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11 Language and Gender

11 Language and Gender - Language Society and Culture...

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Language, Society and Culture, Andrew Simpson, USC Language, Society and Culture Unit 11 Language and Gender This lecture considers the interaction of Gender with language, how men and women consistently speak in rather clearly different ways (and why they do so), and the degree to which language may be sexist. We will begin by looking at some simple examples of differences that have been observed in male and female speech in various cultures, first of all cases where men and women speak in quite different ways and then other situations where women and men use certain forms of speech with different degrees of frequency. Speech differences between men and women Perhaps the most famous example of the existence of clear differences in the speech of men and women in a single community is the case of the Carib people in the West Indies. In this tribe of Indians the men use many expressions which the women do not use, and the women use a whole variety of words which are not found in men’s speech. Historically this is due to the fact that long ago a group of Carib-speaking men invaded an area inhabited by Arawak-speaking people and killed all the men. The women who remained then continued to speak Arawak while their new husbands spoke Carib. Nowadays the Carib and Arawak languages have become largely mixed, but there are many words of Arawak origin which only occur in the speech of women, and many words of Carib origin which only males use. There are many other similar examples of the speech of men and women being different in a single ethnic group. In longhouse communities in the Amazon jungle the language used by a child’s mother is different from her father’s language because men must marry outside their own tribe and each tribe in the local area has a different language. In other groups one finds that certain sounds are pronounced differently in men’s and women’s speech. In Bengali in the beginnings of words women often use an [l] sound where men use an [n]. In Yana (N. America) the form of women’s words is sometimes shorter than men’s words due to the presence of a suffix in men’s speech: Yana women’s form men’s form ba ba-na ‘deer’ yaa yaa-na ‘person’ au au-na ‘fire’ In Zulu it is reported that a wife cannot mention the name of her father-in-law or his brothers. This taboo sometimes extends its influence further and if the names of these relatives have a prominent sound such as [z], it has been noted that a woman will not be 1
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