Stylistic Variation and Stancetaking in the U.S. House of Representatives

The American Tax Variable

  • Gian Peter Ochsner


This paper contributes to previous research on how politicians use sociolinguistic variables to index their party affiliation, enact stances, and construct political identities. It does so by investigating the 2015 U.S. House of Representatives’ debate on repealing the estate tax, with a focus on the indexical meanings of the “American tax variable”, which consists of the lexical variants estate tax and death tax. In the televised debate, 23 speakers use 31 estate tax tokens and 46 death tax tokens. As the results indicate, the estate tax variant indexes an affiliation with the Democrats and a pro-tax stance, whereas the death tax variant is linked with the Republicans and an anti-tax stance. Apart from expressing these conventionalised indexical meanings, House members also style-shift between the variants and employ them to convey interactional stances of (dis)alignment and empathy, construct a political identity of in-betweenness, and promote a conservative version of Americanism.

How to Cite
Ochsner, G. P. “Stylistic Variation and Stancetaking in the U.S. House of Representatives”. Lifespans and Styles, Vol. 4, no. 1, Mar. 2018, pp. 17-29, doi:10.2218/ls.v4i1.2018.2609.