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Presented By: Department of Linguistics

Linguistics Colloquium

Tracy Conner (Northwestern University)

Tracy Conner Tracy Conner
Tracy Conner
The Linguistics Department welcomes Tracy Conner, Assistant Professor in the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department at Northwestern University. She will present "Investigating the Language of Gaslighting."

Gaslighting has been defined as “a type of psychological abuse aimed at making victims seem or feel ‘crazy,’ creating a ‘surreal’ interpersonal environment” (Sweet 2019:1). The concept has gained popularity in the public sphere through online articles and videos, though the bulk of the research on the topic has come from the field of Psychology, and Sociology only more recently. Though gaslighting can take many forms from action to inaction, one primary vehicle relates to a particular type of manipulative language use. In The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), Goffman argues that in order to participate in face-to-face talk, we make inferences about what people mean in interactions (1959:2–3). Based on a Gricean paradigm, the inferences we make to attribute meaning to utterances are based on the assumption that our interlocutor’s intent is to be maximally cooperative (Grice, 1975). In gaslighting, we know that speakers are crucially not being cooperative, but this is generally only interpretable by the victim of the abuse. What makes gaslighting so difficult to identify, and what can linguistic tools help us uncover to lead us closer to understanding this phenomenon? I argue that in some forms of gaslighting, utterances appear cooperative and follow Gricean maxims through the exploitation of linguistic ambiguity and the difference between logical form and illocutionary force. Ultimately, the damaging effects for victims of gaslighting are rooted in issues of language and power.

This talk seeks to establish a unifying definition of gaslighting examining our notion of who we researchers deem experts in the discussion. Furthermore, the talk evaluates data collected through convenience sampling from online sources, emails, and audio recordings to identify the linguistic and pragmatic discursive strategies employed. I make the case that one salient pragmatic strategy in gaslighting is systematic and repetitive avoidance of the Question Under Discussion (QUD) which I define as topic shift. I make the case that topic shift contributes to why victims frequently feel “crazy” as accepting the new topic in conversation forces them to agree with realities that are not germane or true for them, and any attempt to reintroduce the original QUD makes the victim appear uncooperative.
Tracy Conner Tracy Conner
Tracy Conner

Livestream Information

October 22, 2021 (Friday) 4:00pm
Meeting ID: 96596883901

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