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Lesbians in Modern Day Britain: A Corpus Based Study of The Discourses Surrounding the Lemma LESBIAN*

Research output: Contribution to conference - Without ISBN/ISSN Conference paperpeer-review

Publication date22/06/2018
<mark>Original language</mark>English
EventCAD2018: Corpora and Discourse International Conference - Lancaster University, Lancaster, United Kingdom
Duration: 22/06/201824/06/2018


Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


This paper explores how lesbians are discussed in both informal spoken British English and in the written British media. It draws on two data sources: the newly updated spoken BNC 2014 and a specific corpus of 1.2 million words of data from newspapers written between January, 2017 and December, 2017 inclusive. I argue that the discourses produced and reproduced in both corpora are ways of sustaining and maintaining problematic ideological stances towards groups marginalized due to their gender or sexual identity (see Gupta, 2016; Baker, 2014). The present study acts as a follow-
up paper to Motschenbacher’s (forthcoming)
research into adjectives used for sexual identity within the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA). Where this paper and Motschenbacher’s research differ is that I
specifically elect to draw on spoken British English instead of American English. I argue that the current discourses surrounding lesbians found within the both the spoken BNC 2014 and the specific written corpus remain relatively problematic and archaic. In this paper I identify three prominent discourses in spoken British English and three prominent discourses in written British English. I argue that the discourses in both corpora are damaging to the way lesbians are viewed in general society and that the discourses tend to mask an underlying homophobic ideology. Discourses surrounding the lemma
* in spoken language tend to suggest that there is conflict in the intersections between lesbianism and other social identities; that
lesbianism is a choice, and that lesbians who preform masculinity are ‘undesirable’. In this
paper, I give specific examples of these discourses and explore how they convey this underlying homophobic ideology towards lesbians. Within the written corpus, I employed keyword analysis in addition to concordance line analysis, which revealed that lesbians are seen with regards to legal policy, that they are sexually charged beings, and that they are homogenized with the rest of the LGBTQ* identities. I also employ concordance line analysis, which revealed discourses that positioned lesbians as sexual threats to children and as inauthentic compared to heterosexual identities. Issues which appear in both spoken and written modes include a discourse which positions young lesbians as worthy of protection and older lesbians as invisible (which sustains an ageist approach toward sexuality), and positioning lesbians within the context of
‘gay’ rights.