LINGUIST List 14.2723

Thu Oct 9 2003

Review: Pragmatics/Socioling: Hellinger & Bu�mann

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  1. Giampaolo Poletto, Gender Across Languages

Message 1: Gender Across Languages

Date: Thu, 09 Oct 2003 00:58:52 +0000
From: Giampaolo Poletto <>
Subject: Gender Across Languages

Hellinger, Marlis and Hadumod Bu�mann, eds. (2003) Gender
Across Languages: The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men,
Volume 3, John Benjamins Publishing Company, Impact: Studies in
Language and Society.

Announced at

Giampaolo Poletto, University of P�cs, Hungary.

[For reviews of the first two volumes in this series, see and -- Eds.]

The third volume of a contrastive-oriented cross-linguistic ongoing
project and reference work, Gender across languages, collects further
systemic descriptions and analyses of gender-related issues in
structurally and socio-culturally diversely grounded languages.
Investigations on their linguistic representations have so far
considered 30 languages. The focus is on personal nouns and pronouns.
The framework is detailed in the editors' The linguistic
representation of women and men (1-25).

Linguistic manifestations of gender are interpreted as the discursive
result of ''doing gender'' in specific socio-cultural-contexts. That
contributes to a multidimensional theory of communication, hopefully
devising the interaction between linguistic expressions and some
parameters, namely ethnicity, culture, social status, setting,
discourse functions, unrepresented in a direct or unambiguous way (see
Bing & Bergvall, 1996), and of the same importance as extra-linguistic
gender. Functional properties are envisioned without focusing on
formal, semantic and historical issues exclusively.

Together with gender-related structures, such as word-formation,
especially derivation and compounding, agreement, pronominalization,
coordination, gender-related messages have been examined: address
forms, idiomatic and metaphorical expressions, proverbs, female/male
discourse. Trying not to impose a western perspective, the same issues
are discussed within a unique terminological and methodological
framework. Chapters develop as follows: 1. opening: language examined,
topic, author, affiliation, index; 2. content: historical
introduction, structural and functional properties; 3. conclusion:
summary, tendencies, 4. areas of further research; 5. notes,

Variations in content are due to language-specific properties and to
the state of the research on language and gender in a given country.
Essays are original contributions and contain important
bibliographical and indexical material. The aim addressing the reader
is to provide inevitably selective material, sufficiently illustrating
the diversity and complexity of linguistic representations of gender
across languages, either with grammatical gender or ''genderless'' or
with different areal, typological and historical affiliations.

The goal of scholarship in this area is to outline the general - and
universal - principles that the formal and functional manifestations
of gender in the area of human reference follow; and to have the
theoretical and empirical foundations for statements about gendered
structures in languages specified. Furthermore, in the context of
language planning, observed gender-related tendencies of variation,
change and eventually language reform provide guidelines to emphasize
the interaction between structural/linguistic prerequisites and
social, cultural and political conditions determining gender
relationships in a community, along with either the development of
positive attitudes towards non-sexist alternatives (see Smith, 1973),
or the acknowledgement of redefined and depoliticized feminist
meanings (see Ehrlich & King, 1994). Masculine/male expressions are
the default choice for human reference in almost any context, overtly
in gender languages, more covertly in genderless languages, despite
their possibilities for egalitarian and gender-neutral expressions, an
observation that underlies traditional theories of gender (see Baron,
1986). There is a need for comparative analyses, based on adequate
descriptions of a large number of languages, to develop a more global
view, with the awareness that white middle class North American
English cannot be regarded as representative for other languages also.

Issues are interdisciplinary, and the material presented is thus
expected to contribute to the debate on them from a multifaceted
perspective, sociolinguistic, text-linguistic, historical,
psycholinguistic. The terminology relevant to ''gender class'' and
''gender language'' has been redefined. Within the framework of
nominal classification, given that some languages analysed have none,
the two major types are classifier and noun class languages. The
latter are not synonymous (see Craig, 1994) for the majority included
in the project. In ''gender languages'' or ''languages with
grammatical gender'' there are usually two or three ''gender
classes''; the agreement of nouns with other word classes occurs
within and without the noun phrase; class membership is not arbitrary
in animate/personal reference; there is a correspondence between
gender class and lexical/referential gender of personal nouns and
nouns. Noun class languages, such as Swahili, have more classes than
gender languages, instead, nouns explicitly carrying markers of class
membership, extensive agreement on other word classes.

A central distinction concerns grammatical gender, or the gender-fixed
noun control of the agreement with some gender-variable satellite
element; lexical gender, or the lexical female- or male-specific overt
or covert marking, with no hint at a binary objectivist view;
referential gender, or the relation between linguistic expressions and
a non-linguistic reality; ''false generics'', or the neutralization of
gender-specific personal nouns or nouns in specific contexts, such as
idiomatic expressions, referred to as ''generic masculines'' for
''gender languages'', ''male generics'' when languages are genderless;
social gender, or the category of ''the socially imposed dichotomy of
masculine and feminine roles and character traits'' (Kramarae &
Treichler, 1985:173).

CZECH Communicating gender in Czech (27-57) Svtlamejrkov�

This Western Slavic gender language has a more inflected nature than
other Slavic languages, which is more evident in the noun, with both
paradigmatic and syntagmatic features, and the verb. Czech, more
systematically than other languages, expresses the gender of the
referent, speaker and addressee, something which deserves further

DANISH Equal before the law - unequal in language (59-85) Kirsten
Gomard, Mette Kun�e

After the 15th century masculine and feminine gender merge into a
common gender, the 75% of all nouns (see Hansen, 1967); the remaining
have a neuter gender. Human nouns may belong to both. Such structural
properties have eased the adoption of gender-fair language use, with a
language tendency towards neutralisation, which has remarkably
increased gender-indefinite human nouns (see Jarvad, 1995). As
language reveals attitudes and somehow influences on cognition and
perception (see Hamilton, 1997), this tendency should be socially and
linguistically revised.

FRENCH Gender in French (87-117) Structural properties, incongruencies
and asymmetries Elmar Schafroth

Sharing few similarities with other Romance languages, as to
phonological and grammatical criteria of typological classifications,
French presents the ''prespecifying analytical type'' in many
paradigms, the postspecifying synthetical way marking the grammatical
gender on nouns and adjectives, a marked discrepancy between spelling
and pronunciation. Interdisciplinary studies are releaved to be
lacking and needed, with reference to gender-relevant questions and

FRENCH Gender and language politics in France (119-139) Elisabeth Burr

Late proposals of law and bills have represented positive steps in the
direction of a linguistic equal treatment of women and men with high-
level professions, functions, grades, titles, partly as a result of
politics in favour of a less gender-biased language use (see Burr,
1999a, b). Many ideas on the difference between why and how women and
men are named have still to be questioned, along with the concept that
personal nouns form human relationships, confirm someone's identity,
define their value in a linguistic community (Houdebine, 1987).

GERMAN Endangering female visibility in German (141-174) Hadumod
Bu�mann, Marlis Hellinger

In Modern German, which maintains an inflectional system with four
cases, with three grammatical genders, there is a tendency towards
more agreement between grammatical and referential gender, with
personal feminines used for female reference, by reason of the
productivity and neutral connotation of the derivational suffix
-in. The linguistic visibility of women is officially supported,
although the question on the impact on spoken and more informal
domains of German is still unanswered.

GREEK Women, gender and Modern Greek (175-199) Theodossia Soula-

The Greek diglossia dhimotiki vs katharevousa originates in the
Hellenistic times and ends in 1976, when a law makes the ''Modern
Greek (demotic)''. Along with the fall of the political junta, the law
has a strong impact on the language. Remarks focus here on the variety
referred to as Standard Modern Greek, where gender bias has been
reduced, due to some legislative acts. Nevertheless, changes have to
be furtherly assessed and counterchanges adequately backed.

JAPANESE Gender structures in Japanese (201-225) Janet S.Shibamoto

As to this typologically SOV agglutinating genderless language, with a
high degree of alternatives of writing and saying the same thing,
Japanese women's and men's speech exhibit somewhat different
phonological properties. As a pervasive and salient category in
society, gender is represented as binary, which the research on
language and gender has to consider, not to lose touch ''with most
people's experience in reality'' (Preisler, 1998:285). Women's
language - joseigo - is to be furtherly investigated, in relation to
the rapid social changes affecting gendered language structures and

JAPANESE Women's language as a group identity marker in Japanese (227-
238) Sachiko Ide

Current female speech is viewed in a historical perspective, which
intends to support the hypothesis that the source of women's ''more
polite'' language marks the difference in their role rather than in
their status. This perspective helps shed light on disregarded
positive aspects, such as the function of women's language as a group
identity marker and a marker of the speaker's position in society.

ORIYA Linguistic and social cultural implications of gendered
structures in Oriya (239-257) Kalyanamalimi Sahoo

In this Indo-Aryan language, belonging to the Indo-Iranian branch of
the Indo-European language family and originating in the New
Indo-Aryan third stage of the development of the Indo-Aryan family,
nouns or adjectives carry markers of semantic or referential gender,
whereas pronouns do not. Socio-cultural implications refer to the
structure of society, the difference between social groups, the
consequent treatment of women and men. Feminist movements in Orissa
intend to enhance the quality of women's life, also by creating terms
through morphological and syntactic strategies. Many questions on
women and minorities arise, each representing an area of further
research, relevant to how and whether gender-related socio-cultural
facts are reflected in language use.

POLISH Language and gender in Polish (259-285) Gabriela Koniuszaniec,
Hanka Baskowska

In this West Slavic inflected gender language, declensional paradigms
have two nominal and pronominal main types. The fact that women
achieve higher positions and ranks has led to enact strategies to back
still powerful male bias in the language system and use: feminisation
and neutralisation are the major. The implementation of the latter
would less contradict the principle of economy in language use, as the
application of the former would imply a repeated splitting, given the
inflectional nature of Polish.

SERBIAN The expression of gender in Serbian (287-309) Elke Hentschel

The events of the 1990s have divided Yugoslavia into three states with
their own variety of Serbo-Croatian, no more describable as unitarian,
and consequent language policies. The focus is here on Serbian,
officially written only in Cyrillic; the Latin alphabet with the
diacritic signs is used. Nouns denoting living beings are lexically
male- and female-specific; gender-indefinite words for children or
young animals are neuter. To most speakers' indifference towards or
rejection of feminine names, feminists respond proposing how to handle
the issue of female invisibility (see Savi,1998). Gender-related
linguistic problems are still of marginal interest, in all three
countries, and the future, for the Serbian, is hardly predictable.

SWAHILI Perceptions of gender in Swahili language and society
(311-337) Rose Marie Beck

A Bantu language of the Sabaki subgroup, belonging to the Niger-Congo
language family, Swahili is an agglutinative language, with affixes
carrying grammatical and semantic information, and an elaborate noun
class system. There are no semantic clusters referring to femaleness
or maleness. Basic and kinship terms appear as fairly symmetrically
distributed. If the domain of women, more informally accessible, is a
negatively valued speech, men's, more formally addressed, is
silence. Researches on language and gender are still lacking.

SWEDISH Linguistic and public attitudes towards gender in Swedish
(339- 368) Antje Hornscheidt

In this North Germanic language, with reference to common and neuter
gender nouns, gender assignment is not systematic. The linguists'
attitude to ignore or ridicule feminist language change has weakened
the public perception towards the existence of sexism in language.
Tendencies to both neutralisation and gender-specification can be
observed in written material only, not in spoken language usage, in
representative statements, in lacking reliable researches, which
should be definitely directed to perception studies in a comparative
and multifaceted perspective.


Essays can be read in themselves, as concise but concrete
contributions to a debate on gender-related specific issues many times
lacking adequate researches, if any. At the same time, they can be
read as parts of a more comprehensive work, attempting to draw the
attention on the fact that a more global and open perspective should
be adopted to back a uniforming attitude, asserting the
representativity of white middle class North American English. The
main counterargument is to show and foster the richness of complexity
and diversity.


Baron, Dennis (1986) Grammar and gender. New Haven, CT: Yale
University Press.

Bing, Janet & Victoria L. Bergvall (1996) ''The question of questions:
Beyond binary thinking''. In Victoria L. Bergvall & Janet M. Bing &
Alice F. Freed (eds) Rethinking language and gender research: Theory
and practice. London: Longman, 1-30.

Burr, Elizabeth (1999 a) '''Comme on est mal dans sa peau, on peut se
sentir mal dans ses mots.' Das Selbstverst�ndnis der Fraen und
die franz�sische Sprachpolitik''. Linguistik Online 1 (December
20, 2002).

Burr, Elizabeth (1999 b) ''Geschlechtergerechter Sprachgebrauch in
Frankreich. Was bestimmt die Sprachpolitik?''. Grenzg�nge 6:

Craig, Colette G. (1994) ''Classifier languages''. In Ronald E. Asher
(ed.) The Encyclopedia of language and linguistics. Vol.2 Oxford:
Pergamon, 565-569.

Ehrlich, Susan & Ruth King (1994) ''Feminist meanings and the
(de)politicization of the lexicon''. Language in Society 23: 59-76.

Hamilton, Mykol C. (1997) ''The huwon race: Sexist language as a tool
of dominance''. In Friederike Braun & Ursula Pasero (eds)
Communication of gender. Kommunication von Geschlecht. Pfaffenwailer:
Centaurus, 147- 163.

Hansen, Aage (1967) Moderne Dansk [Modern Danish] 2. K�benhavn:
Grafisk Forlag.

Houdebine, Anne-Marie (1987) ''Le fran�ais auf�minin''. La
linguistique 23: 13-34.

Jarvad, Pia (1995) Nye ord - hvofor og hvordan? [New words - why and
how?]. K�benhavn: Gyldendal.

Kramarae, Cheris & Paula A. Treichler (1985) A feminist dictionary.
Boston: Pandora.

Preisler, Bent (1998) ''Review article: Deconstructing 'feminist
linguistics'''. Journal of Sociolinguistics 2: 281-295.

Savi, Svenka (1998) ''ena sakrivena jezikom medija:
Kodeks neseksisticke upotrebe jezika'' [The woman hidden by the
language of the media: A codex for non-sexist language
use]. enske Studijie [Women Studies] 10: 89-132.

Smith, David (1973) ''Language, speech and ideology: A conceptual
framework''. In Roger W. Shuy & Ralph W. Fasold Language attitudes:
Current trends and prospects. Washington, DC: Georgetown University
Press, 97-112.


Bachelor in Foreign Languages and Literature, English and Russian, and
Humanities in Italy, with an eleven years' teaching experience of
Italian and English in Italy and abroad, Giampaolo Poletto is third
year Applied Linguistics PhD student at the University of P�cs,
in Hungary, where he is working on a research project which attempts
to tie a pragmatic and psycholinguistic analysis of Italian verbal
humor to a didactic synthesis for Italian S/FL 11-to-18 aged students,
along with the concept of implicitness, in humor and in language
acquisition; that should sort of collect teaching experiences and
studies, feed and open work and research programmes and perspectives.
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