When analyzing the linguistic event from a sign-centered approach, the performativity, felicity conditions, and context practically slap me in the face. Dana Loesch, the orator, is the figurehead, in this current societal moment, for The National Rifle Association, and in being such represents the conservative perspective on gun control. A point of view that is all at once terrifying and backed by millions. The words she speaks, the way she presents them, and the stage that she literally and figuratively stands upon work in conjunction to create a speech that is communicating beyond its temporal boundaries of fifteen minutes.
To begin, by nature of her affiliation with the NRA, she is automatically operating with some level of prestige among a large number of Americans. In other words, the fact that she is connected to an organization which actively promotes legislation to further gun culture, gives her a leg up with right-winged human actors. This authority, arbitrary or not, combines with other circumstances to create the felicity conditions which reinforce the impact of utterances that otherwise may fall flat.
Following with Peirce’s approach to signs, Loesch is not simply working within the rules of language as a system, but, rather, is using language as a tool for action in the world. It is no coincidence that her speech holds the rhetoric that it does as it is recited the day after the Parkland shooting in Florida, which took the lives of 17 people. With an address like the aforementioned, it is vital to look at each level of linguistic structure: phonemes, morphemes, syntax, and content. Without getting too much in detail, as could easily be done with a speech like that waiting to be analyzed, the phonemic make-up of the oration is wholly shifted by the tone of voice she engages in throughout the. At one moment, you may hear a sense of false sincerity, while in another her tonality is blatantly hostile, a strategy which breeded applause to her satisfaction. Morphologically, it would be difficult to imagine a speech more charged with word choice. The “We” and the “They” stand out to in both a deictic and parallel way. On the level of syntax, Loesch’s speech is full of sentences with various lengths that keep the listener on the edge of their seat for what she will say next. Contextually, this is as rich as the politicians that the NRA donates money to. Not only is it the day after a mass shooting, it is also the year of Trump, and the age of a fragile conservatism. To conclude, for now, Loesch’s speech is filled to the brim with language to explore with a fine toothed comb.
Dana Loesch’s speech is a performative ritual, but not necessarily in a cliched way. While her address cannot be repeated, it most definitely acts in a manner that creates some fact, a hallmark of ritual performativity. Loesch is acutely transforming social life, political rhetoric, and consumer activity through her use of conservative verbiage and aggressive, counterintuitive assertions.
Dana Loesch says the word “we” 44 times in her address at The Conservative Political Action Conference. The deictic “we” represents her involvement in the conservative ideology, gun-culture, the National Rifle Association, certain female circles, and parents. Yet, more encompassingly, her use of the unbound morpheme “we” is directed at the audience in a “if the shoe fits” manner. Loesch’s speech, which took place the night after CNN’s town hall for the students of Parkland, Florida, incited local, national, and global noise- both favorable and not. There is an unending plethora of angles to analyze this linguistic event from, as well as countless lenses to look at it though. That being noted- it appears paramount to first highlight aspects of Loesch herself, then cover other rhetorical strategies, whether conscious or unconscious. To begin, Loesch is not only an index of whiteness, but of larger conservative archetypes. The former is illustrated through her levels of perceived attractiveness, her skin coloring, and her overall upkeep- including her hair, makeup, and clothing. The latter is more broadly demonstrated by her position in society- suppressed mother, celebritized- and her upkeep of certain values- pro-gun, evangelical.
Even further, Loesch, being a spokesperson for the NRA, is no stranger to presenting herself as the conservative poster child. A large part of her representation of self manifests through the purposeful and accidental use of different dialects and registers. Loesch employs different forms of dialects-regional, temporal, sociolect, idiolect- individually and simultaneously. Regionally, she, with a slight twang, calls upon her connection to Texas, an area so often connected with Apple-Pie-America. Temporally, she uses phases like “The Legacy Media,” a relatively modern conception. As mentioned above, she shows her association to the conservative and evangelical sociolects by vehemently asserting views found within those social groups. Moreover, Loesch’s infamous idiolect, the one that is all at once passive-aggressive and aggressive-aggressive, would almost be comical if it did not have astronomical consequences on larger social spheres and legislative actions. On a more transient note, Loesch performs different registers in her particular role as an evangelical conservative through her explicit resonation with pro-gun, traditional, and military values. Conclusively, Loesch’s speech, due to her image, her dialect, and her register, is somewhat of a perfect storm for radical conservative rhetoric to thrive.
During her fifteen minute address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Dana Loesch crafts her language in incredibly specific ways to resonate with or attack certain groups of humans. She calls both consciously and unconsciously on forms of stereotyped language that has been iconized, or is currently in the process of iconization. For example, in an attempt to criticize left winged American people and Hillary Clinton, she quipped:
“You have to think this last election we have been able to pull stalwart Democrats away from Hillary Clinton because they got tired of hearing about how they were going to afford their health care premiums and pay for the roof over their head with pronouns and which bathroom they could use.”
By highlighting this anecdotal notion, Loesch is first pinpointing an area of liberal ideology that is particularly offensive to the Conservative right. After that is expressed, an encompassing stigma is thus built on any other logic that could be presented against her arguments. In an essentializing manner, she is practically proclaiming “Don’t think like that you sound like a snowflake liberal!” Such a testament widely represents how leaders of the right have instilled LGBTQIA+ rights as an icon of the left, and a negative one at that.
After constructing the aforementioned framework, Loesch is able to engage with and flow in and out of connecting with different speech communities. Although she stays within the same language community, English, the whole time, she picks up various sociolects in order to identify with groups. Throughout her speech she purposefully inserts herself in individual speech communities: Republicans, Evangelicals, National Rifle Association Members, and several more.
From a social variations perspective, Loesch is also keen to perform sociolectical variations to associate with those listening and thus become more relatable. Being comprehensive, as this orator has the tendency to do, she spoke in variations that demonstrated layers of race, gender, class, and nationality that fit with predisposed favorable norms for her intended crowd. To give a typifying example, Loesch, to display ideal “femininity,” says things such as “[Gun owners] are people like me who simply don’t want to be assaulted in the parking lot if I go to the grocery store and get a gallon of milk at night.” The irony of her referencing a very real and tragic phenomena, petrifying assaults on women, should not be lost here. In the same breath, Loesch is facading as a feminist and supporting an organization which funds misogynists. This is just one blaring instance of how she is performing distinct social roles and variations in obvious- and sometimes more oblivious- ways to the excitement and reverberation of the different speech community she dares to choose in that moment.