Eric Louis Russell


Position Title
Professor of French
Affiliated Faculty of Linguistics
Affiliated Faculty of the DE in Gender, Sexualities & Women's Studies

508 Sproul
Office Hours
Monday 11:00 -12:00
Wednesday 1:00-2:00
or via appointment (all through Zoom or other means that a student might prefer)

Education and Degree(s):

  • PhD, University of Texas, Austin

Research Interest(s):

  • Linguistic analysis of discourse practices
  • Language, hegemonies, masculinities and sexualities
  • Gender in/and/through language
  • Taboo language (insults, offenses, censorship)

Course(s) Taught:

  • FRE 109 - Phonetics & Phonology
  • FRE 161 - Form, Meaning & Structure
  • HUM 15 - Bad Language and Social Identity
  • FRE 201 - A Critical History of French


I am interested in how language shapes power and how power shapes language, particularly as these intersect with genders, sexualities, and animus. My work asks how language forms and structures are shaped by, and concurrently contribute to cultural ideas, for example how speaking about certain forms of masculinity render these "real," at least to discourse authors and their audiences.

My recent book, The Discursive Ecology of Homophobia: Unravelling anti-LGBTQ language on the European Far Right (Multilingual Matters, 2019) dissects the linguistic and sociolinguistic environment of homophobic discourses, with applications to French, Italian, and Flemish corpora.

A forthcoming book under contract with Palgrave Macmillan is tentatively entitled Alpha Masculinity - Hegemony in Language and Discourse, and is due out in early 2021. I examine "soft-core" misogyny and the question of how linguistic and discursive practices serve to construct the ideological Alpha Male. This book looks closely corpora coming from a pop-psychology guru, online social groups, and gay erotica, and shows how Alpha masculinity is bound up in forms of agency directed at women and androdivergent men.

I am currently working on several additional projects of varying focus. One is a book length project investigating the construction of legibility among transgressive males in the Italian Mezzogiorno - arrusi catanesi and femminielle napolitane. In this, I explore the linguistic and rhetorical mechanisms that serve to render the illegible legible and the unknowable known, contrasting the historical record and an imaginary present. Several other projects are chapters that I've been invited to contribute to edited volumes. One focuses on the discourse strategies of the Proud Boys, especially the role of hyperbole and humor; another explores the discourse practices of European populists, bringing questions of hate speech and pinkwashing into the fore; a third looks at how meaning and communicative animus play out through morpho-syntactic form and pragmatic functions in populist rhetoric in Italian; and another provides an overview of linguistic acts of non-binarity in Romance languages like Italian and French.  Finally, I am beginning work on a book examining "bad language" (offenses, insults, taboo, censorship).

I teach courses in language-specific linguistics and sociolinguistics, alternating by quarter between phonetics/phonology, morpho-syntax and the lexicon, and language in context, as well as a yearly graduate course on varying topics (e.g. critical history of language, language & gender), and a large-section humanities course looking at offensive language as an expression of identity and power.

In my spare time, I enjoy swimming with a master's team, photography, cooking, yoga, and creative writing.

I'm always happy to connect with students at any level who are interested in language, linguistics, the connections between language and culture, and questions emerging from language in society. Feel free to contact me with questions, ideas, or if I can be of assistance.

Committees and Service:

  • External Grant Reviewer: National Science Foundation, Agence Nationale de la Recherche & Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, Leverhulm Trust
  • COCI/General Education Committee
  • Humanities Program Committee
  • "Aggie Success" Program for incoming students

Selected Publications:

forthcomingAlpha masculinity - Hegemony in language and discourse. Under contract with Palgrave Macmillan.

in press. Hate in Language, Hate and Language. In. K. Hall & R. Barett, Oxford Handbook of Language & Sexuality.

in press. Romance-lexifier creoles. In R. Gess, T. Meisenburg (eds.) Handbook of Romance Phonology. With Mirna Reyna.

2020. "Dans la langue, il n'y a que des différences": New communications, new enquiries... New linguistics? Journal of Language & Sexuality 9.1: 93-95.

2019. The Discursive Ecology of Homophobia: Unraveling anti-LGBTQ language on the European Far Right. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

2019. ‘Les Hommen’: The language of reactionary masculinity. Gender and Language 13.1: 94-121.

2017. Style shifting and the phonetic performance of gay vs. straight: A case study from French. Journal of Language and Sexuality, 6.1:134-182.

2015. Sounding Gay and Sounding Straight: the performance of male sexual identity in Italian. Journal of Language and Sexuality 4.1:30-76.

2015. Competences in Contact: Lexifier targeted change and the grammar. Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages 30.1: 116-141.

2012.  Show Devant! Language fetishization and the micro-ecology of Ironman France. Journal of French Language Studies 22.3:447-466.

Teaching & Courses:

Description for HUM 15

This course asks students to explore language – particularly, the sorts of language that are often deemed inappropriate, offensive, or otherwise taboo – and how the ways we ‘do this sort of language’ construct our and others’ social identities. We will peel back the layers of language practices, from the words we use for body parts, to the jokes that might offend, to the ways we insult, asking what we can learn about our society, the identities that are part of it, and issues such as power, privilege, and discrimination.

In this class, students will be exposed to a number of approaches to the question of how language shapes our lives and how we shape language, drawing broadly from across the humanities and humanistic disciplines (discourse analysis, philosophy, cultural studies, sociolinguistics, etc.).

Among many of the questions we will explore are the following:

  • How and why do we assign value to language forms? Why is f**k or a** judged to be a swear word, but not fudge or butt, darn or heiny?
  • How do words like illegals or terrorists reflect our society’s construction of power, inclusion, and privilege? And why is it so difficult to come up with an offensive word referring solely to those who identify as white/Caucasian?
  • How do words like f**kboy and pu**y reflect our expectations of masculinity? What do taboo words like c**t or b**ch tell us about our expectations of women?
  • What sort of language knowledge allows us to understand dialogues like the famous Donald Trump-Billy Bush tape as anti-female? And why do so many people – including many liberals – see this as an example of “locker room talk,” rather than something more systemic?

Description for FRE 201

This seminar is intended to frame two scholarly moments: one, an exploration of the social history of the French language, especially focusing on the emergence and cohesion of this as an anthropological and epistemological ideation; and two, an unraveling of the socio-cultural forces that served to construct this episteme and to promote this cohesion, frequently at the expense of other language communities and their cultures/practices. We will interrogate how French emerged and came to take its cultural, political, and linguistic form, and how this trajectory can help us understand contemporary issues surrounding language in society, more broadly.

Rather than only concentrate on dates and events in the history of French (we will also do this, if only as a type of baseline), we will interrogate historical pathways and outcomes as intrinsically bound up in extra-linguistic power structures and cultural institutions. The readings of this class reflect our dual objectives: Lodge will serve as a reference and jumping off point for the discussion of historical moments, allowing us to describe language within and across historical moments with appropriate terminology and concepts; Heller & McElhinney will frame our examination and re-examination of how such moments and the forces contributing to them can be critically interrogated and the power structures contributing to them made clearer.

A tertiary, but equally important objective is the development of disciplinary writing practices. All students will be expected to contribute a term paper in which they delimit a question of sociolinguistic historic significance: this requires them to present basic diachronic facts, articulate a critical argument within the scope of the seminar and readings, frame a cogent argument pertaining to the political and social significance of the moment/moments in question, as well as relevant actors and forces, and engage with this in a way that reflects appropriate disciplinary postures. This is intended to give students practical experience with the type of scholarship undertaken in the course, while also providing a chance to hone writing skills and develop solid scholarly habits.