Come, let's wrestle : language and the struggle for authority in online Persian social networking sites

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2016-05

Authors

Afrasiabi, Dena

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Abstract

This dissertation builds on prior scholarship in linguistic anthropological studies of performance to examine transnational spaces in online social networks where members of the Iranian diaspora use emerging technologies to interact with one another in ways that highlight the tensions between them. The focal point of this project will be the Facebook page Iranian Vines, which features short (5-15 second long) comedic videos that address issues unique to the experiences of Iranians living in diaspora. While many second-generation Iranians use online spaces to linguistically construct a hybridized identity, first-generation Iranians use these same spaces to evaluate the authenticity of these constructed identities by policing the language used by performers and deciding on the linguistic legitimacy of their performances. I argue that the performative nature of the Iranian Vines page creates a space for first-generation Iranians to respond to global sociolinguistic hierarchies that value English over Persian by acting as gatekeepers of Iranian authenticity through linguistic prescriptivism. Second-generation Iranians, on the other hand, use performance to decontextualize (and thus make visible) the moments of difference that define their particular vantage point and to acquire sociolinguistic capital through humor. These performers use “identity-switching,” a practice in which they juxtapose performances of non-Iranian and Iranian identity for comedic effect to challenge sociolinguistic hierarchies within the Iranian community that value monolingualism or parallel bilingualism. A core focus of this dissertation will be the ways that emerging technologies shape power relations between members of this community by making visible the processes by which members of ethnolinguistic communities negotiate the relationship between identity and language.

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