Linguistics 110 Linguistic Analysis: Sentences & Dialects
Lecture Number Twenty Two
Language and Gender

  1. The Relation of Language to Gender Differences

    1. Does the language we speak color our perception of women?

      1. If someone says the following, does it mean that I think less of women than men?
        1. Whoever she is, the secretary here doesn't know her job.
        2. Whoever he is, the manager here doesn't know his job.
      2. If someone uses the 'generic' he, does it mean that he or she is prejudiced against women?
      3. What if someone refers to men and women as a chairman, postman, workman?
      4. What if someone refers to all girls in German as das Maedchen, in the neuter?
      5. In Russian males and females are generally distinguished by the masculine and feminine genders (but remember that these are, by and large, arbitrary noun classes).

        TABLE 1: Russian Feminine Gender
        Masculine English Gloss Feminine
        liftr 'elevator
        sekretar' 'secretary' sekretar-a
        millioner 'millioner' millioner-a

        But the word for 'secretary' may refer to two kinds of secretaries: the ordinary kind and the kind who heads governmental and party offices. Sekretar-a is used only in the former sense.

      6. Chukchi is a Paleosiberian language spoken on the Kamchatka Peninsula.
        1. It has two declensions for adjectives and nouns: animate and inanimate.
          1. The animate declension is for nouns referring to adult males and vegetation that is alive;
          2. the inanimate refers to children, women, dead vegetation, and everything else.
        2. Do these semantic categories reflect the attitude of men toward all women in the society?
        3. Does this distinction reflect the position of women in the society?

    2. An Earlier Experiment
      1. Russian women attempted in the '20's to raise consciousness of women by expanding the use of feminine forms like those in Table 1.
      2. After 2-3 years the experiment was abandoned
      3. Was the experiment a failure or a failure to carry through?

    3. The Political Question: What should we do about it?

      1. Pass a law forbidding prejudicial usages? (First amendment)
      2. Police ourselves as institutions? (Russia in the '20's)
      3. Police ourselves individually? (We speak unconsciously)
      4. Forget it
        1. because changing the language does not effectively address the problem?
        2. because grammar cannot be consciously changed?
        3. because immediate change is too socially traumatic?
        4. because it results in confrontation between the sexes?

  2. Conclusions?

    1. Language does reflect prejudices in a society though not necessarily those of individuals speaking the language (otherwise all change is impossible)
    2. Language is spoken unconsciously; only lexemes may be consciously chosen
    3. Freedom of speech is perhaps the most important of all freedoms (without it change is impossible)
    4. Social attitudes and must be changed

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