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School of Languages, Linguistics and Film

LingLunch | Louis Strange (QMUL)

When: Wednesday, April 20, 2022, 2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Where: Scape 0.14 and Zoom

Louis Strange will give a LingLunch talk on his recently completed PhD research.

Language, National Identity and Gender in the Linguistic Landscape of Ireland’s 2018 Abortion Referendum

Abstract. In a 2018 referendum, the Irish electorate voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution, thereby lifting Ireland’s near-total constitutional ban on abortion. The result bucked a recent global trend of increased opposition to (and restrictions on) abortion, which has been accompanied by a concomitant surge in nationalism. While abortion rights have long been a major concern of the women’s rights movement(s) in Ireland, appeals to national identity have often been viewed with suspicion, if not outright hostility (Meaney, 1993), given the (historic and ongoing) treatment of women in/by Ireland and the maledominated project of Irish national identity construction. Moreover, the fact that more than 170,000 women and pregnant people have travelled to Britain for abortions over the last four decades brings the geopolitical relevance of this question into focus, particularly as the destination is the former colonial ruler, in opposition to whom Irish national identity has largely been defined. Given its concern with space/place, linguistic landscape research has been addressing geopolitical issues since the inception of the field. However, gender and/or sexuality are areas only now beginning to receive serious attention. While Ireland has been a notable site of LL research, gender and/or sexuality have been neglected in this context, too. To address this gap, I analyse campaign posters and other types of signage photographed during the final weeks of the campaign, supplemented by interviews with campaigners, employing a qualitative, multimodal approach (Scollon & Scollon, 2003) to uncover how signs make use of multiple semiotic systems (alongside language choice) to communicate their conception(s) of the relationship between national identity and gender. In this linglunch, I will give a brief overview of three constituent parts of my doctoral research. First, I will explore the way(s) in which discourses of Irish identity and gender were mediated by the use of Irish in the linguistic landscape during the referendum campaign. It is particularly interesting that the push for legalisation of abortion was framed in nationalist terms through the re-purposing Irish language slogans, such as Tiocfaidh ár mná ‘our women will come’ (an adaptation of the well-known Irish Republican slogan Tiocfaidh ár lá ‘our day will come’). Does this speak to a re-evaluation of the relationship between Irish, national identity and gender? Second, I will examine how gender was “being talked about” in the linguistic landscape (LL) of the referendum campaign, adopting a multimodal critical discourse analytic approach to look at the discursive construction of women’s agency in the LL. While the constitutional ban on abortion was condemned by abortions rights advocates for marginalising the agency and health of women and pregnant people, the legislation which replaced it has not escaped criticism either (see de Londras, 2020), meaning questions surrounding the conceptualisation of women’s agency in the 2018 referendum are still relevant today. Finally, I will end with a broader overview of the distribution of discourses in the referendum campaign’s LL and what this can tell us about the hegemonic (i.e. dominant or mainstream) understanding of national identity and gender in Ireland in the 21st century.


de Londras, F. (2020). ‘A Hope Raised and then Defeated’? the Continuing Harms of Irish Abortion Law. Feminist Review, 124(1), 33–50.

Meaney, G. (1993). Sex and Nation: Women in Irish Culture and Politics. In A. Smyth (Ed.), Irish Women’s Studies Reader (pp. 230–244). Dublin: Attic Press.

Scollon, R., & Scollon, S. W. (2003). Discourses in Place: Language in the Material World. London: Routledge.


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