LINGUIST List 2.358

Tuesday, 23 July 1991

Disc: Gender-Related Language

Editor for this issue: <>


  1. Michael Covington, Use of term "gender"
  2. Celso Alvarez-Caccamo, Re: Gender-Related Language
  3. Celso Alvarez-Caccamo, Re: Responses
  4. , Re: Responses
  5. , transvestites

Message 1: Use of term "gender"

Date: Sun, 21 Jul 91 15:53:47 EDT
Subject: Use of term "gender"
I do not think it's improper to use the term "gender" to refer to a person's
sex (male or female). Traditionally the word "sex" conveyed this meaning
very precisely, and "gender" was a term of grammar. Since the 1960s, however,
many native speakers take "sex" to mean "sexual intercourse" and "gender"
has become a clearer way of denoting the male-female distinction.
Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur...
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Message 2: Re: Gender-Related Language

Date: Sun, 21 Jul 91 17:34:20 PDT
From: Celso Alvarez-Caccamo <>
Subject: Re: Gender-Related Language
Sue Ervin-Tripp writes:
"Re the comment about grammatical vs. sociological gender. They are not
completely unrelated.
cf. "The connotations of gender" in WORD, (1962) 18: 249-261 for experimental
How about: Fatemeh Khosroshahi (1989), "Penguins don't care, but women
do: A social identity analysis of a Whorfian problem,"
Language_in_Society 18.4, 505-525. In a straightforward experiment,
college students read "sex-indefinite" sentences containing the
pronouns "he", "he or she", or "they", and they were asked to draw
what they read (including male and/or female figures). Overwhelmingly,
men tended to draw more male than female figures. Only women who
used what the author calls "reformed language," prompted by ideological
reasons (gender consciousness) drew proportionally more women than men.
To me, the experiment simply points to the fact that ideology mediates
behavior. For example, for one of the groups ("reformed-language women"),
"even the HE-paragraphs were interpreted mostly in terms of female
referents" (:517). This can mean only one of two things: either
(a) HE is indeed a gender-neutral pronoun, and female-identified women
read HE as `woman' while male-identified men read it as `man';
or (b) HE is markedly the masculine pronoun; female-identified women
read HE as `man,' but resisted to its alleged, gender-neutral meanings,
and marked gender identity by representing HE as `woman'.
Celso Alvarez-Caccamo
U.C. Berkeley
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Message 3: Re: Responses

Date: Sun, 21 Jul 91 18:13:26 PDT
From: Celso Alvarez-Caccamo <>
Subject: Re: Responses
I thought I could pass on some more comments on gender, but I can't.
Ron Hofmann writes:
	Your results look exciting, Amy, would like to hear more, but beware
	that unmodified, 'gender' has a long history of use in linguistics in
	a different way that you use it.
I'm quite sure that people working on gender and language are aware of
it. And they are dealing, incidentally, with gender roles, not sex roles.
	'Register' I thought was a style in the repetoire of a speaker that he
	might use on appropriate occasions; so masculine/feminine registers are
	appropriate only for transvestites, no?
I really don't think so. There you have a case of physiological male sex,
but a culturally specific gender. Transvestites' speech, when displaying
their gender identity, is not simply a "feminine" register: it would be,
in any case, a "transvestite performance register". It is *possible* (I'm
speculating) that some gender markers (e.g. prosodics, or vowel quality)
in the speech of some gay and/or transvestite men is acquired through early
socialization with/among women, through a sort of female-identification.
But we (inclusive we, by the way) should be very cautious when speculating
about this, particularly when we are not experts on the topic. It would no
doubt be easier for our dualistic minds if there existed only "male"
vs. "female" registers (and "formal" vs. "informal", "upper-class" vs.
"lower-class" dialects, etc.). But, fortunately, this doesn't seem to be
the case, no matter how hard we try to reduce the continua of social
meanings to neat categories.
Celso Alvarez-Caccamo
U.C. Berkeley
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Message 4: Re: Responses

Date: Mon, 22 Jul 91 09:46 PDT
From: <>
Subject: Re: Responses
In response to Hoffman's piece on gender, specifically "male/female register" w
hich he says must only apply to transvestite speech:
First, transvestite speech is a topic which might bear further research. James
 Weinrich's book *Sexual Landscapes* might puts this in context for the reader
as he explores homosexuality in an ethnographic way.
But, if Hoffman thinks that only transvestites can switch registers which may i
ndirectly index gender, he should consider Irvine's chapter in *Language and th
e politics of emotion* (Cambridge 1990) on how griots and nobles have certain r
egisters associated with them which are not limited to them. In the words of E
. Ochs (unpublished MS "Indexing Gender"), the relation between gender (or, in
the case of Irvine's study, class/caste) and language is "distributional and pr
obabilistic". M. Bakhtin's notion of "heteroglossia" stresses how speech is al
ways social, never completely owned by the speaker. If there is a way of speak
ing gently in Japanese which "indirectly indexes feminine gender" as Ochs says,
 it is nonetheless possible for a male to speak in this "voice" (in Bakhtin's s
ense). Ochs explores this in her ch. ("Indexicality and socialization") in *Cu
ltural Psychology* (Stigler, Shweder, and Herdt eds., Cambridge 1990).
 To sum up, linguistic anthropologists influenced by Bakhtin approach lingu
istic varieties (e.g. registers) as resources whose situational deployment inde
xes "voice"(in the sense of echoing a socially embedded tradition of speech).
To echo another's voice is to be in dialogue with them as well as with the imme
diately co-present interlocutor. A view of registers as complementary voices (
Irvine-- ref. above) renders outdated any notion of
one-to-one relations between biological sex or sociological gender
iological gender on the one hand and linguistic form on the other. If "outdate
d" is too strong, substitute something like "less useful".
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Message 5: transvestites

Date: Mon, 22 Jul 91 18:28 CDT
From: <>
Subject: transvestites
Ron Hofmann:
1. Yes. "gender", like many other formal linguistics terms (e.g. "subject",
"agency") has different meanings in different contexts.
2. Sociolinguistics and anthropological linguistics has a long tradition of
using "gender".
3. Well, I guess by that reasoning we are all transvestites. On the other hand,
if one doesn't collapse the constructs of "sex (organs usually are the
identifiers, but it gets muddy); sexual orientation, and gender, then we
are not all transexuals.
Amy Sheldon
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