The Language And Gender Sociology Essay
Language, gender and society are three complex and closely interwoven terms that I will attempt to explore in this chapter. The question of whether language reflects or shapes the social life and consequently gender relationships and expectations is a central one which I will also attempt to tackle. In other words, is it language which transmits gender thoughts, beliefs and actions? Or, conversely, does language determine men and women’s relationships and behavior? Is it possible to define language as a naA?ve mirror translating the social and cultural reality? Or it is the norms, traditions and values that introduce a basis for the creation of any language? Does society define women and men’s language, choices and action?
Or it is simply the interaction between language and society which gives birth to gender stereotypes and sexist language? The answer to these questions will help us understand how men and women’s space, speech, perspectives and choices are both determined and reflected by language.
There are so many questions that I would like to answer and examine in this chapter, but will not be able to answer them all. Instead, I will try to highlight some important notions related to the subject. For example how do the socio-cultural factors interact with language in order to determine men and women’s relationships in society? Why and how is gender deemed to be an important and powerful component in social interaction? How does its influence go beyond people’s thoughts, attitudes and beliefs? How can society explain the learning and maintenance of gender?
How is gender negotiated in language and across cultures? How does the social construction of society shape women and men’s personalities in terms of social roles, expectations, language choice, traditional beliefs and so on?
The aim of my work will basically be to explore the importance of both language and society in determining and reinforcing female and male differences in speech (form and content), beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors. The emphasis will be on how gender is negotiated and represented in language and society, and how the linguistic form may reflect and shape the social and cultural conditions under which women and men live.
Language, a product of society, is considered to play a significant role in human interaction; “the human being, language and society are an interwoven texture.” (Bennouiss, 2001:20). Accordingly, society is conceived to be the mold which shapes people through determining not only their behavior, but also their identity.
Society controls individuals through gendered practices, which are defined as a social process “created and renegotiated in interpersonal relationships and encouraged and maintained through social interaction” (Weatherall, 2002: 85). Therefore, gender is considered to be social because it connotes “all the complex attributes ascribed by culture (s) to human females and males” (Lott & Maluso, 1993: 99). One may conclude from the two quotes that gender is used by society as a basis or a support to the socialization of both females and males, and is also maintained by social and cultural forces.
Gender issues and stereotypes seem to be universal. They are heavily rooted in history and through the social and cultural life, which has a strong influence in defining the individual’s identity, behavior, role and occupation. All societies consist of men and women who use language in the interaction of everyday life, and develop ideas and thoughts about how women and men should think and act in relation to social norms.
Therefore, it is believed that gender is socially constructed and is reinforced by cultural forces; however, gender contents may differ across cultures. Beall (1993: 131-132) argues that across cultures, “one’s biological sex does not necessarily imply that one will engage in certain activities or that people will believe that one possesses certain attributes”. She goes on to say that “some cultures perceive more than one gender, and cultures vary in their beliefs about the nature of males and females” (1993: 134).
This means that cultures are rich and curiously different from each other. Women’s beliefs and actions in Morocco are different from women’s thoughts and behavior in England, even if sometimes it seems that British women are not so different from the Moroccan unveiled women in physical appearance. However, there are many variations concerning their ways of thinking and acting. In the Muslim society, boys are given more independence and freedom, and are expected to achieve or occupy different roles and positions. The difference between the two sexes in terms of appearance, behavior, role, and occupation is very much strengthened and encouraged by the traditions, the customs and the habits of the Moroccan society, whereas in the British context, norms and traditions are transgressed, and modern ideologies present men and women as equals in all life spheres.
Besides, the authority or dominance of one gender over another is not practiced openly anymore. In other words, “the strength and activity differences between the male and female stereotypes are greater in socioeconomically less developed countries than in more developed countries”. It also tends to be greater in “countries where literacy is low and the percentage of women attending the university is low” (Best & Williams, 1993: 227) although in many cases, the education people receive in school and universities does not mean that they are not influenced by gender stereotypes.
In short, there is a lot to be said about the universality of gender prejudice. Class, education, religion and geography all play a part in determining subtle differences and peculiarities, some of which this work aims at revealing.
First, some claims:
1) Men interrupt women more than vice versa.
2) Women are more communicative than men.
3) Men do not give verbal recognition of the contributions in the conversation made by women.
4) Men curse more than women.
5) Women gossip more than men.
6) Women talk more with one another than men do.
7) Men speak more comfortably in public than women.
Gender and sex
Sex: a biological condition, i.e. defined as a set of physical characteristics
Gender: a social construct (within the fields of cultural and gender studies, and the social sciences)
“Today a return to separate single-sex schools may hasten the revival of separate gender roles”
– Wendy Kaminer, in The Atlantic Monthly (1998)
General usage of the term gender began in the late 1960s and 1970s, increasingly appearing in the professional literature of the social sciences.
The term helps in distinguishing those aspects of life that were more easily attributed or understood to be of social rather than biological origin (see e.g., Unger & Crawford, 1992).
Linguistic origins of Gender
According to Aristotle, the Greek philosopher Protagoras used the terms masculine, feminine, and neuter to classify nouns, introducing the concept of grammatical gender.
Many languages specify Gender (and gender agreement)
o andras i gyneka to pedhi
the.masc. man the.fem. woman the.ntr. child
der man die Frau das Kind
the.masc. man the.fem. woman the.ntr. child
l(e) homme la femme
the.masc. man the.fem. woman
?† Indoeuropean had gender distinction; Swahili has 16 gender distinctions. And many others don’t! (e.g. English, Astronesian languages)
But gender appears on pronouns:
(1) He left.
(2) She left.
(3) It left. (what types of things does “it” refer to?)
Gender correlates with other perceptual (and possibly grammatical) categories like humanness, agentivity, and animacy.