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Gender and Language
The ideology of gender categories is
typically enacted in linguistic practices;
indeed, it is through language that the
individual cultural understandings of
gender categories are learned and the
coordination of gender roles achieved
(Foley 2001: 289)
• Sex versus Gender
• Sexual differences: masculine and
• Gender categorization: Social construct
• Daily practices: social interaction
• Habitus
• A concept by Pierre Bourdieu (with roots
going back to Marcel Mauss), denoting the
totality of learned, bodily skills, habits,
styles, tastes, etc.
• Culture inscribed in the body
• Gender: habitus
Anthropology of Gender
Rosaldo, 1974
Leacock 1978
Moore 1988
Study of the asymmetry of between the
sexes: universal
• exceptions
Main Question
• Why it is widespread?
• Public realm and private realm hypothesis
• Women (work practices): private, viewed
• Men: Public, risky activities, economic and
social capital, politics
• Perpetuation of asymmetrical patterns
between the sexes
• Learning gender categories and rules in the
The Asymmetry of the Sexes is
not Universal
• Errington and Gewertz (1987)
• Gender can be complementary: Separate
but equal
• Western versus Chambri (New Guinea)
• Western: Separation of the private and
public: Exclusion
• Chambri: person define by his/her relations
What is the connection between
Gender and Language?
• Gender as Ideology:
• Language as a tool for learning gender
• Commonly highly valued ways of speaking
• Example: Malagasy speech norms:
Indirectness in speech: male activities
• Kabary Speech
Gender Styles in English
Alternatives: pronunciation, word selection,
grammatical construction.
“You’re driving rather fast, aren’t you? “Well, I
guess it’s approximately four feet high.”
• Socialization
• Gender roles and cultural values
• Social norms: construct and reinforce
gender attitudes
Gender Roles Are Reflected In
Language Styles
• Pronunciation: tone, intonation, volume
• Grammatical forms
• Choices of vocabulary
Phonological variations:
• Conversational interactions
• Tendencies in language use
• Example: New England study:
“-ing”; the progressive suffix of
Fischer’s study(1958)
–prefer –ing
– Boys
– Girls
prefer –in
Social Meaning in language use:
• -ing:
Formality, symbolizing female speaker
• -in
Informality, symbolizing male speaker
Style of speech is connected to a u
unified cultural structure of behavior
• Rhythm. Volume, pitch
• Different intonation in English:
• Women: wide range of pitches, rapid shift in
volume and velocity (more emotional)
• Men: Atonal (control, restrain)
• Cultural interpretation: cultural valued behavior
Grammatical Variants
• Standard versus non-standard grammar
• Cheshire (1982) in Reading, England
Present tense –s with nonsingular subjects:
“We goes shopping on
2. Has with first-and secondperson subjects:
“We has a little fire keeps us
Tag Questions
• sentences in which the speaker makes a
declarative statement and add on a tag in the
form of a question about the assertion
• Louise and Lucille didn’t leave together
last night, did they?
• Bill took Luke to the park last night,
didn’t he?
Robin Lakoff:
• --are reluctant to make direct assertions
• --thus avoiding coming into conflict with
the addressee
• --uncertainty lack of definite opinion
Choice of Vocabulary
• Different social and cultural domains:
--assumption of expertise
Gender interactions
• Different styles
• Introduction to topics
• Topic control
Gender Bias in English
• Nouns, adjectives, and verbs
• English covertly and overtly degrades
• normative roles and secondary roles
• Creating a context for interaction of genders
---term opposite sex
---covert and overt inequality
The child caught the ball.
The ball was caught by the child.
Conversational Styles
• Assumptions about conversational
• McConnell-Ginet (1988)
---Men: 12 min
--Women: 3.17
• Edelky (1981)
--25 to 400% longer
Cross-cultural analysis
Ideology of gender enacted in language:
Example: English
Gender specific ways of comm…
Universality of gender asymmetry
Highly valued speech and men
Three cross-cultural examples: Malagasy,
Javanese, Kuna
Malagasy (Madagascar)
• Speech norms: indirectness in speech
• Articulated in public: Kabary ceremony
• Through use of proverbs, allusions and
• Kabary speech and male activities
Women and Exclusion
Encourage to violate norms
Women’s style of speech; secondary
Indirect speech = public = male = prestige
Direct speech= domestic = female =
Javanese Language
• Importance of politeness for both sexes
• Status of addressee and speaker reflected in
• Highly stratified
• Weak distinctions along gender lines
• Strong ideology of gender equality
• Differences of speech in public and private
Private and Public Spheres
• Women: mas or “older brother”
• Men: dkik or “younger sibling”
• Difference in seniority
• Women: Less skillful
• Men: Greater art of polite speech
Kuna (Panama)
Egalitarian society
economic, political. Labor
Complementary separate but equal
Private and public contexts: speech styles
Public: --equally accessible to both genders
--Generally the domain of men
• Private: ---Exclusive for women
What do these examples tell us about the
asymmetry in the cultural evaluation of the
• Malagasy and Kuna: Egalitarian
• Javanese stratified
• Malagasy and Javanese: marked linguistic
• Kuna: no great differences
Languages with “GenderPreference” Patterns
• Gender exclusive: alternatives appropriate
to their gender
• Gender preference: language style a social
or cultural choice
• Japan: class, seniority, gender
• Men: less polite and more assertive
• Women: more polite and less assertive
• Language reflect the way we construct gender:
pronunciation, grammar structure, etc.
• Women’s domestic sphere -- less value
• Cultures evaluate gender styles in a similar way
• Example: Malagasy, Javanese and Kuna Languages
• Ways of evaluating lang and gender relationship
----Gender exclusive
---- and gender-preference patterns
Discussion Question
• In what ways are the relationship
between language and gender crossculturally similar or different to the
relationship between language and race?