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Review of  Gender Across Languages

Reviewer: Giampaolo Poletto
Book Title: Gender Across Languages
Book Author: Marlis Hellinger Hadumod Bußmann
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Subject Language(s): Czech
Greek, Modern
Book Announcement: 14.2723

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Date: Wed, 8 Oct 2003 11:34:24 +0200
From: Giampaolo Poletto <>
Subject: Gender Across Languages: The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men , Vol. 3

Hellinger, Marlis and Hadumod Bußmann, eds. (2003) Gender Across
Languages: The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men, Volume 3,
John Benjamins Publishing Company, Impact: Studies in Language and

Giampaolo Poletto, University of Pécs, Hungary.

[For reviews of the first two volumes in this series, see and -- Eds.]

The third volume of a contrastive-oriented cross-linguistic ongoing
project and reference work, Gender across languages, collects further
systemic descriptions and analyses of gender-related issues in
structurally and socio-culturally diversely grounded languages.
Investigations on their linguistic representations have so far
considered 30 languages. The focus is on personal nouns and pronouns.
The framework is detailed in the editors' The linguistic representation
of women and men (1-25).

Linguistic manifestations of gender are interpreted as the discursive
result of "doing gender" in specific socio-cultural-contexts. That
contributes to a multidimensional theory of communication, hopefully
devising the interaction between linguistic expressions and some
parameters, namely ethnicity, culture, social status, setting,
discourse functions, unrepresented in a direct or unambiguous way (see
Bing & Bergvall, 1996), and of the same importance as extra-linguistic
gender. Functional properties are envisioned without focusing on
formal, semantic and historical issues exclusively.

Together with gender-related structures, such as word-formation,
especially derivation and compounding, agreement, pronominalization,
coordination, gender-related messages have been examined: address
forms, idiomatic and metaphorical expressions, proverbs, female/male
discourse. Trying not to impose a western perspective, the same issues
are discussed within a unique terminological and methodological
framework. Chapters develop as follows:
1. opening: language examined, topic, author, affiliation, index;
2. content: historical introduction, structural and functional properties;
3. conclusion: summary, tendencies,
4. areas of further research;
5. notes, bibliography.

Variations in content are due to language-specific properties and to
the state of the research on language and gender in a given country.
Essays are original contributions and contain important bibliographical
and indexical material. The aim addressing the reader is to provide
inevitably selective material, sufficiently illustrating the diversity
and complexity of linguistic representations of gender across languages,
either with grammatical gender or "genderless" or with different areal,
typological and historical affiliations.

The goal of scholarship in this area is to outline the general - and
universal - principles that the formal and functional manifestations of
gender in the area of human reference follow; and to have the theoretical
and empirical foundations for statements about gendered structures in
languages specified. Furthermore, in the context of language planning,
observed gender-related tendencies of variation, change and eventually
language reform provide guidelines to emphasize the interaction between
structural/linguistic prerequisites and social, cultural and political
conditions determining gender relationships in a community, along with
either the development of positive attitudes towards non-sexist
alternatives (see Smith, 1973), or the acknowledgement of redefined and
depoliticized feminist meanings (see Ehrlich & King, 1994).
Masculine/male expressions are the default choice for human
reference in almost any context, overtly in gender languages, more
covertly in genderless languages, despite their possibilities for
egalitarian and gender-neutral expressions, an observation that
underlies traditional theories of gender (see Baron, 1986). There is
a need for comparative analyses, based on adequate descriptions of a
large number of languages, to develop a more global view, with the
awareness that white middle class North American English cannot be
regarded as representative for other languages also.

Issues are interdisciplinary, and the material presented is thus
expected to contribute to the debate on them from a multifaceted
perspective, sociolinguistic, text-linguistic, historical,
psycholinguistic. The terminology relevant to "gender class" and
"gender language" has been redefined. Within the framework of nominal
classification, given that some languages analysed have none, the two
major types are classifier and noun class languages. The latter are not
synonymous (see Craig, 1994) for the majority included in the project.
In "gender languages" or "languages with grammatical gender" there are
usually two or three "gender classes"; the agreement of nouns with
other word classes occurs within and without the noun phrase; class
membership is not arbitrary in animate/personal reference; there is a
correspondence between gender class and lexical/referential gender of
personal nouns and nouns. Noun class languages, such as Swahili, have
more classes than gender languages, instead, nouns explicitly carrying
markers of class membership, extensive agreement on other word classes.

A central distinction concerns grammatical gender, or the gender-fixed
noun control of the agreement with some gender-variable satellite
element; lexical gender, or the lexical female- or male-specific overt
or covert marking, with no hint at a binary objectivist view;
referential gender, or the relation between linguistic expressions and
a non-linguistic reality; "false generics", or the neutralization of
gender-specific personal nouns or nouns in specific contexts, such as
idiomatic expressions, referred to as "generic masculines" for "gender
languages", "male generics" when languages are genderless; social
gender, or the category of "the socially imposed dichotomy of masculine
and feminine roles and character traits" (Kramarae & Treichler,

CZECH Communicating gender in Czech (27-57) Světla Čmejrková

This Western Slavic gender language has a more inflected nature than
other Slavic languages, which is more evident in the noun, with both
paradigmatic and syntagmatic features, and the verb. Czech, more
systematically than other languages, expresses the gender of the
referent, speaker and addressee, something which deserves further

DANISH Equal before the law - unequal in language (59-85) Kirsten
Gomard, Mette Kunøe

After the 15th century masculine and feminine gender merge into a
common gender, the 75% of all nouns (see Hansen, 1967); the remaining
have a neuter gender. Human nouns may belong to both. Such structural
properties have eased the adoption of gender-fair language use, with a
language tendency towards neutralisation, which has remarkably
increased gender-indefinite human nouns (see Jarvad, 1995). As language
reveals attitudes and somehow influences on cognition and perception
(see Hamilton, 1997), this tendency should be socially and
linguistically revised.

FRENCH Gender in French (87-117) Structural properties, incongruencies
and asymmetries Elmar Schafroth

Sharing few similarities with other Romance languages, as to
phonological and grammatical criteria of typological classifications,
French presents the "prespecifying analytical type" in many paradigms,
the postspecifying synthetical way marking the grammatical gender on
nouns and adjectives, a marked discrepancy between spelling and
pronunciation. Interdisciplinary studies are releaved to be lacking and
needed, with reference to gender-relevant questions and problems.

FRENCH Gender and language politics in France (119-139) Elisabeth Burr

Late proposals of law and bills have represented positive steps in the
direction of a linguistic equal treatment of women and men with high-
level professions, functions, grades, titles, partly as a result of
politics in favour of a less gender-biased language use (see Burr,
1999a, b). Many ideas on the difference between why and how women and
men are named have still to be questioned, along with the concept that
personal nouns form human relationships, confirm someone's identity,
define their value in a linguistic community (Houdebine, 1987).

GERMAN Endangering female visibility in German (141-174) Hadumod
Bußmann, Marlis Hellinger

In Modern German, which maintains an inflectional system with four
cases, with three grammatical genders, there is a tendency towards more
agreement between grammatical and referential gender, with personal
feminines used for female reference, by reason of the productivity and
neutral connotation of the derivational suffix -in. The linguistic
visibility of women is officially supported, although the question on
the impact on spoken and more informal domains of German is still

GREEK Women, gender and Modern Greek (175-199) Theodossia Soula-

The Greek diglossia dhimotiki vs katharevousa originates in the
Hellenistic times and ends in 1976, when a law makes the "Modern Greek
(demotic)". Along with the fall of the political junta, the law has a
strong impact on the language. Remarks focus here on the variety
referred to as Standard Modern Greek, where gender bias has been
reduced, due to some legislative acts. Nevertheless, changes have to be
furtherly assessed and counterchanges adequately backed.

JAPANESE Gender structures in Japanese (201-225) Janet S.Shibamoto

As to this typologically SOV agglutinating genderless language, with a
high degree of alternatives of writing and saying the same thing,
Japanese women's and men's speech exhibit somewhat different
phonological properties. As a pervasive and salient category in
society, gender is represented as binary, which the research on
language and gender has to consider, not to lose touch "with most
people's experience in reality" (Preisler, 1998:285). Women's language
- joseigo - is to be furtherly investigated, in relation to the rapid
social changes affecting gendered language structures and practices.

JAPANESE Women's language as a group identity marker in Japanese (227-
238) Sachiko Ide

Current female speech is viewed in a historical perspective, which
intends to support the hypothesis that the source of women's "more
polite" language marks the difference in their role rather than in
their status. This perspective helps shed light on disregarded positive
aspects, such as the function of women's language as a group identity
marker and a marker of the speaker's position in society.

ORIYA Linguistic and social cultural implications of gendered
structures in Oriya (239-257) Kalyanamalimi Sahoo

In this Indo-Aryan language, belonging to the Indo-Iranian branch of
the Indo-European language family and originating in the New Indo-Aryan
third stage of the development of the Indo-Aryan family, nouns or
adjectives carry markers of semantic or referential gender, whereas
pronouns do not. Socio-cultural implications refer to the structure of
society, the difference between social groups, the consequent treatment
of women and men. Feminist movements in Orissa intend to enhance the
quality of women's life, also by creating terms through morphological
and syntactic strategies. Many questions on women and minorities arise,
each representing an area of further research, relevant to how and
whether gender-related socio-cultural facts are reflected in language

POLISH Language and gender in Polish (259-285) Gabriela Koniuszaniec,
Hanka Błaskowska

In this West Slavic inflected gender language, declensional paradigms
have two nominal and pronominal main types. The fact that women achieve
higher positions and ranks has led to enact strategies to back still
powerful male bias in the language system and use: feminisation and
neutralisation are the major. The implementation of the latter would
less contradict the principle of economy in language use, as the
application of the former would imply a repeated splitting, given the
inflectional nature of Polish.

SERBIAN The expression of gender in Serbian (287-309) Elke Hentschel

The events of the 1990s have divided Yugoslavia into three states with
their own variety of Serbo-Croatian, no more describable as unitarian,
and consequent language policies. The focus is here on Serbian,
officially written only in Cyrillic; the Latin alphabet with the
diacritic signs is used. Nouns denoting living beings are lexically
male- and female-specific; gender-indefinite words for children or
young animals are neuter. To most speakers' indifference towards or
rejection of feminine names, feminists respond proposing how to handle
the issue of female invisibility (see Savić, 1998). Gender-related
linguistic problems are still of marginal interest, in all three
countries, and the future, for the Serbian, is hardly predictable.

SWAHILI Perceptions of gender in Swahili language and society (311-337)
Rose Marie Beck

A Bantu language of the Sabaki subgroup, belonging to the
Niger-Congo language family, Swahili is an agglutinative language,
with affixes carrying grammatical and semantic information, and an
elaborate noun class system. There are no semantic clusters referring
to femaleness or maleness. Basic and kinship terms appear as fairly
symmetrically distributed. If the domain of women, more informally
accessible, is a negatively valued speech, men's, more formally
addressed, is silence. Researches on language and gender are still

SWEDISH Linguistic and public attitudes towards gender in Swedish (339-
368) Antje Hornscheidt

In this North Germanic language, with reference to common and neuter
gender nouns, gender assignment is not systematic. The linguists'
attitude to ignore or ridicule feminist language change has weakened
the public perception towards the existence of sexism in language.
Tendencies to both neutralisation and gender-specification can be
observed in written material only, not in spoken language usage, in
representative statements, in lacking reliable researches, which should
be definitely directed to perception studies in a comparative and
multifaceted perspective.


Essays can be read in themselves, as concise but concrete contributions
to a debate on gender-related specific issues many times lacking
adequate researches, if any. At the same time, they can be read as
parts of a more comprehensive work, attempting to draw the attention on
the fact that a more global and open perspective should be adopted to
back a uniforming attitude, asserting the representativity of white
middle class North American English. The main counterargument is to
show and foster the richness of complexity and diversity.


Baron, Dennis (1986) Grammar and gender. New Haven, CT: Yale University

Bing, Janet & Victoria L. Bergvall (1996) "The question of questions:
Beyond binary thinking". In Victoria L. Bergvall & Janet M. Bing &
Alice F. Freed (eds) Rethinking language and gender research: Theory
and practice. London: Longman, 1-30.

Burr, Elizabeth (1999 a) "'Comme on est mal dans sa peau, on peut se
sentir mal dans ses mots.' Das Selbstverständnis der Fraen und die
französische Sprachpolitik". Linguistik Online 1 (December 20, 2002).

Burr, Elizabeth (1999 b) "Geschlechtergerechter Sprachgebrauch in
Frankreich. Was bestimmt die Sprachpolitik?". Grenzgänge 6: 133-152.

Craig, Colette G. (1994) "Classifier languages". In Ronald E. Asher
(ed.) The Encyclopedia of language and linguistics. Vol.2 Oxford:
Pergamon, 565-569.

Ehrlich, Susan & Ruth King (1994) "Feminist meanings and the
(de)politicization of the lexicon". Language in Society 23: 59-76.

Hamilton, Mykol C. (1997) "The huwon race: Sexist language as a tool of
dominance". In Friederike Braun & Ursula Pasero (eds) Communication of
gender. Kommunication von Geschlecht. Pfaffenwailer: Centaurus, 147-

Hansen, Aage (1967) Moderne Dansk [Modern Danish] 2. København: Grafisk

Houdebine, Anne-Marie (1987) "Le français au féminin". La linguistique
23: 13-34.

Jarvad, Pia (1995) Nye ord - hvofor og hvordan? [New words - why and
how?]. København: Gyldendal.

Kramarae, Cheris & Paula A. Treichler (1985) A feminist dictionary.
Boston: Pandora.

Preisler, Bent (1998) "Review article: Deconstructing 'feminist
linguistics'". Journal of Sociolinguistics 2: 281-295.

Savić, Svenka (1998) "Žena sakrivena jezikom medija: Kodeks
neseksisticke upotrebe jezika" [The woman hidden by the language of the
media: A codex for non-sexist language use]. Ženske Studijie [Women
Studies] 10: 89-132.

Smith, David (1973) "Language, speech and ideology: A conceptual
framework". In Roger W. Shuy & Ralph W. Fasold Language attitudes:
Current trends and prospects. Washington, DC: Georgetown University
Press, 97-112.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Bachelor in Foreign Languages and Literature, English and Russian, and Humanities in Italy, with an eleven years' teaching experience of Italian and English in Italy and abroad, Giampaolo Poletto is third year Applied Linguistics PhD student at the University of Pécs, in Hungary, where he is working on a research project which attempts to tie a pragmatic and psycholinguistic analysis of Italian verbal humor to a didactic synthesis for Italian S/FL 11-to-18 aged students, along with the concept of implicitness, in humor and in language acquisition; that should sort of collect teaching experiences and studies, feed and open work and research programmes and perspectives.