Language use before and after Stonewall: A corpus-based study of gay men's pre-Stonewall narratives

Heiko Motschenbacher
2019 Discourse Studies  
This study presents a contrastive corpus linguistic analysis of language use before and after Stonewall. It uses theoretical insights on normativity from the field of language and sexuality to investigate how the shifting normativities associated with the Stonewall Riots (1969) – widely considered the central event of gay liberation in the Western world – have shaped our conceptualization of sexuality as it surfaces in language use. Drawing on two corpora of gay men's pre-Stonewall narratives
more » ... ting from two time periods (before and after Stonewall, called PRE and POST), the analysis combines quantitative (keyword analysis, collocation analysis) and qualitative (concordance analysis) corpus linguistic methods to examine discursive shifts as evident from narrators' language use. The study identifies the terms homosexual and normal as central contrastive labels in PRE, and gay and straight as corresponding terms in POST. Other discursive shifts detected are from sexual desire/practices to identity (and vice versa), from an individualistic to a community-based conceptualization of sexuality, and from unquestioned heteronormativity and gender binarism to a weakening of such dominant discourses. The findings are discussed in relation to the desire-identity shift, which is traditionally assumed to have taken place at the end of the 19th century, and shed new light on Stonewall as a central event for the development of an identity-based conceptualization of sexuality as we know it today.
doi:10.1177/1461445619887541 fatcat:wwtbh3loanay3mgv7gsto6h264