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Date: Tue, 6 May 2003 10:45:39 -0400 (EDT) From: Tyler Kimball Anderson Subject: Language and Gender
Eckert, Penelope and Sally McConnell-Ginet (2003) Language and Gender, Cambridge University Press.
Tyler Kimball Anderson, The Pennsylvania State University.
OVERVIEW Though this introductory book includes ample information as to interest a reader familiar with the field of linguistics and gender, Eckert and McConnell-Ginet (EMG) specifically gear down the content so as to make it accessible to the non-linguist. The introduction is well written and concise. It starts out by giving an introduction into the study of gender and language, containing a clear discussion on the predominating theories in the field of gender and linguistics, namely the difference and the dominance approaches. Nevertheless, they show how these two views are so intrinsically linked as to disallow the exclusion of the one in a discussion on the other. They also help the reader understand the complexity of the whole issue of gender and language. Included in this introduction is a brief description of how gender is not a static property, but as we continue to change as human beings the way we portray ourselves--along with our gender--also changes. It is pointed out that the use of Male and Female is a troublesome dichotomy based on the fact that there are many who do not fit into one of these categories at all times (i.e. transgendered individuals).
Chapter 1 emphasizes the difference between gender and biological sex. Though biological sex can (usually) be physically determined, the gendering process is something that is performed. They point out how from birth a child is gendered when parents decide to dress the girl (female physiological sex) in a pink, frilly dress while a boy is placed in a baseball outfit. They point out how many researchers refer to physiological differences to stress the distinctions in the way the individual does gender. EMG nevertheless note that this desire to attribute gender differences to biological bases contributes to the blurring of the similarities in the way the two sexes communicate, leading to the exaggeration of the differences that exist in the speech of the two sexes. The rest of the chapter focuses on the ways in which we learn gender, with examples of what societal pressures influence us to say things in a gendered manner, and what pressures there are in maintaining these differences.
The second chapter deals with the language aspect of Language and Gender. It gives a highly accessible discussion on intrinsically linguistics topics like phonology and morphology as well as more localized sociolinguistic topics such as speech communities and communities of practice. Included in this section is an excellent discussion on Goffman's facework ideology. The chapter concludes by touching on the various problems with adhering to a particular framework. This is explained by making use of Wareing's "hall of mirrors". It is argued that when someone does linguistic research from one angle, all the results are distorted: one sees what one wishes to see. To view the full picture, one needs to consider that there are other ways of looking into the mirror.
Chapter 3 focuses on who gets the opportunity to speak and when, along with what happens to that information once it has been presented? EMG proceed to give examples of how gender, as well as a myriad of other factors, affects the entrance into discourse. The discussion then turns to specific types of speech acts, and how some activities are defined in particular ways depending on whether spoken by a woman or a man. The prime example is that of gossiping. The authors postulate that while a critical evaluation or commentary on absent individuals is seen as gossip when spoken by a woman, the same comment would be seen as a bonding experience when uttered by a man. The remainder of the chapter deals more specifically on how a speaker is impeded or assisted in entering information into the world of conversation.
In chapter 4 we are presented with a more in-depth look at the speech acts mentioned in chapter 3, with a specific interest in demonstrating how these accomplish gender, as well as what social relations are involved, and how all utterances are a part of larger, socially accomplished plans of action. They utilize Goffman's "facework" in showing how all utterances are constructed to posit either a positive or negative face, and then interface this definition with others such as Holmes's affective and instrumental talk.
The fifth chapter continues with the idea of how viewpoints are positioned in a conversation. The situating of our opinions differs depending on what role we take (i.e. teacher or student, judge or plaintiff, etc.), and the ability to enter these viewpoints into the conversation is also facilitated or hindered depending on the role we have. Throughout the remainder of the chapter, EMG break down the 1970s work by Robin Lakoff, going through how they consider a woman's language to hinder the way she is allowed to participate in conversation, or at least the credibility given to her speech.
Chapter 6 takes on the issue of how what we say implies much more than the information that is embedded in the words we use. They point out that what is included in this encoding process is a vast history of common experience. They show that in order to understand the full meaning of an utterance, one has to take what is encoded in a string of words in addition to what is implied. It is posited that presupposing based on gender (or any other trait) is not in and of itself a bad thing; in fact it is necessary in order to facilitate communication. If it were obligatory to always reconstruct conversation, we would be forever strangers with our interlocutor. The chapter concludes with a lengthy discussion on metaphors. They indicate how when we communicate we utilize information from one field (i.e. sports) and project it onto another field (i.e. sexual relations).
The seventh chapter deals with how we as speakers segregate our experiences into categories (i.e. male/female, glass/cup). They continue the chapter by positing areas in which there has been a history of label disputes, mainly focusing on the feminist movement. They show how differing cultures dissect and label items differently, and how categories narrow or expand in order to incorporate new items or experiences into them. It is shown how these categories are set up in order to contrast and highlight the differences between items. The authors then enter into an extended discussion on the types of contrasts that are involved in the creation of categories
Chapter 8 focuses on how we go about changing the ways in which we speak in order to portray a certain persona. EMG indicate that the way we speak caries with it a large amount of baggage, good and bad. We can indicate who we are and what attitudes we have toward a particular society based on the dialect we choose to utilize. The authors provide various examples of studies that illustrate how speakers communicate who they are, making specific reference to gender.
The final chapter continues on with the idea that who we become depends on the ideals we embrace. Gender forms part of this ideology. The style of speech that we use fashions the person we want to become (or think we want to become), and we can use a particular style to hide who we really are. The chapter ends with a provocative section inquiring as to where language and gender is headed. EMG specify that the past fifty years have been an era of change in gender relations, and that linguistic changes have been implicit in effectuating those changes.
SUMMARY AND CRITICAL EVALUATION Eckert and McConnell-Ginet provide the non-linguist with a highly accessible resource to the issues surrounding the interface of language and gender. Although the terminology used in the book is straightforward and easily understood by the non-linguist, there is one particular area that does deserve some clarification from EMG. In chapter 5, the term "epistemic modals" is given, however the authors fail to explain what it is that this refers to. An explanation is in order if they are desirous to make this section available to the non-linguist.
The organization of this book is excellent and generally keeps the reader engaged. However, in one particular location, the reader may become lost. In discussing the distinction between gender and biological sex, EMG decide to initiate the discussion with the former concept. I believe that most English speakers would not make the distinction between these two concepts, and therefore it seems practical to begin the discussion with the more widely accepted definition of biological sex. This will allow the reader to make the distinction between sex and gender without having their established understanding challenged.
EMG also provide numerous synopses of studies that have been done regarding how we utilize language to perform gender. The references are excellent for illustrating the topics at hand; nevertheless, some of the examples are controversial in and of themselves. I wonder whether it is necessary to utilize sexual relations in order to illustrate how we create metaphors. Are there not other, less offensive examples of ways we take from one field to communicate in another? The authors' constant reference to sexual relations leaves the reader with the impression that they are obsessed with the topic. If the book is to reach a wide audience, it seems appropriate to minimize offensive references.
The same can be said of the use of profanity. At one point in time the authors indicate that "one more girl who swears is one more drop in the gender bucket ...", leaving the reader with the idea that EMG are promoting the use of profanity. It seems to me that we have the ethical responsibility to promote positive values in our society. Why not reverse the focus to endorsing males' lack of swearing. Would this not add a drop to the gender bucket? Could it possibly be more desirable to narrow the gender gap in favor of the female, than toward the deviance of the so-called male characteristics? (See Davies, 1999, p. 120-121 and Pennycook, 2001, p. 136). As Kimball (1981) states, "We wonder why those of coarse and profane conversation ... are so stunted mentally that they let their capacity to communicate grow more and more narrow" (p. 4). Why does the feminist movement see degradation as the solution to the gap in gender relations, as if this will elevate women to some higher plain? Would it be detrimental to have the housewife/homemaker/household engineer (see Lakoff, 1975, p. 20) receive greater status than the CEO of a large corporation? Is her job less important than the CEO? Just because society does not reward these "traditionally female jobs" as much as the CEO, does that mean she not have a large impact on the lives of those around her? Maybe it is time to help society see the impact that these jobs have on society, instead of trying to convince the women that these jobs are useless.
Finally, the discussion on the Japanese language and gendered particles was overused. I find this topic highly interesting, but the authors utilize the same information throughout the book to illustrate several topics. It became very tedious reading through the same information every other chapter. Though the information might be illustrative of the topic at hand, I wonder if there might be other examples that could be employed.
In conclusion, this book will be highly useful as a text for an introductory class in the topic of gender and language. The information provided is well written, very informative, and highly accessible to the reader.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Davies, Alan (1999). An Introduction to Applied Linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Kimball, Spencer W. (1981). "Kimball speaks out on profanity", Ensign, February, p. 3-8.
Lakoff, Robin (1975). Language and Women's Place. New York: Harper & Row.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Tyler Anderson is a doctoral candidate at The Pennsylvania State University where he is studying Spanish sociolinguistics, with an emphasis in language attitudes and gender perception. He is especially interested in how gender stereotypes affect the perception of author's gender of written texts.