Discursive practices in feminist speeches. A diachronic analysis from the Late Modern period to the present day


Abstract – The date of birth of the feminist movement is usually set in 1792 when Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Since then, the feminist movement has been divided into three waves, each of which can be distinguished for both a different focus on women’s rights and a different kind of activism. The feminist propaganda has always used language as a communicative strategy that, through slogans, aims at reaching the collective psyche; it tries to persuade the public opinion of its claims through a specifically designed rhetoric that finds one of its best representations in the speeches delivered during public events. The present study analyzes a corpus of 12 speeches delivered by feminist activists. The speakers are chosen as representative personalities of the three waves into which the feminist movement is commonly divided. The speeches are investigated by means of corpus linguistics methods so as to identify discursive practices. The aim is to establish the diachronic evolution of these practices from the Late Modern period to the present day. Corpus data are analyzed by taking into consideration the variables of the period of time in which the speeches were delivered and the age of the speakers. The findings show that, in the three waves, the speeches are characterized by the use of specific terms which mark the general commitment of the feminist movement to women’s empowerment. A closer look at the individual periods shows that each wave is characterized by specific words that reflect an interest in more specific socio-political issues. Age also appears to be a relevant factor in shaping discursive practices. Indeed, the more mature speakers show a preference for terms denoting more general concepts, while the younger speakers refer to more tangible concepts and real events.

DOI Code: 10.1285/i22390359v31p91

Keywords: feminism; feminist discourse; discourse analysis; corpus linguistics; diachronic pragmatics


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