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Chapter 5

Chapter 5 - Language and Social Phenomena

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Marcel Danesi

Chapter 5 Language and Social Phenomena Pg115-116 Of all social institutions, language is least amenable to initiative. It blends with the life of society, and the latter, inert by nature, is a prime conservative force. Ferdinand de Saussure (1857-1913) There are several hundred words for a promiscuous female, but only a handful for a promiscuous male in English o Society tends to see female sexual behaviour as less appropriate than similar make behaviour Boys will be boys o Sexist language which reveals a part icular type of unconscious groupthink o To anthropological linguist An example of how language is the key to understanding social phenomena (ie. Gender roles, class distinctions, and the like) How we greet ppl in English o Mrs. & Mr. use a title when addressing to superior o dont use a title to address a friend use title would be construed as wither anomalous or ironic Honorifics = titles & other such speech strategies o Signal differences in class & in types of relations among speakers, from age differences to group-based identities Ppl are extremely sensitive to socially coded language cues, using them typically to evaluate speakers & to palce themselves in social realities all the time Language is a social tool Purpose of this chapter is to look at some of the ways in which this tool is used socially LANGUAGE AND GENDER Pg116 In many society, men & women are expected to use different forms of speech in specific ways o Japanese stomach hara among men; onaka among women probably alluding to the fact that 2 stomachs are biologically different o Koasati (an indigenous language spoken in Louisiana) lifting lawawhol for men; lakawhos for women perhaps implying that the lifting abilities of the 2 genders are different The use of one or the other word according to the biological gender of the speaker is considered to by socially IMP (important) Language spoken on the Island of Carib in the West Indies has a large # of prescribed doublets (pairs of words with the same meaning) are gender-coded: English Gloss Women say Men say Sun /kai/ /hueyu/ rain /kuyu/ /kunobu/ Canoe /kuriala/ /ukuni/ Manioc (cassava) /kawai/ /kiere/ Gender-coded variation is not only a matter of vocabulary differentiation, but often of differentiation in grammar or style as well o In Koasati, an Aboriginal language, the verb endings must be chosen according to the sec of the speaker: English Gloss Women say Men say lift it /lakaw ol/ /lakaw os/ he is saying /ka/ /kas/ dont sing /tailawan/ /tailawas/ he is building a fire /ot/ /o/ Gender-coded differences exist in English as well Pg 117 Psychologist Cheris Kramer noted in the 1970s that the speech of American women was characterized by a softer tone, fewer profanities, and a profusion of tag questions (ie. Dont you think? Isnt it?) o He showed the captions of cartoons taken from a # of magazines to a group of college students (25 men, 25 women), asking them to guess the sex of the unshown speakers (of the captions) in the cartoons o Subjects classified the captions according to male & female speech characteristics, as instructed to do, with no hesitation o As expected, cartoons with tags were assigned to the female gender more often than not; profanities to men Some societies, grammatical gender often mirrors perceptions of biological gender roles (mentioned in Ch2) o In English word for general human being was man o Old English had separate words to distinguish the latter: wer meant adult male & wif meant adult female waepman meant adult male person & wifman meant adult female person wifman evolved into modern word women & wif narrowed its meaning to modern wife The word man then replaced wer & waepman as a specific term distinguishing an adult male from an adult female, but continued to be used in generalizations referring to human beings in general The end result of merging & has been the effect of rendering females invisible Changes made to the English language over the last dexades have attempted to correct this in-bulit problem chairperson, first-year student & humanity (instead of chairman, freshman & mankind) Bias still exists still refer to a female waiter as waitress & to female bachelor as bachelorette MARKEDNESS THEORY Pg117 The original idea of linguists was to distinguish the role played by linguistic structures within the language Markedness theory Differences in social roles are often marked by differences in vocabulary & grammatical structure Pg118 Indefinite article in English a & an /a/ /n/ A boy An egg A girl An island A friend An apple A mother An opera a -- unmarked (allpmorph /a/ occurs before a morpheme beginning with a consonant most typical representative of a class non-specific) an-- marked (allpmorph /n/ occurs before a morpheme beginning with a vowel conditioned or exceptional member specific) When markedness features occur in the area of grammatical gender, social repercussions tend to ensure In italian o Masculine plural form of nouns referring to ppl is the unmarked one, referring (non-specifically) to any person, male or female o Feminine plural form of nouns referring to ppl is the marked one, referring only to female Masculine Plural Form Feminine Plural Form i turisti = all tourists, males & females le turiste = frmale tourists gli amici = all friends, males & females le amiche = female friends i bambini = all children, males & females le bambine = female children gli studenti = all students, males & le studentesse = female students females The grammatical gender system of a language such as Italian and Romance languages is said to be marked sexually when it requires that make human beings be named with the masculine gender & that female human beings be named with the feminine gender For inanimate referents, the conventional view is that gender assignment is unpredictable& therefore arbitrary Pg119 Markedness is considered to be irrelevant in the above case o Ex: there appears to be no natural link between the grammatical gender of a word like Italian casa (feminine) & its referent, house The unmarked form in both Italian & English is the masculine gender is a cue that Italian & English society is historically make-centred In societies (or communities) where the masculine gender is the unmarked form, it is the men who tend to be in charge of social processes (family lineage patterns, surnaming patterns in marriage) In societies (or communities) where the feminine gender is the unmarked form, it seems that women are typically the ones in charge o This frequent finding seems to suggest that grammatical structure mirrors social structure o As King aptly puts it, in societies where the masculine is the unmarked form in grammar, men have traditionally been the political leaders, the most acclaimed writers, the grammarians, & the dictionary makers, & it is their world view that is encoded in language linguistic activism is likely to be an effective way for setting things right
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