investigate the following:
? Are there gender exclusive patterns in the language?
? Are there asymmetries in the lexicon(s) of this language(s)?
? Find expressions that target some of the characteristics of the stereotypes for women and men.
? Interpretations of ambiguous sentences.
? Words that name women from the categories of objects/parts of objects, food, and animals; however, you
may use examples of words from other categories also.
? Words that name men from the categories of objects/parts of objects, food, and animals; however, you
may use examples of words from other categories also.
? Are there aggressive or violent expressions? Do these expressions target both genders?
? Are there pejorative words in the language that are used to put down people?
SBS 318 New Perspectives on Language and Sex
Notes of the Power Presentation on Language and Gender • Language is part of culture and reflects the attitudes of society. • The sexism, racism, classism of a society
is generally reflected in that society’s language or languages and these prejudices project to the mind and language, which have effects on the individual. • The
following facts of English and English usage, as well as other languages provide data that demonstrate sexist language in the societies and cultures of the world.
Asymmetries in the English Lexicon The lexicon is the mental dictionary where all the words that we know of the language(s) that we speak are stored. The lexicon has
different categories of words. One of these categories is that known as equivalent pairs. In this presentation, equivalent pairs are words that have the same meaning.
One word applies to women and the other to men, for example, princess and prince. The problem is that there are many words that do not have their pair, which indicates
that the asymmetry is due to interaction of prejudicial beliefs and attitudes toward women and not to the internal structure of the language. The following first four
examples show that there are no equivalent words for men and the last example shows that there is no equivalent word for women. WOMEN divorcée old wives’ tale womanish
tears female wiles Ø MEN Ø Ø Ø Ø manly courage
Other areas of asymmetry in the lexicon – The other problem is that even if there are pairs, they don’t have the same meaning. Plus the meaning of the word that refers
to women is usually downgraded. The following pairs show that the semantics (meaning) for each word in the pair is not the same, although their meanings are supposed
to be the same: 1. governor/ governess 2. major/ majorette 3. mister/ mistress 4. star/ starlet 5. bachelor/ spinster An attractive bachelor. An attractive spinster.
(?) 6. to father/ to mother To father a child is to be the biological father. To mother a child is to protect or over-protect it. 1
Also, there are more derogatory words for women than there are for men, for example: dish, tomato, piece, piece of ass, chick, piece of tail, bunny, pussycat, bitch,
doll, girl, slut, cow, muffin, etc. Notice that these words come from classes of words that are used to refer to animals, food and toys. Asymmetries in Syntax
(sentence construction): The following examples show that the semantics of the verb or noun is not exactly the same. to bitch (complain) screw/fuck He bitches. She
bitches. He screws her. He fucks her. She screws him. She fucks him.
(sexual) (sexual) (Metaphorical deception) (sexual)
old maid tramp widow/widower
She is an old maid. He is an old maid. (?) He is a tramp. (finances) She is a tramp. (morals) Mary is John’s widow. John is Mary’s widower. (?) Generic “He” in English
Generic “he” terms are very common in the world’s languages and this fact also reflects the interaction between language and prejudicial beliefs and attitudes toward
women. Again, prejudicial beliefs and attitudes of societies toward women get reflected on language. Generic “he” is supposed to include women; however, female forms
never include men; for example, the brotherhood of man includes women, but sisterhood of women does not include men. Examples of generic “he” terms are: manpower,
mankind, to man (to operate), handyman, chairman, mailman, policeman, fireman. Interestingly, in the sixteen and seventeen centuries, masculine pronouns were not used
as generic terms. The various forms of he were used when referring to males, and she when referring to females. But, this changed in the centuries that followed. In
the sixties and seventies, the use of the generic ‘he’ was partially transformed. 1. Mailman -> mailperson 2. Chairman -> chairperson 3. He should study. -> He/she
should study. One striking fact about the asymmetry between male and female terms in many languages is that when there are female/male pairs, the male form for the
most part is
unmarked and the female term is created by adding a prefix or a suffix or by compounding, for instance: MALE actor author count heir hero host male Paul poet prince
FEMALE actress authoress countess heiress heroine hostess female < femina Latin; fe- “fertile” < femelle “little woman” (femme “woman”) Pauline poetess princess
Women and men think that being gender neutral is to adopt the male form. This is an erroneous approach and it is known as hypercorrection. The fact that women have
entered professions that were exclusively for men has affected possible interpretations of sentences, for example: 1. My neighbor is a doctor. (The word doctor could
refer to a woman or a man, but in the 40’s or 50’s it could only refer to a man.) BUT 2. My neighbor is a blond. (It is still assumed that it refers to a woman.) Thus,
the discussion of obscenities, blasphemies, taboo words, and euphemisms demonstrate that words of a language cannot be intrinsically good or bad but reflect individual
or societal values. Asymmetries in the Lexicon of Spanish Compare the following words and their meanings: Masculine el inocente ‘an innocent person’ hombre público un
reo ‘a criminal’ un doncel ‘a young nobleman’ ser un gallo ‘courage’ zorro ‘attractive, cunning, smart’ Female la inocente ‘a virgin’ mujer pública ‘prostitute’ una
rea “an impoverished prostitute” una doncella ‘a virgin’ ser una gallina ‘cowardly’ zorra ‘secretive woman’
Women entering new professions have forced society to change its lexicon also. These changes are slowly taking place and they start by changing the gender of the
article. Notice the change from the article “el’ (the-masculine) to the article “la” (the-feminine). Notice also that some nouns have changed the suffix of the noun
from the suffix –o which indicates masculine to the female suffix –a. Masculine el capitán el juez el soldado el médico Female la capitana la juez/la jueza la soldado/
la soldada OR la soldadera la médico/la médica Gloss the captain the judge the soldier the doctor
The true female forms – “la jueza”, “la soldada” and “la médica” – are still not totally accepted by Spanish speakers. Generic “He” in Spanish The Spanish language has
been criticized for its sexism. • • A group of people with only one male would be referred to as “ellos” (‘theymasculine form’). A group of children with only one boy
would be referred to as “niños” (‘childrenmasculine form’).
Generic ‘he’ forms in Spanish are more numerous and more extensive in the Spanish language. Cross-Cultural Studies of Language and Gender Gender-Exclusive Patterns in
Languages of the World – Languages with “genderexclusive” patterns are those in which women and men always use linguistic alternatives appropriate to their own gender.
1. The earliest known documentation of exclusive gender differences in speech is from XVII Century reports of native Carib people living on the Lesser Antilles. Some
of the reported data are gender-specific words that denote kinship relations: Women noukóchili Men youmáan Gloss my father
2. More reliable documentation of gender-exclusive linguistic patterns has been obtained by research beginning in the early XX Century. In the Chukchee language (a
native Siberian language),) consonants ch and r in male speech are replaced by s in
female speech. Similarly, consonant clusters chh and rk spoken by men are realized as sh by women. Compare the following words (Bogoras 1922:665): Women Shumñáta
sámkishshim Men chumñáta rámkichhim Gloss buy a buck people
Also, consonants appearing in basic women’s speech are omitted between vowels in derived men’s speech, as in the following words that Bogoras did not translate: Women
nitváqenat tírkitir Men nitváqaat tírkiir Gloss ? ?
Gender-exclusive patterns have been also documented in the Koasati language and other languages in the Muskogean family, which are spoken by Native Americans in the
southeastern United States (Haas 1944). Male and female pronunciations contrasted in certain classes of words in various ways. If the female form ends in a nasal
vowel, male forms de-nasalize the vowel and add -s: Women lakawwã. lakawtakkõ mól Men lakawwa. s lakawtakkos móls Gloss He will lift it. I am not lifting it. He is
Koasati men and women use each other’s speech when quoting a speaker or formerly when correcting a child’s speech in order to reinforce gender-appropriate styles.
Japanese society is stratified in terms of class, gender and age. Class status is marked by deference shown to people of wealth and high position in occupational
settings; men receive greater social respect than do women; and seniority both within households and communities bestows prestige to elders. A major pronunciation
trait of female speech is women’s tendency to omit vowel i and consonant r, as in the following (Shibamoto 1987:27): Men kekkoo de gozaimasu wakaranai Women kekkoo de
gozaamasu wakannai Gloss That’s fine. I don’t understand.
Gender styles also appear in intonational patterns. As in the speech of American women, Japanese women’s intonation is more dynamic than men’s, reflected by sharper
changes in pitch and stress. Japanese women also tend to use rising intonational contours at the ends of sentences. In addition to distinctions in pronunciation,
Japanese men and women exclusively employ separate words for some objects, activities, or ideas. Some examples follow:
Gloss stomach water delicious eat box lunch chopsticks book
Male Forms Female Forms hara onaka mizu ohiya umai oisii kuu taberu bentoo obentoo hasi ohasi hon gohon
Gender inequality within the family is revealed by forms of address employed between spouses and by words used to refer to one’s spouse. Husbands address wives: 1)
first name OR 2) omae/kimi (2nd person pronouns) “Omae” is the pronoun generally used by status superiors to addresses of lower status and “kimi” is used to
subordinates or intimates, but not to superiors. Wives address husbands: 1) first name + -san (honorific suffix) 2) anata (2nd person pronoun) Lower-status people to
higher-status addresses employ “anata”. Women generally address all interlocutors with “anata”; thus, symbolizing women’s social subordination. Epithets and other
examples The use of epithets for people of different religions, nationalities, or color is another good example of interaction between language and the prejudicial
beliefs and attitudes toward of a society. Words like kike, wop, nigger, and so forth express prejudicial views of society. If racial and national and religious
bigotry did not exist, then in time these words would either die out or lose their connotations. Prejudice does not always need a particular word. It is sometimes the
context in which words, sentences and expressions are utilized. For example, the word boy is not a taboo word if used generally, but when a twenty-year-old white man
calls a forty-yearblack man “boy,” the word takes on an additional meaning; it reflects the racist attitude of the speaker. Another example is the following paragraph
from an article written in the graduate school of management: A businessman is aggressive; a businesswoman is pushy. A businessman is good on details; she’s picky. . .
He follows through; she doesn’t know when to quit. He stands firm; she’s hard . . . His judgments are her prejudices. He is a man of the world; she’s been around. He
isn’t afraid to say what is on his mind; she is mouthy. He exercises authority diligently; she’s power mad. He’s close mouthed. She’s secretive, He climbed the ladder
of success; she slept her way to the top. From “How to Tell A Businessman from a Businesswoman,” Graduate School of Management, UCLA, The Balloon XXII, (6).
Language and violence Violence does not have to be physical; it can be verbal. Spanish examples: 1. Yo te traje a este mundo y yo te saco (‘I brought you to this world
and I’ll take you out’). 2. Te mato (‘I’ll kill you’). 3. Estás loca/loco (‘You are crazy’). The female form is ‘loca’ and the masculine is ‘loco’. Other languages
have similar expressions, including English. In English, there is an interesting example in regards to sex and violence. A sterile man is said to be shooting blanks.
In this example, and violence the male organ, penis, is conceptualized as a weapon. There are also expressions that explicitly silence women; for example in Spanish:
Callada te ves más bonita “You look prettier when you are quiet”. Feminists have criticized sexist language for a long time. Recently, feminists in Mexico staged a
protest in which they strongly argued that sexist language fuels gender violence Conclusion Language affects the identity, self-esteem, and mental health of people. We
must select well our words and never use verbal violence, epithets, hurtful words, or obscene words. Language is a reflection of society. If a language shows patterns
of sexism and verbal violence, it is its society that is sexist and violent and not the language itself. Finally, language also functions as a mechanism that maintains
and reproduces the attitudes and behaviors of a society.