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LANGUAGE AND GENDER

A Lecture to be given to IUPUI Fulbright-hays group projects abroad program July 5th - August 6th 2009 At Moi University Campuses

By Naomi L. Shitemi Kiswahili & Other African Languages Department Moi University P.O. Box 3900-30100, Eldoret, Kenya nluchera@gmail.com
Key words: Language, gender, gender order, gender categorization, gender ideology, gender discourse

Introduction Language is a communication practice mediated by linguistic system(s). The fields of linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics offer a platform upon which communication practices can be broadly defined in a manner that allows space for discourse on language and gender. Linguistic competence addresses knowledge underlying the ability to produce and recognize linguistic structures. On the other hand it is observed, form a sociolinguistic and linguistic anthropological dimensions that knowledge of grammatical function is not necessarily sufficient in ensuring verbal practice. It requires paralinguistic and pragmatic considerations that tap from: Need for conventions by which people engage with each other on linguistic activity. Acknowledgment of linguistic competence developed in continued use alongside the systemics in order to put the systems to work in social situations. The development and acquisition of linguistic competence alongside communicative competence. Integration of the social locus of linguistic practice and linguistic system as deployed by the category and group under consideration. This is in acknowledgement of the fact that neither language nor social world comes readymade neither is it static. It is nurtured and maintained under mutual day to day activity. The article therefore dialogues how language is used to establish and maintain a gender order, gender categorization and gender discourse. It will in the process address how people deploy linguistic resources in the interest to propagate gender ideologies. This can be done either consciously or unconsciously. The dialogue will show how dominant gender ideologies are reinforced in day to day talk and communication discourses and the perceived or perpetrated gender ideologies inherent in the communications. Trends of gender loaded language use patterns will be highlighted.

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Language and gender involves interpreting the use of linguistic resources to accomplish social ends, (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2005:79). It foregrounds aspects of interpretation, nature and role of gender ideology in thought processes; and the consideration of analytic linkages between form (linguistic structures) and their function from a gender perspective. Scope and Context Traditional gender discourse has tended to focus on the dichotomy between male domination on one hand and gender separation and difference on the other as dialogue has continued to revolve around overt and covert aspects of gender practice and labeling. The following gender foregrounding scenarios based on variant foci emerge. The apparent dichotomization perceived from the scenarios however draws attention to challenges emerging from the perspectives, scope and pragmatic implications of the gender discourse embodied in each categorization, ensuing debate and possible dialogue. For example: Focus on the difference of separate gender cultures and emergent distinct gendered identities dislodge the dominance and structure of male privilege. Focus on male/female dominance downplays the importance of difference in gender related experience and belief. Focus on gendered social structure, whether by foregrounding difference or dominance, downplays the fact that gender is fluid, changing and variously maintained in practice. Focus on change and creativity downplays constraining weight of a gendered system perceived as static in day to day practice by which change and creativity are accomplished. Focus on the individual masks collaborative nature of gender. Focus on systems prevents the consideration of individual agency. In as much as various scenarios based on differentiated foci seem defeatist and pessimistic thus frustrating any effort at gender discourse and dialogue, significant dominants and pillars that contribute to the scope and levels of gender mapping emerge. These include mappings that foreground social structures in which are differentiated cultures embodied with contextualized experience and distinct gender constructed identities; dominance and structures of male/female priviledges; activity, change and gender related dynamism; and gendered agency through the systemic collaborative nature of players in society. The dialogue on language and gender will therefore seek to propound the extent to which language through linguistic forms and communication strategies apply in the construction, deconstruction and articulation of the gender phenomenon. The discourse herein seeks to address matters of gender generalization from a global perspective. Within this generalization, language and gender are dialogued from a perspective that acknowledges and integrates observations of particular behaviour in a manner that hopes to give insight into gendered societal patterns. To this end, the Shitemi N. L. (2009): Language & Gender. IUPUI Fulbright-hays group projects abroad program Page 2

dialogue will address matters of language and gender as deriving from sets of real people, categories of people, real linguistic patterns and pragmatic behaviour hence an exposition of underlying language and gender characters and dispositions that re eventually generalized and assigned to gendered categories. The ultimate goal is to link the linguistic to the social under which gender is constructed, defined and propagated. Gender order, categorizations, cultures and the Language dimension Communication situations are loaded with gender lore that is manifest in all manners of language use and cultural manifestations and practice. All these social and interactive instances are variously called upon, directly and/or indirectly to capture and present discourse on the gender order. Gender therefore ends up being embedded in all institutions, actions, beliefs and desires that go along with the mapping of language use through communication, interaction and establishment of the social order. Gender categories are a product and manifest of relations and mappings based on: Peer cultures: there are different peer cultures based on same/opposite sex age groups, behaviour, norms, understandings friendship groups amongst other denominators that define peers and groupings. Out of the various groupings and cultures emerge verbal cultures under which can be defined and illustrated ways of interactions & norms of interpretation by the memberships. Cross cultural (mis)communication: in this are the potentials for (mis)understand and separation/inclusion of gendered cultures that are not necessarily male as opposed to female and vice versa. They could be male/male, female/female or female/male; male/female. This is further dependent on the categorizations that also reflect peer or non peer clustering and groupings out of which are distinct behaviours, identities and particularly language use cultures and registers. Different practices & understanding of the social world; differentiations and segregations. Ethically distinct subcultures that catalyze gender based (mis)communications. Development of gendered verbal practices Understanding gender separation and the resultant impact on gendered constructions; social constructions & constraints. Through the gender order are established and nurtured intricate gender organizations. Gender order is a system of allocation based on sex-class assignment of rights obligations, freedoms and constraints (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2005:34). It entails the construction and existence of patterns of relations that develop over time through which are defined male and female, masculinity and feminity, while simultaneously structuring and regulating peoples relations in society. In as much as it might have different faces and presentations, it is deeply embedded in every aspect of society, institution and public space (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, ibid). It is therefore a product and construct of a variety of social perspectives including considerations of functional and socially labeled group and/or individual biology and individual predispositions that lead to creation of particular kinds of genderized persons and gendered social arrangements. These social dispositions further variously contribute in the construction of Shitemi N. L. (2009): Language & Gender. IUPUI Fulbright-hays group projects abroad program Page 3

the gender order. The function and use of language for communication, attribution, mapping and labeling therefore is core and plays a major role in the maintenance, shift and change of the constructed gender order. Gender and gender orders are embedded in all experiences and settings of life. A study of language and gender therefore treats language as an instrument for articulating and reflecting the various gender orders and resultant categories. It also looks at language as what constructs and maintains these categories. Linguistic conventions and ideology in establishing the gender order therefore constitute the variables and domains of consideration and analysis. The gender order, being a system of allocation based on sex-class of assignments is supported and also supports structures of convention, ideology desire and emotion making it difficult to separate gender from other aspects of life. Convention and custom are furthered by the fact that ways of being and of doing are learnt without much thought on why, reasons behind them and recognition of the larger structures that they fall into. They signify timelessness of habit as opposed to change. The following labels illustrate the gender order. Mr, Mrs, Miss that have been conventionally used to refer to different categories of a woman. Ms. is however a recent label that is shared by both Miss & Mrs. The justification of Mrs, Miss, Ms are not only semantic but are also couched with heavy gender connotations from the dimension of feminist perspective. Often the sequential order is Mr & Mrs but not Mrs & Mr. This too does not only carry semantic and gender connotation but it is an illustration of power and dominance on one hand and subjugation and humility on the other. In the Kiswahili context, Bibi na Bwana vs Bwana na Bibi. This is the inverse f the English order. The female referent is often ordered before the male referent although they are mutually interchangeable depending on the context of use. Similarly, Mke na Mume, which is the conventional stands in opposition to Mume na Mke. Linguistic conventions are therefore overtly determined by gender ideology while in turn they function to implicitly support the ideology. Gender Ideology Gender ideology is a system of beliefs by which people explain, account for and justify their bahaviour. It also informs and guides the interpretation and assessment of the behaviour of others while setting the norms that govern participation in the gender order and by which they explain and justify participation. Language is the key instrument and medium by which gender ideologies are constructed, perpetuated and propagated. gender ideologies differ with respect to nature of male and female; justice, naturalness, origins and necessities of various aspects of the gender order; on whether difference is fundamental, whether it should be maintained and whether it can-or should-be maintained without inequality (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2005: 35). Shitemi N. L. (2009): Language & Gender. IUPUI Fulbright-hays group projects abroad program Page 4

Difference in ideology can be manufactured in order to support gender and power hierarchies as it can be given and justifying the necessary results of inequality. The maintenance of the gender order through ideology is often viewed as a moral imperative either for divine origin and/or embedment in convection or perpetuation and sustainability of the power position. Convention and gender assumptions include such fallacies as those that drive various gender ideologies in given societies. Some of these fallacies include stereotypes such as 1: men are strong while women are weak men are brave while women are timid men are aggressive while women are passive men are sex driven while women are relationship driven men are rational while women are irrational men are direct while women are indirect men are competitive while women are cooperative men are practical while women are nurturing men are rough while women are gentle men dont cry All these fallacies lead to the creation and ideologization of man and woman in society. All people in one way or the other are pervasive images of ideologized male and female differentiation. Such dichotomies and oppositions are not only practiced but linguistically articulated. They hold a significant place in the construction of gender ideologies and their representations permeate society in many ways while eliciting significant impact. Further dichotomization and genderization are evident in gender specific metaphor and figures of speech. The feminization of poverty, feminization of continents, especially Africa Mama Africa 2; the musculinization of war and power; and the Kenyan feminization of the common person in the form and identity of the Wanjiku 3 personification (See the cartoons extracted from the Kenyan media during the 1990s and which continue to date).

Drawn from Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, (2005). There has been lots of literary expression in form of poetry, music, narrative and even political discourse that fondly yet pitifully refers to Africa as Mama Africa. This phenomenon is also captured in media caricature and cartoons as illustrated. 3 Wanjiku is a female name from the Kikuyu Community. Since the mid 1990s during the clamour for constitutional change, the name has been metarphorised and figuratively loaded to represent the downtrodden and under-priviledged grassroots male and female. Through her poverty, economic and social deprivation have been feminized.
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Gender oppositions not only reflect differences but they also reflect potential for conflict, incomprehension and mystification in the form of the battle of sexes and gender gap (p.36). The move towards collaboration and partnership in hetero-social enterprise become compounded with challenge. There however continue to emerge gender referents that articulate collaboration and complimentarily that seek to establish equilibrium in the social ecology necessity through the foregrounding of interdependent characters and roles through referents such as spouse instead of wife/husband; person instead of man; chairperson instead of chairman (although chairperson seems to be a reserve referent for the female chair while chairman is still preferred for the male chair). Such endevours therefore continue to foreground the policing of gender while at the same time mainstreaming gender. Once again, language emerges as the main tool alongside social practices that find expression and articulation through expression. Mapping Gender: Function of Language Language allows labeling of categories thus facilitating the conceptualization of shared social life. Gender categories being articulated linguistically are functional in social practices that sustain a given gender order and gender categorization. Therefore, gender categories, besides highlighting differences, support hierarchy & inequalities that have been transmitted and propagated over time, while also capturing and presenting recent and emerging labels following new mappings. Linguistic and non linguistic practices tend to conflate the various gender specific categories with shifts towards more accommodating & collaborative trends.

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Challenge is to be found in recognizing, identifying and dealing with the social terrains that get mapped under the gender mapping. These include categories that get noticed and thus labeled; complexity in the categorization & labeling; controversy over categories and labels; and their place in support, perpetuation and localization of gender practice. The anchoring of concepts in gender discourse therefore requires community participation in practices that involve learning the various fields and values attached to the categories. Social categories highlight fields of social identity and location/function in gender discourse hence affirmation or discoursing social affiliations while cultivating social identity. Speech Community and the link between linguistic sign and social gender There is no one to one relation between grammar and social function. The practices in which language constructs and effects social order and organization however contribute in establishing the link between language and social function. It is through such linkages that language contributes in the construction and articulation of gender. Linguistic anthropology and sociolinguistics, as mentioned earlier, locates the organization of language or linguistic practice in social communicative units hence the creation of a speech community in which, the community shares rules for the conduct and interpretation of speech and rules for the interpretation of at least one linguistic variety. (Dell Hymes, 1972:54). Knowledge of a language(s)/linguistic variety is embedded in the knowledge of how to engage in communication practice. The two, linguistic competence and communication practice are inseparable in practice. Different languages participate in different communicative systems in a manner that facilitates sharing norms for the use of a given language in interaction and service. Through abstract linguistic collectivities conventions of interaction are established and relevant norms of usage internalized. This in turn leads to the experience of social order on a personal/group/peer level and on a day to day basis thus making sense and recourse on the established social and gender order in which a perceived and practiced gender ideology is and assumed gender identity. Through the gender ideology and assumed gender identity, there emerge aspects of shaping face of projections and ascribing through which is assured the maintenance of the established gender order in the face of risking the perpetuation of gender threatening situations/acts. The link between linguistic sign and social gender is both primary & secondary. It calls for the application of the Sausurrean signifie and signifiant hypothesis. For example, the polarized synonyms in the words pretty and handsome are primarily innocent and could be assumed to have no gender connotations. Pretty and handsome are both adjectives that infer good looking but with gendered and cultural background meaning. Shitemi N. L. (2009): Language & Gender. IUPUI Fulbright-hays group projects abroad program Page 8

Pretty and handsome are both applied in gender specific usage. One denoting female and the other male associated properties respectively. The distinction colours the referent with gendered gender & discourse of gender. An inversion of the referents could have pragmatic and semiotic overtones that deviate from the norm thus foregrounding the search for what if unique that inspires the cross gender attributes. Perceiving the pretty man as a weakling or less man; and the handsome woman/lady as masculine and unusually built. Such contexts therefore apply and tap upon linguistic resources to color self & others. It is possible and acceptable to use you guys (traditionally male and masculine) when referring to girls but not you girls/chicks/dames when referring to boys. Other gendered attributes of linguistic resources and labeling include functions such as the articulation of gendered graphonological, semiotic, pragmatic and onomatopoeic function of linguistic features. For example: Projection of gendered self & other projection of gendered attitude & stance Affective flow of gendered talk and colouring of ideas. Tone & pitch of voice eliciting gendered overtones. Choice of vocabulary serving gendered discourse and inferences gendered metaphor, euphemisms and grammar patterns This therefore leads to the following dialogue on grammatical categories from a gender perspective.

Gender in grammar Some grammar morphemes have gender as part of their content. Language also requires gender morphology even where the grammar morphemes appear to be gender neutral. Such linguistic structures coerce speakers to point to/ index the gender of people involved in utterances. Often, the noun and verb morphology will have explicit gender content. Grammatical gender: these include noun classes that dictate and are relevant for various kinds of agreement patterns. For example the concordial agreement dictated by the noun class forms ngeli in Kiswahili and other Bantu languages. The gender classes determine forms of plural suffixes; adjectives modifying the noun; and forms of pronouns for which the noun is an antecedent. Such noun classes as manifest in Bantu languages are however dependent on animacy but not sex gender. Grammatical gender in Kiswahili therefore has nothing to do with social gender. Gender in morphology: this is the processes that transform words across the genders. Through the suffixes and prefixes, the noun is modified to acquire gender related undertones. For example, the morphological variations in the following words are basically gender markers. Shitemi N. L. (2009): Language & Gender. IUPUI Fulbright-hays group projects abroad program Page 9

actor vs actress waiter vs waiteress steward vs stewardess The following words however do not take on gendered morphemes hence the need for contextual clarifications. driver murderer person painter Doctor Nurse It therefore requires calling upon social gender to designate grammatical gender. The construction of discourse needs to choose to either avoid or emphasize reminders of gender depending on grammatical and morphological structures. Often too, gendering morphemes serves to introduce new meanings where the function leads to merging the designate gender with the referent. Lexicon: This is the inventory of lexical morphemes & words in language. It is the repository of cultural pre-occupations through linguistics. There often is a link between gender and the lexicon. The lexicon is the most changeable part of language. Its content varies in different domains. There are varying access strategies to lexicons by language users including competence, performance, registers, terminology and other specialized usages that facilitate acquisition and application. For example, in cases of gendered division of labour there are relevant lexicon inventories that differentiate function of lexicaon from a gender perspective. The image that comes to mind when the following lexicon are applied as gender specific unless otherwise clarified. Mechanics, nurse, secretary, manager, sailor and other similar ones whereas the following do not have obvious gender undertones: student, pupil, patient, and traveller. Often, gender indices that are not grammatical gender obligatory are more and more being differentiated by the creation of compound nouns such as lady doctor, male nurse, female driver, male driver e.t.c. There also exist gender differences in the use of taboo words (think about some of them in English and your first languages or any other second language in which you have competence). indexing gender & invoking presuppositions on conventional meanings male vs nurse Reinforcing, reproducing connection between gender & profession. Monicagate: has acquired a gendered and socio-political meaning following propagation by the mass media with a sociopolitical action originating from the American political landscape. Bobbit too has over time acquired gendered semantic significance, following the stife between American personalities thus securing a place in the dictionary as a verb, to bobbit. Shitemi N. L. (2009): Language & Gender. IUPUI Fulbright-hays group projects abroad program Page 10

Meaning encoding in language is therefore dependent on who is doing what and how they are talking about it. There exist social asymmetries through language use. Gendered attributes are often differentiated by the lexicon, morphology, grammer and/or the noun compounding strategy. Unlike the gender differentiation through morphological construction as shown above, there also exist gender differentiation through the application and usage of lexical antonyms. For example: fox vs vixen bachelor vs spinster aunt vs uncle father vs mother sister vs brother husband vs wife Syntax: This presents language structures that express thoughts or propositions in which are events, situations, and relations among participants in the events or situations under consideration. Note the gender underlings in the following statements: Joan kissed John John kissed Joan John alimuoa Joan Mary alimuoa Joh; John aliolewa na Mary 4 Mary aliolewa na John Syntax does not often map into social meaning directly. It can function by highlighting agency of subject, object and action from a gendered perspective. It can also present agentless passivity that has gender specifics. For example, She was raped presents an agentless passiveness. The agent is either unknown or not present. It also serves in shifting blame in which case the victim, passive actor, is foregrounded and the active agent not disclosed. Messages about gender therefore do not just draw on words used but also on syntactic structures in which they occur. Such structures present possible syntactic alternatives in which are different ways of conveying the same message in order to elicit different perspective and emphasis. Through such structures are linguistic choices, grammatical, morphological, lexical and syntactic that colour messages with gender ideology thus entering into gender performance. Social meaning also draws on more than syntactic structures thus integrating the semantics and pragmatics accompaniments of utterances such as tone of voice, phonetic detail; body language, connections to texts in other times and places. Patronage is also emergent from larger discourse pictures thus further constructing gender. Discourse: In discourse are structures & meanings beyond the level of a sentence following the deployments required in the building of texts. Discourse context expands indefinitely in time and social space. It applies the principals of combination such as turn taking in a single speech act exchange; use of connectives to create coherence; study of the gender of agents in books; and language in the building of relationships, amongst
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Not culturally (read, gendered anomaly) acceptable.

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other approaches that analyse language from a discourse analysis perspective. When language works in discourse it shapes utterances and creates effect on interlocutors thus creating an anticipation of reaction. Language serves the function of moving agenda; pursuing relationships; engaging in activity; developing ideas through creativity and flow of experience. It constructs the social world through a complex coordination of multiple works in progress. Communication therefore goes beyond the word system leading to the social construction of gender via language. Through semantics and pragmatics language is put to use in discourse thus facilitating content recognition. Conclusion Change comes through subtle ways. On the other hand, gender order and linguistic conventions exercise profound constraints on thought and actions. Change comes following the interruption of the predisposition of given patterns that have set in place over generations and through various forms of development. Either way, gender is articulated and performed in all acts. The accumulation of performances leads to the entrenchment, maintenance and restructuring of the gender order. All these developments follow shifts in how linguistic resources are deployed. Through language use it is possible to establish the connection of routines to social discourses hence an illustration of how small acts build up into big ones thus leading to the establishment of a public gender discourse.

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