Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Liberal Studies


Barbara Katz Rothman

Subject Categories

Anthropological Linguistics and Sociolinguistics | Community-Based Research | Sociology


Alcoholics Anonymous, Language, Community Building, Sociolinguistics, rhetoric


Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) is a fellowship of more than two million members in 180 countries worldwide who are joined by their common desire to achieve and maintain sobriety. A.A. is comprised of small, self-sustaining groups of individuals who meet, typically weekly or biweekly, to share their successes and struggles and to provide support to their fellow alcoholics. There are no dues or requirements for membership other than the wish to stop drinking. The organization is not evangelical; it does not recruit, but rather welcomes those who wish to participate. The open nature of this program attracts individuals of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic positions. Furthermore, the A.A. literature makes clear that strong community ties within the program are necessary for the success of each and all participants. In the context of the diversity of participants, the mandate for strong interpersonal relationships seems one that could be difficult to achieve. However, over three months of ethnographic investigation, during which I regularly attended AA meetings, I found a sense of fellowship to be prevalent within the program. This observation was supported by a series of interviews with members. Through this fieldwork, I encountered a unique rhetoric employed by A.A. members. The goal of this study is to illustrate some of the mechanisms by which the common language of A.A. contributes to the community ties between participants in the program. Herein, I suggest that shared language allows for easy communication, expresses a shared identity, and facilitates humorous interactions between members, thereby contributing to the community ethos of the fellowship.