Investigating the Vegan Speech Community: Final Summary

My paper is finally written, my transcripts are finalized, and my sources are cited. I cannot believe that these seven weeks of fun are over!

As stated in my abstract, the original goal of this project was to investigate authenticity in the vegan “How I Became a Vegan story,” a goal which I have indeed accomplished but which I have also branched off of after discovering some interesting phenomena in my interviews. After realizing that all three of my speakers utilized judgments about non-vegans to distinguish themselves from meat-eaters and thus build their own vegan identities, I stumbled across the Appraisal framework developed by Martin and White (2005), which takes a closer look at the attitude component of evaluations by breaking it down into three subcategories: affect, judgement, and appreciation.

By focusing on my participants’ judgments, I was able to illustrate how vegans use this evaluative tool to protect their social status. Since the vegan identity is under constant threat of negative judgments from society related to normality (since vegans are inevitably in the minority), vegans utilize defensive negative judgments related to morality, tenacity and capacity to compensate for this lowered position. In other words, while the general population accuses vegans of being strange and unconventional (low on a scale of normality), vegans criticize non-vegans for being cruel to animals (morality), unintelligent because of their inability to recognize the benefits of a vegan diet (capacity), and lazy for being unable to give up meat even if they recognize those benefits (tenacity). Consequently, vegans raise themselves on all three of these scales. Most of these judgments are simply implied in the interviews rather than enacted explicitly. Thus, vegans defend their position in society through the use of both positive and negative judgments of themselves, other vegans, and non-vegans.

An additional component of the Appraisal framework is engagement (Martin and White, 2005). Engagement deals with how an individual’s speech is not isolated. Rather, everything one says is both a response to what has already been said in addition to an anticipation of what will be said in response to that statement. For example, when a vegan negates the idea that, say, protein can only be obtained by eating animal products, they are simultaneously acknowledging the fact that an opposing opinion exists through the sheer necessity of having to negate it. There are several subcategories of engagement, including the notions of proclaim (showing support for some proposal), deny (negating some previous claim), and entertain (acknowledging the fact that this opinion is only one opinion on a range of other opinions). These can be dialogically expansive, opening up the proposal for discussion, or dialogically contractive, effectively shutting down any attempts to negate the claim. Through the data obtained in my interviews, I was able to propose that vegans utilize the resources of engagement to facilitate a smooth interaction between themselves and a non-vegan audience which they are simultaneously defending themselves against by negatively judging them. Additionally, these resources allow them to defend and authenticate their status as higher on the social scales mentioned above.

Overall, my paper combines the ideas included in the Appraisal framework with the ideas of stance (Dubois, 2007), positioning (Bamberg, 2004), authenticity (Coupland, 2003), and identity (Bucholtz and Hall, 2005). I have thoroughly enjoyed reading article after article about these various topics, especially as I have modeled my own paper off of the formats of all the ones I have been reading! My project has been such a great learning experience, as it has required me to get practice narrowing down an area of analysis and searching for information. I loved speaking with my interviewees and learning more about an area of language I am so interested in, and I hope to expand this research in the future. For example, my participants were all middle-aged women or older, so it would be fascinating to expand my data pool to include some younger individuals. In addition, it might prove interesting to investigate individuals who eat vegan diets for cultural or religious reasons, individuals who grew up vegan and never made an overt transition, as well as vegans living in different countries.

Works Cited

Bamberg, M. (2004). Form and Functions of ‘Slut Bashing’ in Male Identity Constructions in 15-Year-Olds. Human Development, 47: 331-353.

Bucholtz, M. & Hall, K. (2005). Identity and interaction: a sociocultural linguistic approach. Discourse Studies, 7 (4-5): 585-614.

Coupland, N. (2003). Sociolinguistic authenticities. Journal of Sociolinguistics 7(3), 417–431

DuBois, J.W. (2007). ‘The Stance Triangle’. In Englebretson, R. (Eds.). Stancetaking in Discourse : Subjectivity, Evaluation, Interaction (139-182). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Martin, J., White, P. (2005). The Language of Evaluation – Appraisal in English. Palgrave Macmillan UK. DOI 10.1057/9780230511910.


  1. Hi Kate! This is such an interesting project, and something I definitely would not have thought about before. I’m really impressed that you were able to find a framework that fits so well for what you were noticing about your interviews. It’s also great that you were able to learn so much from just three interviews. Is it more common in linguistics than other disciplines to focus on a small sample size? Do you have any hypotheses about whether your findings would be different if you included individuals from the other groups you mentioned? I’m glad you enjoyed your research, and I’ll be interested to hear what you find if/when you continue it!

  2. emschneider says:

    Hi Kate! I loved following your research and thought it was very interesting. I especially liked the theoretical framework of engagement and how it applied to this kind of speech. I did want to know how you were able to identify the defensive, negative judgements that they implied, despite not being explicitly stated. I feel like it is easy to assume that vegans are often judging on the basis of morality, capacity, and tenacity, but I would be interested to know how your data from your interviews showed that.

  3. Emma Russell says:

    Hey, I think this concept is fascinating because it is almost as though it is a case study of identity formation! Identities are formed with the express goal of not only expressing your own values, but also differentiating yourself from other values. This can be seen on scales as large as national identity formation, down to veganism clearly! I completely agree that your research has a great opportunity for growth within different sectors of society. It would be fascinating to know if people who choose to be vegan for religious reasons feel the need to first defend themselves against non-vegans or against people other denominations. This may reveal a hierarchy of importance within identity formation, where dietary choices are only an attribute of a person’s cultural and religious background and are subordinate to other larger components of identities.

  4. jawilling says:

    As vegan diets are becoming more and more mainstream, this research is especially topical! It’s interesting that you said that your interviewees were all middle-aged or older, because my impression of veganism is that it wasn’t really popular until the current generation. I also am curious of the specific language that your participants used to indicate their appraisals of themselves and others in terms of morality, capacity, and tenacity. It is a bit of a stereotype that vegans think that veganism is morally superior to other diets, but my experience with vegan and vegetarian friends hasn’t been like that. In any case, I look forward to seeing more about your research at the SRS in the fall!

  5. kesandberg says:

    Thanks for your interest! My dad happens to be a vegan, so most of my connections ended up being older individuals purely because those were the people he had contacts with. I would love to take a closer lack at younger individuals though, particularly because they are often motivated more by ethical reasons like animal welfare, while many of the people I talked with were more focused on the health benefits, especially after having experienced medical issues like heart disease. It’s unfortunate that the appraisal label I looked at is called “judgment” because I think we have a negative association with that word. As you said, it is definitely a stereotype that vegans feel themselves morally superior! So I was careful to emphasize in my paper that “judgment” is more of a technical term, and that my participants’ judgments were extremely subtle and not meant to be offensive; rather, they were simply a reaction to the identity that is often placed on them by society. Plus, as advocates for the diet, they of course tended to emphasize the positives and downplay the negatives! However, none of them made overt accusations about the behaviors of non-vegans and were all extremely nice and wonderful to talk to.

    Thanks again for your interest! I’m looking forward to reading more about your research in the fall as well!

  6. kesandberg says:

    Hi Emma!

    Wow this comment is SUPER interesting! I had never thought of that before! It would definitely be so cool to do a similar experiment that focused more on the background of the individuals (especially since I hardly focused on this at all). I agree that it would be fascinating to know if people who choose to be vegan for religious reasons would feel most threatened by other denominations or by non-vegans, as I think that might reveal which identity they felt was most central to their sense of self. Thanks so much for your interest!

  7. kesandberg says:

    Hi there! What a great question!

    I definitely can’t pretend to know exactly what is going on in any individual’s head, so I can’t assume that I know EXACTLY when an individual is making a judgment. In this way, rhetorical analysis of speech is a lot like any analysis of written works: we never know exactly what was in the author’s head when they wrote it! However, much of my analysis was based on well-known linguistic theories and characteristics of speech that are seen across speakers in similar situations. For example, a common linguistic strategy seen across lots of linguistic data is one where an individual criticizes their past self through some sort of narrative in order to avoid directly criticizing other individuals. I had several participants describe their behavior before they went vegan in a negative light, an evaluation which can presumably be carried over to others who have failed to make the transition as well. Other individuals used analogies to make judgments. For example, I had one individual draw associations between veganism and natural selection, emphasizing that those who make the change are those that will survive, and drawing comparisons between non-vegans and deer who are grazing blissfully while a car hurtles towards them. For more subtle judgments, again I tried to base them off familiar linguistic phenomena.

    There were of course a few explicit judgments too. For example, since most of my participants had made the transition for health reasons, a lot of their statements revolved around their ability to recognize the health benefits of the diet, with some individuals expressing their frustration over the fact that individuals KNOW the diet is better for them but for some reason cannot make the change. As I mentioned in a comment above, I hate that the “scientific term” for evaluation in this case is “judgment”, because I feel like we have a lot of negative connotations with that word. But really, the word judgment is just referring to an identity building tool that distinguishes vegans from other individuals.

    Sorry for the long-winded answer; hope it helps some! Thank you again for your interest!

  8. kesandberg says:

    Hi Julia!

    Thanks for reading about my project! Linguistics is a pretty diverse field, so there are lots of divisions within it that would use a much larger sample size, especially when collecting statistics about regional dialects and things like that. However, when linguists decide to use a socio-linguistic interview format (which I used here), the sample size does tend to be smaller, purely because it generates SO MUCH data and takes a very long time to transcribe. I ended up with so much data from three interviews that it took me a while to actually decide what I wanted to focus on! I think of the socio-linguistic interview as being similar to a psychology case study: it’s very in-depth for just a few people.

    However, I would love to expand my sample to include younger individuals, because I think their motivations are so different for transitioning to the diet, and consequently I think their vegan identities are very different! It seems to me that younger individuals may feel less of a threat from the rest of society due to the fact that young people are generally very accepting of new movements. While older individuals have to try to convince their friends who have been eating meat for 50 years that veganism is good, younger people don’t have to do the same around their much more flexible friends. So it seems to me that they might use judgments very differently (and perhaps less). It would also be great to look at individuals whose motivations are not health or ethics, but religious, as they might also express their identity in a different way.

    Thanks for reading!