Emblems “given” in professional networking events in Hong Kong to index identities

Author: Jackie Militello (University of Hong Kong)
Speaker: Jackie Militello
Topic: Anthropological linguistics
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


Many sociolinguistic studies have shown how interlocutors attend to signals in interactions both intentionally “given” and unintentionally “given off” (Goffman, 1959) when discerning others’ identities. At the same time, sociology studies have shown how societies have deemed certain schools and interests as ‘elite’, while business studies have shown how actors in the business world privilege the brands of certain employers in the employment process. Many of these studies are based in Anglo-western contexts. This study aims to see how these “given” and “given off” signals operate in networking situations in ‘elite’ professional contexts in Hong Kong: which indexical markers are “given”, which are “given off”, and which listeners identify as salient in their uptake when fashioning others’ identities.

The data comes from two separate professional networking events in Hong Kong, where conversations were recorded and then played for participants in one-on-one interviews where they were asked to comment on their impressions of the conversations, how they interpreted the various utterances and interactions, and what they thought of their interlocutors.

Participants oriented to emblems (Silverstein, 2004) “given” signals of nationality, industries (e.g. finance, law, tech), professions (e.g. lawyer, actuary, investment banker) and specific employers. Meanwhile, educational institutions, both secondary and tertiary seemed to elicit little indexical uptake outside of national educational markets. The “given off” signals of ethnicity, accent, and communication style also figured into identity uptake, but with nationality and accent frequently misrecognized.


Goffman, E. (2002). The presentation of self in everyday life. 1959. Garden City, NY.

Silverstein, M., Blommaert, J., Caton, S. C., Koyama, W., Tsitsipis, L. D. Silverstein, M. (2004). “Cultural” concepts and the language-culture nexus. Current anthropology, 45(5), 621-652.
Keywords: Interaction, Goffman, identity, Anglo-western, Hong Kong