Research

Current Research Projects:

The Discursive Construction of Political Identity

This project investigates the ways in which political figures use specific discourse and interactional strategies to construct political identities or brands that (1) personally relate to their immediate and mediated audiences; (2) distinguish themselves from other candidates; (3) persuade audiences of their world-views; and (4) motivate voters to action. Grounded in the frameworks of interactional sociolinguistics and critical discourse studies, my analysis explores language use in political interviews, speeches, debates, campaign advertising, and rallies. Focusing on strategies such as personal narrative, intertextual devices, metaphor, discourse markers, and repetition, along with paralinguistic devices such as gesture, I have uncovered how US presidential candidates construct “presidential selves” by drawing on widely shared and valued social identities among the American people, while managing to linguistically “stand out” from their crowd of competitors. This work has applications for those who work in strategic communication, public relations, media and journalism, and anyone with an interest in language and political leadership.

Representative publications:

  • Sclafani, J. (2017). Talking Donald Trump: A Sociolinguistic Study of Style, Metadiscourse, and Political Identity. London: Routledge. abstract
  • Sclafani, J. (2016). The idiolect of Donald Trump. Scientific American, Guest Blog. March 25, 2016. article
  • Sclafani, J. (2015). Family as a framing resource for political identity construction: Introduction sequences in presidential primary debates. Language in Society 44(3): 369-399. abstract


The Language of Women’s Leadership

This strand of research focuses on the ways in which contemporary women leaders use language to navigate the double-bind of projecting authority and femininity in public contexts. By examining case studies of women in the political and business spheres, I am identifying topics (e.g. family), strategies (e.g. humor), linguistic nuances (e.g. intonation), and paralinguistic details (e.g. smiling, laughter), that may work for or against them in particular discursive and social contexts. Additionally, with record numbers of US women entering Congress and announcing their presidential candidacies in recent months, I am tracking the emergence of multiple femininities in American political leadership, and documenting the role of women’s language in community engagement, the negotiation of political conflict, and building consensus.

Representative publications:

  • Sclafani, J. (2017).  Performing politics: From the town hall to inauguration. In R. Wodak & B. Forchtner (eds.), Routledge Handbook of Language and Politics. London: Routledge. 398-411.
  • Sclafani, J. (2019). Can a woman sound presidential? Scientific American, Guest blog. February 6, 2019. article

Return Migration and Heritage Language Ideologies

This collaborative project with my colleague, Dr. Alexander Nikolaou (Hellenic American University, Greece), examines the cultural and linguistic experiences, attitudes, and language ideologies of second-generation ethnic Greek adults originating in the USA, UK, and Australia, who have chosen to relocate to their ancestral homeland as adults. Through a detailed analysis of over a dozen interviews with return migrants to Athens, we have examined how participants view their identities vis-à-vis ethnic Greeks who remained in their diasporic communities of origin, including their emigrant parents, as well as in relation to their networks of nonmigrant Greeks in Athens. We pay special attention to narratives of language difficulties and conflicts, as well as participants’ discussions of “Grenglish,” the hybrid heritage variety they learned as children, and how they use this language symbolically to articulate their difficulties integrating into Greek culture and negotiate liminal identities with respect to their home and host communities.

Representative publications:

  • Nikolaou, A. & Sclafani, J. (2018). Representations of Self and Other in narratives of return migration. In C. Ghezzi, P. Molinelli, & K. Beeching (eds.), Positioning Self and Other: Linguistic Traces. John Benjamins.