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Review of  Gender and Language

Reviewer: Tracy Rundstrom Williams
Book Title: Gender and Language
Book Author: Lia Litosseliti
Publisher: Hodder Education
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): None
Issue Number: 18.1124

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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

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

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

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.

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.

Format: Paperback
ISBN: 0340809590
ISBN-13: N/A
Pages: 224
Prices: U.K. £ 14.99