Sexism in the Language System • Sexist language: Language that illustrates the imbalance between the sexes (sexism embedded in the language) and they ways in which language represents and perpetuates gender stereotypes • Insults • Marked: deviates from norm, signaled by additional information. Unmarked: neutral, represent the norm. • Lion Lioness • Prince Princess • Waiter Waitress
Symmetry: balance between expressions. Asymmetry: imbalance between expressions • Androcentric view of language where male pronoun = norm = form of asymmetry • Asymmetry in address forms: Mr, Ms, Miss, Mrs
Semantic derogation: way in which words take on a secondary, connotative meaning that is negative • gentleman lady • bachelor spinster or old maid
English used in Sexist Ways • Language represents gender in our everyday discourses • Discourse: language use shaped by and shaping ideologies and belief systems • Discourse (Foucault): “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak”; language produces particular ways of viewing the world • “ideology in linguistic form” • How the world is shaped by language use • Example: advertisements construct a multimodal discourse on gender that shapes cultural conceptions of what gender is and should be
Conversational Strategies of Men and Women • Verbosity: measured by number and lengths of turns – contributions to the conversation • In academic environment, men found to be more talkative than women • In private settings, women more talkative – worked at starting conversations and asking questions to keep the conversation going
Interruptions • Zimmerman and West (1975) found men interrupt women systematically in mixed-sex interactions, exerting interactional dominance.
However, the difference between overlap and interruption needs to be made • Overlap: short instances of simultaneous speech, occurring at what might seem to be the end of a turn or utterance • Not considered to be impolite; can be seen as supportive • Minimal responses such as, mhm, could be a sign of active listenership (also known as back channel support) • Delayed minimal responses might suggest that the listener is not paying attention • Interruption: simultaneous speech that stops the person speaking
Hedges: linguistic devices that “dilute” an assertion. Robin Lakoff’s work supported the idea that women’s speech is more tentative than men’s. • “I think,” “like,” “ you know,” “maybe” • Can have multifunctional value • “You know” can be assertive in getting the listener’s attention or including their knowledge/feelings in the speech act
Explanations for Differences • Deficit: women’s language is deficient because it lacks the assertiveness and/or neutrality of men’s way(s) of speaking (Lakoff 1975). • Feminist goal: to get women access to more power • Fueled need for assertiveness training
Dominance theory: “spoken language reflects and perpetuates gender inequality” (108). • Fishman (1980) and DeFrancisco (1991) suggest men are mor dominant than women in mixed-sex interactions, while women end up doing all the “interactional shitwork” that keeps the conversation going. • “In situations where power is at stake, where women are found to have different (speaking) rights than men, where they are interrupted more, have to fight harder to hold on to their turn or to be heard” (109), the ‘dominance theory’ continues to exist. • Academic electronic discussion groups (Herring 1992) • workplace
Difference theory: differences are caused by two different subcultures (men’s and women’s) resulting from being socialized differently, “likening mixed-sex interaction to talk between speakers of different languages or national/ethnic/cultural backgrounds” (109). • Celebratory approach to women’s ways of speaking • Use of talk to achieve intimacy and friendship versus assertions of conversational dominance • We prefer to see ourselves as “different” as opposed to “oppressed/oppressor” (110).
Social constructionist: we “construct” ourselves as masculine or feminine in the way we speak. An example of linguistic agency. • Many factors influence how we speak in particular contexts/situations • No one single factor absolutely determines how we speak