First Person Plural in Letters to the Editor in Two Post-Colonial Contexts

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First person plural in letters to the editor in two post-colonial contexts In writing letters to the editor, speech community members position themselves in a way that simultaneously helps construct both the public discourse on certain issues and the writer’s identity. An important tool in such identity construction in various contexts has been shown to be the first-person plural pronoun. The purpose of this study is to explain writers’ uses of first-person plural pronouns to construct identity in letters to the editor in the 21st-century post-colonial context in a Kenyan and a Sri Lankan newspaper. Assuming a variational pragmatics perspective, we analyze the pronouns to determine the intended reference and the relation to structural features of the letter and assigned responsibility for situational problems and solutions. The results indicate that despite marked variation between the Kenyan and Sri Lankan letters in how explicitly solutions are called for and responsible actors are named, first-person plural pronoun usage exhibits strong similarity. In both datasets, slightly over half the pronouns reference a national identity, which accords with the most prominent topic area by far being government form, policy, and services and the behavior of politicians and government officials. Among the other half, ambiguous reference is the most prominent category. Ambiguous and shifting use can mitigate directness in assigning blame and expectation, thus avoiding the construction of an identity judged unacceptable confrontational by local norms. Moreover, since interpretation of ambiguous language requires more participation from the reader, the assignment of responsibility becomes a more collaborative activity, reinforcing the community membership of the writer.


Limerick, Ireland

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