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Forms of address and ‘ male as norm ’ in the Italian parliament. Federica Formato RiGLS , Lancaster University 6 th November 2013. Outline of the talk. Sexism in English Sexism in Italian (past) Sexism in Italian (present) Methodology

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forms of address and male as norm in the italian parliament

Forms of address and ‘male as norm’ in the Italian parliament

Federica Formato

RiGLS, Lancaster University

6th November 2013

outline of the talk
Outline of the talk
  • Sexism in English
  • Sexism in Italian (past)
  • Sexism in Italian (present)
  • Methodology
  • Analysis: quantitative results and qualitative insights.
  • Conclusions: (to what extent) is it sexism?
sexism and language feminist movements in u s
Sexism and language (feminist movements in U.S.)
  • The term ‘sexism’ appears in the 70s (racism too!)

e.g. father/husband surname, nicknames and generic terms

(Wodak 1997, Litosseliti 2006, Jule 2012).

A generic term is a noun or noun phrase that refers to

  •  a whole class, or
  • any member of a class as a representative of its class.
what does sexism entail
What does sexism entail?

“A body of ideas and phrases which others have expressed and which are presented as ‘common sense’” (Mills and Mullany 2011,145)

overt and indirect sexism in english
Overt and Indirect Sexism in English
  • Overt:
  • Discriminatory words used against women (or men?)


Detrimental constructions of women (and men?) but also more recently of gays and lesbians

overt sexism forms of address mr miss mrs
Overt Sexism:forms of Address (Mr, Miss, Mrs)

(Baker 2008, Litosseliti 2006, Mills 2007, Mills and Mullany 2011, Pauwels 1998, 2003, Sunderland 2006)

forms of address and workplaces
Forms of Address and workplaces
  • Studies show that the feminization of job-titles has been (additionally) disadvantageous for women.
    • Negative perception of the language
    • Negative perception of the user
    • Exacerbation of women’s inequality
why is it more difficult in italian and in some languages
Why is it (more) difficult in Italian (and in some languages?)

Grammatical Gender:

(commonly – and this is how we native speakers of Italian tend to associate grammatical gender to words)

Masculine singular: ending in –o, medico, deputato

Feminine singular: ending in –a, segretaria, infermiera

(auto-criticism: meta-sexism, I found really hard to find good examples!)

Masculine plural: ending in –i, medici, deputati

Feminine plural: ending in –e, segretarie, infermiere

Epicene nouns (lack of gender): ending in -e Presidente, Onorevole

(satellite elements , i.e. articles, adjectives, past participle make these nouns gender-specific): La onorevole, La presidente

sexism in italian
Sexism in Italian

Raccomandazioni per un uso non sessista della lingua Italiana (Sabatini 1986, 1987, 1993)

In summary: avoidance of generic terms, asymmetrical use of terms referring to men/women, use of feminine marked forms in -essa.

  • (Violi 1986, Lepschy 1988)
  • - Mrs Teacher, where does the feminine form come from?
  • Starting from the masculine: one changes the ending vowel ‘o’ with ‘a’
  • Mrs Teacher, and where does the masculine form come from?
  • The masculine comes from nowhere. It exists.

Robustelli’s guidelines (2012) for a non-sexist use of Italian language in administrative language, also defined as strategied’intervento(intervention strategies):

  • Use of grammatical gender when referring to a specific person, e.g. Al dottore + masculine name, Alladottoressa + feminine name.
  • Use of (a) woman’s visibility strategy in reference to people collectively; Robustelli does not take into consideration male firstness, e.g. tutti i consiglieri e tutte le consigliere (all the male and female counsellors).
  • Use of strategy that hides the gender of the participants, e.g. il corpodocente (the teaching body)
  • Use of neutral terms for non- gender definable people, e.g. le persone (people)

Robustelli 2012, 20-28

what are forms of address why is it interesting to study them in the parliament
What are forms of address? Why is it interesting to study them (in the parliament)?

Forms at the beginning or inside politicians’ intervention, addressed to specific people through institutional titles e.g. Presidente (Chair) and Ministro (Minister).

Parliamentary forms of address convey speakers’ strategic instances, namely they aim to ‘pursue their own agendas and undermine political opponents, as well as to challenge institutional roles and hierarchical authority’ (Ilie 2010, 885)

methodology data

14 debates on violence against women (2008-2011)

**The Chair (one man) and Vice-Chairs (one woman, three men) have been excluded as speakers as they only pronounce ritual gender-free forms; however, they are included as addresses. There are two Ministers speaking in these debates, one woman (Mara Carfagna (Minister of Equal Opportunities) and one man (Roberto Maroni, Minister of Interior)

research questions
Research Questions
  • What marked and unmarked forms of address do male and female MPs use in 2008-2011 debates on violence against women?
  • What plural forms are used by male and female MPs to address single- or mixed- gender groups?
  • What feminine marked and generic unmarked forms are used to address female politicians by male and female MPs?
    • Are pair-terms such as Signor Ministro and Signora Ministro used in similar ways when addressing the female Minister?
wordsmith 5 0 queries following manual analysis
Wordsmith 5.0. Queries (following manual analysis)
  • ‘Presidente’, Presidente (Chair), Onorevole Presidente (Honourable Chair), Signor Presidente (Mr Chair), Signora Presidente (Mrs Chair), Presidente + Surname (Chair + Surname).
  • ‘Ministr*’ Signor Ministro (Mr Minister), Ministro (Minister), Signor Ministro + surname (Mr Minister + surname), Gentile Ministro (Dear/Kind Minister), Caro Ministro (Dear Minister), Signora Ministro (Mrs Ministro) and Onorevole Ministro (Honourable Minister), Ministro + surname (Minister+ surname), Signor Ministro + name of the Ministry (Mr Minister + name of the ministry). It also provides occurrences of Ministra, however these never occur as forms of address.
  • ‘Collegh*’ colleghi (colleagues), colleghe (female colleagues), onorevoli colleghi (honourable colleagues), cari colleghi (dear colleagues), care colleghe (dear female colleagues), colleghi presenti (present colleagues), colleghi della maggioranza (colleagues from the government), Signori colleghi (Mr colleagues), onorevole collega (honourable female colleague), colleghe e colleghi (female and male colleagues), colleghi e colleghe (male and female colleagues), onorevoli colleghe e colleghi (honourable female and male colleagues), onorevoli colleghi e colleghe (honourable male and female colleagues), cari colleghi e care colleghe (dear male and female colleagues) and care colleghe e cari colleghi (dear female and male colleagues).
  • ‘Rappresentant* del governo’rappresentante del governo (Representative of the government), Signor rappresentante del governo (Mr Representative of the government), Signor rappresentanti del governo (Mr representatives of the government)
  • ‘Esponenti del governo’ (Representatives of the government)
  • ‘Signori del governo’ (Gentlemen of the government)
  • ‘Signor* sottosegretario’ (Mr Undersecretary)
  • ‘Onorevol*’ for Onorevole+ surname (Honourable+ surname), Onorevole deputati (Honourable deputies).

Unmarked forms. In this category I group masculine unmarked forms, e.g. Signor Ministro (Mr Minister), Signori del Governo (Mr Representatives of the Government).

  • Gender splitting. In this category I list the occurrences that have both masculine and feminine forms, e.g. colleghe e colleghi (female and male colleagues)
  • Singular and plural feminine marked forms. These are female forms of traditionally masculine used forms in parliamentary environments. SignoraMinistro (Mrs Ministro) and SignoraPresidente.
  • Epicene forms. These lack in grammatical gender and they can be associated with men and women, e.g. Presidente (Chair) (gender specificity can be derived by satellite elements).

Cluster of forms of address (Bottom-up approach)

results plural marked feminine forms
Results/ Plural Marked Feminine Forms

Plural marked feminine forms: 2 occurrences - colleghe(female colleagues) and care colleghe (dear colleagues) from 2 female MPs (one from the left-wing PD and the other from right-wing PDL)

qualitative analysis
Qualitative Analysis

In this section, I discuss qualitative insights on pair-terms generic unmarked masculine terms and marked feminine terms, i.e. Signor Ministro/Signora Ministro

options and speaker s intentions
Options and speaker’s intentions
  • Use the generic masculine unmarked because it is the most common
  • this it does not challenge the status quo
  • Because it defends the speaker for being reproached or told off for using terms that might not be accepted by the addressee(s).
signor a ministro
Signor/a Ministro

Signor Ministro: 7 female MPs use 19 times Signor Ministro to address Mara Carfagna (mostly inside their speeches – 10/19),4 male MPs use it 4 times.

Signora Ministro: 3 female MPs use it 6 times, 2 male MPs use it 2 times


(1) Siamo deluse, Signor Ministro. Lo dico con grande franchezza, ma anche con grande serenità e, forse, anche in modo un po' dispiaciuto, perché il suo intervento, come gran parte delle premesse che sottostavano alla mozione del Popolo della Libertà, testimoniano una lontananza di merito. È una lontananza in contrasto con una delle caratteristiche proprie delle donne, la concretezza.

We are disappointed (female plural ending), Mr Ministro. I say this very frankly, but also with serenity and feeling sorry because your intervention, as most of the promises for the motions proposed by the PDL, is very far from merit. It’s a distance that is in contrast with one of the features of women, being concrete.

Sesa Amici


What more



(2) Signor Presidente, intervengo per un minuto soltanto, a parte il giudizio di dissenso, per dire una cosa al Ministro Carfagna.Signor Ministro, oggi non ha perso lei, con questa giornata di discussioni.Oggi qui dentro e fuori hanno perso le donne, che si aspettavano molto di più da lei e da tutti noi. Siamo stati capaci di approvare un provvedimento trasversale, quando era necessario. Lei doveva difendere questo suo provvedimento con tutte le sue forze e non poteva farlo inquinare da norme che sapeva che sarebbero state assolutamente respinte.

Mr President, I want to intervene for one minute only, not exclusively to express my disagreement but also to say something to Minister Carfagna.

Mr Minister, with today’s discussion on this topic, you weren’t the only one to lose. Today, inside and outside this place, women have lost, those who were expecting more from you and from us all. When necessary, we were able to have common goals and achievements. You had to defend this measure with all your strength and you did not have to let it polluted by norms that you knew where going to be rejected for sure.


signora ministro

(4) Lei, Ministro, ci ha rassicurato dicendo che le risorse si troveranno e noi oggi, nell'interesse unico delle donne, le facciamo un'apertura di credito che sono certa si impegnerà a rispettare, perché servono atti concreti da realizzare al più presto, in particolare alla luce dei tristi fatti di questi giorni.A tal proposito, signora Ministro, ho letto un suo intervento sul Corriere della Sera all'indomani della concessione degli arresti domiciliari ad uno dei presunti colpevoli del cosiddetto «stupro di capodanno» a Roma. In quell'intervento pronunciava parole indignate e dure nei confronti di chi si macchia di stupro e invocava per questa persona delle pene esemplari.Non ho alcun problema ad ammettere che ho condiviso le sue parole, però Onorevole Ministro mi sarei aspettata un suo intervento anche a seguito dell'agghiacciante battuta del Presidente del Consiglio. Sarebbe stato davvero importante perché il solo fatto che il Capo del Governo arrivi a fare una battuta su un tema come quello degli stupri denota che da parte del Presidente del Consiglio c'è una notevole difficoltà a comprendere la sofferenza che produce un atto di violenza sessuale.

You, Minister, have reassured us saying that economical resources can be found and we, today, in the only interest of women, are trusting you will make it happen, because there is a need for concrete actions especially in relation to the sad news coming in the last few days.

As regards to this matter, Mrs Minister, I have read your interview in Corrieredella Sera after the house arrest given to one of the alleged perpetrators of the ‘new year’s eve rape’. In that interview you were uttering angry and harsh words for people who commit rape and to appeal to exemplary punishments.

I do not have any problem in admitting I share your own words but Honourable Minister I would have expected your reaction also after the Prime Minister’s cruel joke. It would have been important because the fact itself that the Head of the Government could joke in such a way on the topic of rape, denotes that the Prime Minister has a huge difficulty in understanding how much pain sexual violence causes in its victims.


Signora Ministro

(3) In secondo luogo, signora Ministro, voglio ricordare che amministrazioni di parte diversa dalla mia - penso a quella della mia città, Milano - hanno comunque finanziato e continuano a finanziare questi centri proprio per segnalare l'importanza dell'intervento comune, e non di parte, sui temi della violenza alle donne

Secondly, Mrs Minister, I would like to remind you that different political oriented administrations – such as the ones in my city, Milan – have anyway have and are funding these centres in order to signals the importance of a collective intervention and not politically – oriented on the topic of violence against women.

De Biasi

signora ministro1
Signora Ministro:

VERY INTERESTING: Signora Ministro is a semi-marked form because the modification stays at (marital) status (Signora) and does not involve the profession (Ministro).

Is it a compromise? Is it a step to a fully feminine marked forms of address?

signora presidente
Signora Presidente

Signora Presidente, signora Ministro, Italia dei Valori e’ un partito notoriamente sensibile ai problemi della sicurezza.

Mrs Chair, Mrs Minister, Italy of Values is a party notoriously sensible to matters of security and safety.

Federico Palomba

  • Sabatini’s recommendations have not been completely taken on board by female and male MPs but something is slowly moving in terms of feminisation of terms – i.e. singular feminine marked (Signora Ministro) and plural split forms (colleghi e colleghe or colleghe e colleghi).
  • Can the use of these masculine unmarked forms be called overt sexism? Sexism in language is a deliberate (?)discrimination against a person or group of people based on gender; the forms of address here analysed seem to suffer from a latent sexism (male bias) andUnmarked forms for women seem to beperceived as neutral norm.
  • At present times more than one female politician is drawing attention on the matter; for instance the current female Chair of the Lower Chamber has recently asked to be address/called/referred to as La Presidente(the use of the female article for the epicene job-title Presidente) and the former Minister of Welfare who asked not to be referred to as LaFornero, where the female article is used (mainly in the North of Italy) to talk about female 3rd part in a conversation, ex. Ho parlato con la Fornero (I spoke with (the) Fornero).