Textual Persona and Identity: PRR White’s Friday seminar slides

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Here is the PDF of the slides Peter used at the Friday seminar on October 24th, 2014, at the University of Sydney for his talk on the matter of how tenor can accommodate the concept of ‘textual persona’.

The abstract for Peter’s talk apears below:

Identity and textual persona as type-of-person effects in mass-communicative, premeditated discourse

For the purpose of this paper I take the following to be largely uncontroversial. The ways in which we speak or write, and thereby make meaning, may reveal us to be, or construct us as being, particular types of people. These “type-of-person” categorisations or effects may be matters of social conditioning associated with “class”, “gender”, “sexual orientation”, “ethnicity”, “age” and so on. They may also be matters of social role such as those of “teacher”, “student”, “doctor”, “patient” and so on. Typically in the literature, such “type-of-person” effects are dealt with by reference to a notion of discursively performed “identity”, with the understanding that communicating individuals may adopt or perform different “identities” in different settings and for different social purposes. Equally, these type-of-person effects may be viewed as matters of the various and typically transient personal and interpersonal positionings that speakers/writers may deploy – for example positionings with respect to social standing, social distancing, attitudinal investment, axiological alignment and openness to alternative viewpoints. Typically in the literature, such type-of-person effects have been dealt with via notions of textual persona,with the co-settings of these various positionings resulting in the speaker/writer coming across as being a certain type of person.

The relationshipbetween “identity” and “persona”, as so formulated, is an interesting one. While it will not be my central concern in this paper, I will be proposing that personae (as communicative effects resulting from typically transient configurations of personal and interpersonal positionings) can be understood as acting to index or possibly even to realise the social grouping or “macro” type-of-person categories (e.g. those of “class”, “gender” and so on). In this my use of these terms is different from that of Martin (2010, 2013), where textually performed “personae” are defined as subtypes of the macro social-grouping identity categories. That is to say, while under my formulation, the relationship between persona and identity is one of realisation, under Martin’s formulation it is one of “instantiation”. (I’m not yet clear as to whether this is definitional matter – the use of the same term to reference different phenomena/categories – or whether the different use of these terms amounts to different claims about the nature of textually-based type-of-person effects.)

The paper will primary be directed at discussing how persona, as a type-of-person effect, can be modelled by building on previous accounts of the parameters by which the Tenor of a text may vary. I refer here, for example, to the work of Poynton (1989) and Martin (Martin 1992) and others in proposing that the Tenor of texts varies according to settings for “status”, “contact/social distance” and “affect”, and to more recent work by Don (2012) who has proposed that it is useful to identify two further parameters of variation within “contact/social distance” – namely those of “affiliation” and “axiological alignment”. In the context of written, mass-communicative texts of the type with which I am primarily concerned here, “axiological alignment” is a matter of the degree to which the writer constructs for her/himself an “ideal” or “intended” reader who shares the writer’s beliefs and values (i.e. a “likeminded” addressee), or alternatively a reader construed as likely to be at odds with the writer. I will be proposing thatinsightful account of textual persona can follow when this model of Tenor is extended by including a reference to (1) the nature of the value positions put at risk by the text and about which writer and reader therefore potentiallyalign – for example whether it is attitudinal or epistemic; whether or not it is ideologically charged, (2) the writer’s attitudinal disposition – i.e. whether alignment is construed as a matter of Affect, Judgement or Appreciation or some mixture of these, and (3) authorial communality – the terms under which the writer puts writer-reader rapport at risk.

The application of this model of persona will be explored in the context of both journalistic opinion pieces and the many and various reader comments which are now attached to online news reports, commentary articles, personal blogs, YouTube postings, political announcements and so on.


Don, A. C., (2012), “Legitimating tenor relationships: Affiliation and alignment in written interaction.” Linguistics and the human sciences no. 5 (3):303-327.
Martin, J., M. Zappavigna, P. Dwyer and C. Cléirigh, (2013), “Users in uses of language: embodied identity in Youth Justice Conferencing.” Text & Talk no. 33 (4-5):467-496.
Martin, J. R., (1992), English text: System and structure: John Benjamins Publishing.
Martin, J. R., (2010), “Semantic variation: Modelling realisation, instantiation and individuation in socialsemiosis.” In New discourse on language: Functional perspectives on multimodality, identity, and affiliation, edited by Monika Bednarek and James R Martin, 1-34. London: Continuum.
Poynton, C., (1989), Language and Gender: Making the Difference: Oxford University Press.

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