Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
AUTHOR: Litosseliti, Lia TITLE: Gender & Language SUBTITLE: Theory and Practice PUBLISHER: Hodder Arnold YEAR: 2006
Tracy Rundstrom Williams, Department of Linguistics and TESOL, The University of Texas at Arlington
This is a concise book which examines both the theoretical frameworks of gender and language and the practical application of those theories to three broad areas: education, media, and the workplace.
The first section looks at the major theories of gender and language: deficit, dominance, difference, and dynamic approaches. In chapter 1, Litosseliti provides a history of language and gender research in relation to social phenomena of the time. Litosseliti notes early pre-feminist linguistics focused on gender from the perspective of the speakers' biological sex, although such research has been criticized by feminists because it has been used to justify male privileges and perpetuate gender myths and stereotypes. Research in the 1970s focused on gender differences or gender bias in language as an abstract system, which has also been criticized by researchers who advocate examining language use on a local level, but such research did lead to an exploration of sexist language, and Litoselliti touches on the challenges and benefits of changing such language. She concludes with a brief overview of research in gender and language following the 1970s, in particular the emergence of feminist linguistics, the trends of research in the 1980s and 1990s, and the parallel tracks of research and social movements of feminism during these times.
Chapter 2 introduces and problematizes the ''deficit,'' ''dominance'' and ''difference'' theoretical approaches to the study of gender and language. Litosseliti notes that all three approaches have focused on how women and men use language differently rather than how women and men are constructed through language. She then examines each of the three approaches, noting major researchers and themes, as well as criticisms, which often prompted the subsequent theory's development. Litosseliti concludes the chapter by introducing a criticism of all three theories: they do not consider the role of other social and contextual parameters such as race, class, age, ethnicity, setting, and power. More recent researchers have begun to move away from the idea of gender as a binary opposition, which perpetuates stereotypes of men and women and does not address the diversity of ways that individuals ''do'' gender.
Chapter 3 introduces research in which linguists look at the ways individuals construct their gender through discourse. Litosseliti provides a summary of the similarities of discourse and discourse analysis, then moves on to examine a few different approaches to discourse analysis, including critical discourse analysis, feminist discourse analysis, and conversation analysis. Although she does not examine each in great detail, she mentions major researchers, foci, and criticisms for each of the frameworks. She focuses instead on how discourse analysis is different from previous studies of gender and language in that it looks at how individuals produce or construct gendered selves through the choices that index different recognizable discourses, and she mentions some of the gendered discourses identified by researchers. In particular, she focuses on the theory's tenet that gender is produced or accomplished through discourse in a process that is on-going, active, and incomplete. She concludes by summarizing the current trend in feminist linguistics of studying how gender identities are multi-layered, diverse, fluid, and actively produced, and the imperative that gender identities must be studied in light of a number of contextual elements.
The second section, _Gender in Context_, looks at three broad fields where gender is particularly important: education, workplace, and media. Litosseliti considers the implications of research in these areas and contextualizes the historical / theoretical perspectives already introduced in section one. In chapter 4, Litosseliti introduces studies which examine the role education plays in children developing their identity as a gendered individual. She notes dominance approach studies found that boys dominate classroom time in a variety of ways, while difference approach studies found that boys and girls use different styles in the classroom and on the playground. Then, she turns to dynamic approaches, which focus on what is being done with language, rather than the quantity and style of language. Litosseliti also explores studies of second language acquisition for boys and girls, including motivation and attitude, and studies of second language teaching materials which reinforce sexist stereotypes. She concludes with suggestions to teachers and policy-makers to attend to problematic stereotyping and different treatment of boys and girls in education.
In chapter 5, Litosseliti considers the power of the media to construct gender ideologies and subject positions, and examines what various studies reveal these gender ideologies to be. Furthermore, she explores how the media has the power to construct these ideologies, by determining what is newsworthy and by using language define their assumed or ideal reader and to create a sense of shared views and values. A great deal of the chapter is devoted to examining the stereotypical discourses that magazines and advertising perpetuate; for women, these include being traditional, consumers, heterosexual, sexual (in conflicting ways), and responsible for relationships; for men, these include being macho. She concludes with concerns about the media reiterating and maintaining these limiting stereotypes.
In Chapter 6, Litosseliti examines the various theories' studies on language differences and discourse construction in the workplace. Dominance studies have found men use language to dominate women in situations where they are peers and even inferiors, while different approaches have found that women seek equality in workplace conversations, while men seek hierarchy. Turning to dynamic approaches, she explores studies which examine how speakers align or frame themselves with one another based on communities of practice rather. Dynamic approach studies have examined how, why, and with what implications men and women use styles stereotypically associated with their own or the other sex, or some combination of styles. She concludes by looking at implications and uses of academic research in the workplace, in particular ways that changes have worked, and ways more changes can be implemented so that more women can gain higher positions and more social power.
In the third section, _Researching Gender and Language_, she offers a number of resources to help the student, researcher, or teacher apply the information of the text. She includes a summary of major principles in feminist linguistic research, sample activities, study questions, and additional resources for teachers. The principles introduce such tenets as being self-reflexive and informed by feminist politics. The sample activities include actual texts and transcripts followed by reflective questions in consideration of the book's material.
This is an excellent overview of the field of gender and language. Although a short book, it is dense with information, both theory and examples. It offers a well-organized, broad look at many perspectives, including both praise and criticisms of various theories and approaches, and suggesting additional readings for learning more. Each chapter contains broad theoretical information and specific examples from a wide range of researchers, at times even including actual data to demonstrate ideas. Each chapter also contains thoughtful questions placed throughout the text, allowing readers to stop and consider the material before continuing with the reading. The questions would allow for a professor to guide discussion, or allow for the reader to pause and reflect on the content. The summary points at the end of each chapter do an excellent job of reiterating the essence of the chapter. In addition, each chapter contains suggestions for additional readings.
I found the organization to be a unique and valuable approach for studying the field. By beginning with an examination of theories, the reader can grasp the general differences in theoretical approaches and can examine the social and academic context which led to the rise and criticism of each. Then, in looking at the application of research by field rather than by theory, the reader has the opportunity to see the impact and application of research to society, and to compare the theories and results in action. I found this organizational approach to be quite insightful.
Also of value is the third section on researching gender in language. Litosseliti provides a paragraph summary on several principles of feminist linguistics research to help the beginning student or researcher understand the unique approach of feminist linguistic research. Next, she offers some sample texts and transcripts, with research questions, to engage the readers and allow them an opportunity to apply concepts from the book. She also includes study questions for each of the chapters, and additional texts and websites for further reading. The study questions would provide an excellent starting point for class discussions and personal reflection on the material, and the resources for additional reading are an important supplement the book, given that it is fairly short.
This would make an excellent book for an introductory student to gain a breadth of the field of gender and language and a comparison of various perspectives and approaches. While it is apparent at times that Litosseliti is a discourse analyst, she offers a fair evaluation of other approaches to gender and language, and does an excellent job of covering both the broad theory and the practical application. Furthermore, the book does not rely heavily on linguistic terminology, and when it does, it is well explained. While it may be too short and superficial to be a stand-alone textbook for a language and gender class, it would be an excellent supplement to reader or reading packet to help frame the field of gender and language and to provide a comparative look at research in action.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Tracy Rundstrom Williams is a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Arlington. Her dissertation examines how fitness magazines encode two seemingly opposing discourses of femininity: that of the empowered woman and that of the traditional woman. Her other research interests include intercultural communication, interactional sociolinguistics, and second language acquisition. She works at Texas Christian University as the Associate Director of the Center for International Studies and teaches language and gender and intercultural communication courses as an adjunct in the Communication Studies Department at TCU.