “Greek non-heterosexuality” is the core topic of my PhD research, in which I examine the ways in which sexual identity and Greek national identity interweave in talk-in-interaction (see also Levon 2010). What is more, I question the extent to which speakers’ place is important in this process, since “physical environment shapes patterns of change by shaping how people interact” (Johnstone 2011: 8). To this end, I distinguish between Greek LGBTQ communities residing in Greece and Greek LGBTQ communities in the UK. The main reason behind this distinction is that, in the latter case, the conflict mentioned above becomes even more intense. On the one hand, immigration makes ethnicity and national origin more salient, as juxtaposed with the culture of the country of residence. On the other, international cities such as London potentially offer a more supportive environment for “coming-out”.

My methods for data collection will possibly include fieldwork, recordings of ordinary conversations and/or focus groups, although the research design is still in progress. In any case, adopting the notion of intersectionality (Yuval-Davis 2011; Levon & Mendes 2015 etc.) as a broader framework for theorizing identity formation, I will use Coversation Analysis (CA) (Schegloff 2007; Heritage 2010 etc.) to examine the position and composition of turns in which sexual/national identity is constructed, the ways in which recipients orient to them, as well as the use of collective self-reference (Schegloff 1996) seeking for collectivities which interlocutors construct in talk and of which they claim membership. Additionally, I will examine how, when and to what purpose speakers refer to place, aiming to verify if being Greek or not being heterosexual can vary because of it. Finally, I will use third-wave variation analysis (Eckert 2012) focusing on the use of Kaliarda, a gay slang variety of Greek, and the extent to which it varies within an individual’s talk or among individuals whose sexual or national identification is differentiated.

The findings, contextualized with prior relevant research in this field, can give an insight on several aspects of the Modern Greek reality, regarding LGBTQ communities, emigration and Modern Greek national identity, which is going through crucial changes nowadays. On a second level, the analysis of identity formations around categories such as sexual identity and nationality, based on interactional data, as well as a CA perspective, could dynamically contribute to sociolinguistic studies of variation, given that it could offer an ideal territory for examining linguistic mutability. It could provide, for example, information not only on how indexical meaning is accomplished within a turn, but also on how this meaning is managed by the recipient of the turn, in context. This establishes, at the same time, some ways in which other fields in Linguistics could benefit from conversation analytic methods and principles.

Since the project is still at an early stage, I will be happy to address questions or discuss suggestions/objections on the research design.

End notes

1. Particularly revealing of this, is an incident that took place in October 2017, when Greece’s Parliament voted for legal gender recognition for transgender people. Undoubtedly, the outcome is a significant step for the country regarding transgender rights. However, the political debate that preceded the decision is an example of the conservativism with which gender and sexuality are still widely perceived. Arguing against the legislation, Vasilis Leventis, leader of the Greek centrist party of the Union of Centrists, claims: “I love Europe but I want to maintain Greek values; Greece is an Orthodox country. Papaflessas [figure of Greek revolution] was the one to defend it, not Tsipras.” and, addressing the government, “Did you all consult the Church before editing this law?”


Canakis, C. 2013. The 'national body': Language and sexuality in the Balkan national narrative. In F. Tsibiridou & N. Palantzas (eds.), Myths of the Other in the Balkans: Representations, Social Practices, Performances, 305-320. Thessaloniki: University of Macedonia.

___. 2015. The desire for identity and the identity of desire: Gender, language, and sexuality in the Greek context. Gender and Language 9(1): 59-81.

Eckert, P. 2012. Three waves of variation study: The emergence of meaning in the Study of variation. Annual Review of Anthropology 41: 87-100.

Heritage, J. 2010. Conversation Analysis: Practices and Methods. Ιn D. Silverman (ed.), Qualitative Sociology (3rd Edition), 208-230. London: Sage.

Johnstone, B. 2011. Language and place. In R. Mesthrie (ed.) The Cambridge Handbook of Sociolonguistics, 203-217. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Levon, E. 2010. Language and the politics of sexuality: Lesbians and gays in Israel. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Levon, E. & Mendes, R. B. (eds.). 2015. Language, sexuality and power: studies in intersectional sociolinguistics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schegloff, E. 1996. Some practices for referring to persons in talk-in-interaction: A partial sketch of systematics. In Barbara Fox (ed.) Studies in Anaphora, 437-485. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

___. 2007. Sequence Organization in Interaction: A Primer in Conversation Analysis Vol.1, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Yuval-Davis, N. 2011. The politics of belonging: intersectional contestations. Los Angeles; London; New Delhi; Singapore; Washington DC: Sage Publications.



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