LINGUIST List 2.394

Friday, 9 August 1991

Disc: Gender, Passive

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  1. Ron Hofmann, Sex & Gender, & Register
  2. Geoffrey Russom, Re: The Perfect Passive Continuous

Message 1: Sex & Gender, & Register

Date: 06 Aug 91 11:42:38 EDT
From: Ron Hofmann <71721.2655%CompuServe.COMRICEVM1.RICE.EDU>
Subject: Sex & Gender, & Register
Thank all for the comments on gender & sex. Although it is an innately
interesting topic, the responses (vols 356 & 358) made me feel like I
have been sleeping on an ant-hole & only now awoke; the silly computer
here swallowed vol 358, & it raised some serious questions.
I guess I betrayed my innocence by not knowing that 'gender' is used as
Amy did in anthropology & socio-linguistics. I still have problems,
however, that I'll get to shortly. And Michael C's comment rings true;
sex in the popular language refers to intercourse, unless it is on an
application or an income-tax form. I'll be more careful, at least when
talking to students, but need we follow popular usage in technical
Celso considers whether 'he' might be marked masculine, but in linguistic
terms, I have trouble with this. "Will anyone who wants a baby please
raise his hand?" does not (yet) preclude women from raising their hands,
does it? But a man would be something else to raise his hand if 'his'
were replaced by 'her'. I conclude that we still use the masculine
pronouns for unspecified sex (ie groups of mixed sex & people whose sex
is not known), though I admit that the relaxed rendition of this
question would have 'anybody' & 'your' or 'their', suggesting an
avoidance of masculine pronouns for indeterminant sex. We seem to be
moving toward a state where 'he' is also marked for sex, but are we
there yet?
For most European languages, where grammatical gender is an everpresent
fact of speaking, I find it hard even to try to use 'gender' for 'sex';
Fr"le/les professeur(s)" are nothing more or less than masculine
(gender) when their referents are of mixed or unknown sex, or even
female. The terminology used by Amy works fine for English, Chinese &
Japanese, but what do les sociolinguistes on the continent do? Or their
American counterparts when discussing those social structures?
Celso objected to my (admittedly ad-hoc) labelling 2 gross variants of
transvestite speech as masculine & feminine. We can expect (as
external observers & linguists) that a constructed feminine style will
probably miss minor points of true feminine speech, & may well include
some markers of transvestism as well. Yet as labels for 2 grossly
distinct registers [see below] of a transvestite, masculine/feminine
seem more apt. There is, of course, no implication that the world is
neatly divided into masculine & feminine speech, or even that there is
any feature that all women (or men) share. Both appear obviously false.
Simply that a particular person may have 2 registers aptly called their
masculine & feminine registers.
on 'register'
Jim Willce (misspelled in retaliation), & Amy too, seem to suggest that
because a human being can imitate a style of speech (often used in
derision, in quoting or play-acting what the person might say), that it
is a register. Doesn't that render the term almost useless? It appears
to make every conceivable variation of language a register. I can
imitate a nobleman, or even JF Kennedy's remark about what you can do for
your country, & even in my *poor* rendition of his dialect, it carries
better. Or if I imitate (& exaggerate) the ups & downs of my wife's
angry intonations, that is a register? There is no doubt that human
beings can imitate more or less well what they hear, even monkey cries,
but I had assumed that a register was more than an imitation.
Actually, I sympathesize with M-L Cosgrave's problem; sex doesn't
determine the way one talks, but along with Azevedo, I would prefer not
to call these register differences. His[sex-unmarked] expressions of
'male talk/female talk' are nice, but wouldn't it be better to get away
from associations with sex which are only typical at best? Amy seems to
be heading in that happy direction, isolating solidarity/dominance
distinctions (which are usually but not always associated with
female/male); I only objected to her use of 'gender', which she herself
messed up (corrected at the end of vol 2-339.2). Alice Freed is also
freeing herself of focus on sex (or "gender") & turning to the
differences themselves.
>From my observations of voice qualities in Japan, Jim, the 'coarse'
voice quality that Ochs noted correlates with incomplete closure of
consonants & is *not* common among professional classes, except if drunk
or adolescent: it looks like a mark of masculinity. Moreover, there
are several distinct feminine voice qualities, appropriate to different
stations in life (bar-hostess, sales-clerk/telephone operator, mother,
pre-marriage, schoolgirl, & maybe more -- no substitutions allowed
without considerable wonderment). The bar-hostess usually has a throaty
husky quality, not too different from Ochs's male voice, & because it
seems to stay even in the day-time, I hesitate to call it a register.
No doubt most Jp men can make a stab at imitating most of these, but I
rather doubt that many men could make a convincing rendition of even one
of them. Some can, especially the modern Japanese version of the story-
teller, as it is his trade. In contrast, a housewife does have (at
least) 2 clear registers, mother & formal (switched to instaneously,
unconsciously on picking up a ringing telephone), complete with
different voice qualities. If the term register has been devalued to
mean 'a variation from one's "usual" style of speaking' (however one
might try to define or to identify 'usual'), could you tell me what term
I should be using for 'a distinct & stable style of speech used
regularly by an individual (or group) on appropriate occasions'?
 ...Ron Hofmann Ab0665JpnKnzw1.Bitnet
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Message 2: Re: The Perfect Passive Continuous

Date: Wed, 07 Aug 91 10:00:00 EDT
From: Geoffrey Russom <>
Subject: Re: The Perfect Passive Continuous
I seem to have a stylistic constraint against two forms of the same
"be" root in phrases like "the car had been being cleaned." On the
other hand, "the car had been getting cleaned" seems perfectly felicitous
to me. "The car was being cleaned" seems just fine, perhaps because
"was" and "being" use different roots. Word choice doesn't seem to
depend on aspectual features of "get" passives as opposed to "be" passives
-- in fact, "get" passives are not too natural with cars, so the fact
that I prefer "get" in the sentence above must have more to do with
elegant variation. The least problematic constructions are of course
those like "I had been getting injured on the ski slopes for years,"
where my irresponsible hot-dogging is implicated.
 -- Rick Russom
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