- Stereotypes about male/female linguistic differences
- Grammatical vs. social gender
- Mapping gender onto sex
- Beyond binary thinking
Stereotypes about male and female linguistic difference
- Men: talk less, get to the point, talk about important things, swear, rude, authority
- Women: talk a lot, detail oriented, wonder off the point, talk about trivial things, more polite,
We started talking about the way men and women speak.
Sex and Gender
- Even sex itself is social constructed according to some theories, although we are taught that
it is a biological category.
- The different genitalia we possess when we talk about researches in social linguistic there
is dichotomous idea of sex in male and female.
- The social construction of biological sex
Think of examples o the way women and men do and should talk:
o Negative representations and evaluations of womens talk
o Womens verbosity: concern with their use of time in talk
o Content of womens talk: frivolous, futile
o Gossip can hurt the reputation of others
Is there a stereotype that women gossip more than men?
What social functions does gossip serve?
this Soviet war poster conveys dont chatter, gossiping borders on
o circulating ideas about how women speak tend to turn into prescriptions about how
they should speak.
- Works on fiction, films, plays, or songs
- Religious texts
- Assertiveness training sessions or texts
- Letters to newspapers
- A biological category
- Based on presumed objective and scientific facts such as the number of X chromosomes one
- Possessing different genitalia
- In sociolinguistics, sex of speaker refers to a biologically or physically based distinction
between males and females, as opposed to the more social notion of gender
What is gender?
- There is grammatical gender and social gender - Some languages need to be distinguished even if its inanimate.
o For example La table is feminine and the desk is male but there is no specific
distinction. Distinction in pronouns to refer to male/female
- In English you distinguish he and she, but there is no such thing in You and I. other languages
even distinguish in I.
- Not all languages have grammatical gender.
o Genderless languages are not immune to sexism. Doesnt matter if the language is
sexist or not, the culture itself can be sexist.
- Gender is just a polite way of saying sex? It is quite funny people dont want to talk about
- Gender refers to the social and cultural construction of biological sex the coat-rack theory
o This definition is criticized. It implies that there are only 2 genders. Gender is a lot
more complicated than that.
o It refers to what women and men are supposed to do in each culture idea about
femininity and masculinity
- It is not inevitable result of biology. It is social and cultural. i.e. having long hair
- Indicates the social identity that emerges through social actions. Something we learn or
construct through our relationships
- For many feminists, our current understanding of gender is harmful, and should be modified
or eliminated, to the current extent possible.
- What constitutes femininity and masculinity?
o Sudan women are supposed to sit with their legs closed, versus men can sit
however they want.
o Males are breadwinners, strong ones, whereas female roles are more domesticated.
- Even in terms of body, there are many ways of being feminine. In some cultures, long hair is
a male thing.
Mapping gender on to sex
- What is the harm in not distinguishing between sex and gender?
o Implicit assumption that socially determined differences between men and women
are natural and inevitable
o anatomy is destiny view associated with conservative conclusions regarding the
inevitability of sex typing
- The reason why we talk about this is because there is a sort of reservancy even in scientific
subjects. There are some scholars who rely on language to prove their points. That is where
feminist social linguists get.
- Benefit of distinction or not making distinction in sex and gender has political
o Reassertion of traditional family roles
o Justification of male privileges
o Limiting the few possibilities open to women and girls as a biological necessity
o Leaving unchallenged received ideas about differences in male and female
capacities, needs and desires.
- The whole idea of sex is binary as we think it is? i.e. male vs. female
o How does masculinity and femininity construct sex? If you ask me why is your hair
long or why we wear lipstick then we wont have a good answer to that. We will
just say thats what women do. The issue of socialization there is between
performing gender and being socialized. Being socialized means we cannot get out
of it. Even though we grow up like that, many of us transgress. We are not supposed
to swear as girls, we need to talk like girls. But we still do.
Beyond binary thinking - 1 in 30,000 infants are born with ambiguous genitalia and it is considered birth defect. So
according to dichotomous thinking, we fix this. Genital-normalizing surgery on intersexed
infants is common. So the goal of this surgery is to get the infant to conform/uniform to
binary division of female or male. Sex in this case is socially constructed.
- Some other ways to think about gender construct biological correlates of sex:
o Surgical interventions among transsexuals
o Real men have muscle, breast implants for women. Ideas of femininity and
masculinity are constructed. Breasts are symbol of femininity.
- How universal is gender polarity?
o In some cultures it is normal to break down the dichotomy between the sexes. They
are considered the third sex/gender need not be romanticized.
Faafafine (Samoa), Mahu (Hawaii and Tahiti), Hijira (India), Berdaches
(Native American), Travesti (Brazil), and Yan Daudu (Nigeria)
o Most important thing is not to romanticize other cultures oh they have specific
words in 3 sex. because they do have discrimination. We will go over this more
- Human beings need to impose categories and boundaries on experience in order to
understand it (Bergvall, Bing, and Freed 1996:1)
o Bipolar categories are not always accurate
o Gender is better described as continuum
o We can talk about degrees of femininity and masculinity
o One person is more feminine/masculine than another (we can speak of feminine
men and masculine women)
Summary of the Sex-Gender Relationship
- Correlational relationship between sex and gender may be conceptualized in 3 possible
o Gendered behavior is built on to pre-existing sex differences
i.e. boys learn to be brave and girls learn to be good listeners
o The sex-gender relationship may be arbitrary
Very different patterns of gendered behavior and relations in different
cultural contexts (i.e. covering hair is prerogative among Muslim women
but it is the mens among the Sikhs)
o The role of gender in construction of sex
Early academic works on language and gender
- Brief overview of earlier work that was done by linguists
- Language and sex one of the earliest linguists to talk about women exemplified as the
- Women have smaller vocabulary
- Shows certain adjectives and adverbs.
- Breaks off without finishing sentences talk without prior thinking
- His methodology was Impressionistic
o Native speaker intuition which has no empirical data
o General experience with population.
o Armchair linguist - You dont actually conduct actually work by living with different
community, record, etc. you just rely on native speakers intuitions. When you ask
things like can you say this you reply on native speakers judgment. It was a
popular method of study at the time. It is called Armchair study. People that dont go
out there to study.
- Sex inclusive linguistic features o Jesperesen (1922) quotes the case of the Carib Indians of the Lesser Antilles (West
Indies) studies by Rochefort in 1665:
o the men have a great many expressions peculiar to them, which the women
understand but never pronounce themselves. On the other hand, the women have
words and phrases, which the men neve