They way we talk about some subject reveals plenty about the subject, but in some ways it reveals more about the people speaking about the subject. The framework in which some topic is broached, the context in which a conversation takes place, will place that topic in the context of the larger cultural reasoning as defined by rules; both written laws and unwritten social cues.
Inspired by Guldi’s The History of Walking and the Digital Turn; Stride and Lounge in London, 1808-1851, I propose to use Google Books NGram Viewer and the Time Magazine Corpus in order to study the language of queerness and the contexts in which those words have been used. There are a few phases of recent queer history, including a period in which the topic was a cultural taboo, one in which queerness was considered a medical disorder and was spoken of clinically, and more recently language has been more accepting of queerness. In order to do this, I will use Google Books NGram Viewer to see when each word for queerness (ex; bisexual, faggot, dyke, queer, poof, faerie, lesbian, etc…) has become most popular, the duration of its popularity, and the moment when it began to decline in popularity. These results will be compared to moments of legislation relating to queerness (ex; legalization of gay marriage, stonewall, legalization of queer adoption, etc…) in order to gage whether laws and legal actions had an effect on social practices or if social practices had an effect on laws and legal actions. In order to make sure the ways in which I understand the words’ meanings align with the users’ intentions, I will use Time Magazine Corpus to gain context for the ways in which these words were used over time.
In addition to the main question of legality following social cues or social cues following legality, there are a couple of other questions which can be explored. While that first question relies on a study of each word’s popularity and decline in popularity, it is also worth looking at the frequently about which this topic has been spoken. With gaining acceptance towards queer folks and increased visibility, the use of queer words as a whole has increased, yet the question remains when, exactly, those increases happened and in response to what?
Thirdly, and most reliant on a contextual element, I will see which other social factors have an effect on language surrounding queerness. Already mentioned are laws and time, but social class, race, gender, and personal politics will also have an impact on the which words one uses and how those words are used. Admittedly, this third question will be the most time consuming and difficult to research and given the time constraints of this class it may be too large a project. Yet, it can be done and it would be interesting to see the results of this work.
Language is the material through which we build and understand our reality. Identity is lens through which we view and understand ourselves and others. Therefore, understanding the way we do speak and have spoken about a group of people can reveal how our ideas and concepts of that group have changed over time and can reveal our history of prejudice and acceptance.