The language of "Ribbonmen": A CDA approach to identity construction in nineteenth-century Irish English threatening notices

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Throughout the nineteenth century, the rural midlands of Ireland suffered from agrarian violence and intimidation through threatening notices. In the minds of the authorities, these outrages were committed by members of a secret society, called the “Ribbon Society”, which was deemed to be the embodiment of a nation-wide conspiracy of Irish Catholics to exterminate all Protestants in the country (Beames 1982). However, present-day historians are divided in their opinion on the existence of such a society, as for example, Garvin (1982:154), who claims that “local agrarian groups simply accepted the label wished upon them by magistrates, police and other outsiders”. Thus, there is no consensus about the identity and existence of the “Ribbon Society” from an external point of view. This paper analyses how the identity of this socially marginalised group is constructed from an internal point of view through means of a CDA analysis of a collection of threatening notices written by those accused of membership of the Ribbon Society. I argue that the notices constitute a form of public discourse that is controlled by the labouring classes, and that through means of positive self and negative other representation the senders justify and legitimise their own actions and beliefs, while criminalising those of their intended targets, thus constructing an identity as defender of the labouring classes, and using the notices as a form of social protest.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-262
JournalJournal of Historical Sociolinguistics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sep 2017

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