Indexing gender, culture and cognition: an introduction

Alvanoudi, Angeliki (2020) Indexing gender, culture and cognition: an introduction. Journal of Language and Discrimination, 4 (1). pp. 1-15.

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Abstract

In their inaugural Editorial for the Journal of Language and Discrimination, van der Bom, Mills and Peterson observed that language plays a key role in discriminatory acts. I quote their words: ‘Discrimination is manifest (and can be traced and challenged) discursively; ideological stances and beliefs are produced, reproduced and legitimised through discourse, meaning that language is intertwined with people’s beliefs and ideologies’ (2017:3). This special issue targets the role of gendered language structures in sustaining gender ideologies that reinforce sexism. Contributions in the issue address the following questions: What is the relationship between grammatical and lexical gender, and the construction of social gender? Do gendered terms generate inferences about the social gender order and mediate speakers’ thinking of the social world? Can we explore conceptualisations of gender at the level of discourse? What is the cognitive effect of the generic use of the masculine gender, and what are the cognitive mechanisms underlying gender inequality? The debate on the role of language in producing and stabilising the social gender order can be traced to the early work of feminist linguists in the 1970s and the beginning of the 1980s. Lakoff (1975) treated language as a medium that reflects women’s subordination and men’s domination at the social level, and Spender (1980) focused on the role of language in constructing and reproducing a man-made worldview that silences female difference. Early feminist linguistic work (e.g. Baron 1986; Bodine 1975; Eakins and Eakins 1978; Graham 1975; Miller and Swift 1976; Schulz 1975) examined gendered forms, for which the semantic distinction of sex is grammaticised or lexically specified, and their role in encoding and reproducing social gender inequality. However, questions about structural features of language were downplayed or neglected in the following years due to the performativity turn in gender studies (see Motschenbacher 2016 for a critical approach). The latest developments in language and gender research have criticised the binary and static view of gender, foregrounded variation within the categories of ‘women’ and ‘men’, and showed that language does not relate to gender in a straightforward way (general overviews of research on language and gender are found in Bucholtz 2014 and Cameron 2005). In recent years there has been revived interest in the role of gendered language structures in constructing and challenging the binary gender order and heteronormativity (see, e.g., Abbou and Baider 2016; Bing and Bergvall 1996; Hellinger and Busmann 2001–2002–2003; Hellinger and Motschenbacher 2015; Livia and Hall 1997; Motschenbacher 2010). Researchers claiming that language constructs social gender and maintains gender inequality often tacitly presuppose or imply that language has a cognitive role, namely, that language mediates the way in which speakers interpret experience. However, cognition is rarely addressed explicitly in language and gender research. The past few years have seen new data on the relation between grammatical and lexical gender, and cognition from studies in psychology (Garnham et al. 2016), typology (Aikhenvald 2016) and talk-in-interaction (Alvanoudi 2014). Despite a number of in-depth works on the relation between gendered language structures and social gender, there has been no attempt to offer a systematic account of the cognitive aspects of this relation. This special issue is intended to partly fill this gap by exploring the complex interface between indexing gender, culture and cognition across different languages, namely Croatian, English, Greek and Italian. The sections ‘Indexing gender’, ‘Indexing gender and culture’ and ‘Indexing gender and cognition’ outline some theoretical preliminaries for the contributions included in this special

Item ID: 63051
Item Type: Article (Editorial)
ISSN: 2397-2645
Keywords: cognitive effect, gendered terms, grammatical and lexical, social gender, indexing gender
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Copyright Information: ©2020 Equinox Publishing. This article is Open Access via the publisher's website.
Date Deposited: 10 Aug 2020 01:27
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2004 Linguistics > 200408 Linguistic Structures (incl Grammar, Phonology, Lexicon, Semantics) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture @ 100%
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