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Review of  Gender Across Languages. The linguistic representation of women and men.

Reviewer: Tamara Faschingbauer
Book Title: Gender Across Languages. The linguistic representation of women and men.
Book Author: Bhadumod Bussmann Marlis Hellinger
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics
Issue Number: 13.462

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Hellinger, Marlis, and Hadumod Bußmann, eds. (2001) Gender Across
Languages: The Linguistic Representation of Women and Men, Volume I.
John Benjamins, xiv+329pp, hardback ISBN 1-58811-082-6 (US & Canada),
90-272-1840-4 (Eur), $75.00 / EUR 83.00; paperback ISBN 1-58811-083-4
(US & Canada), 90-272-1841-2 (Eur), $29.95 / EUR 33.00. IMPACT: Studies
in Language and Society 9.

Reviewed by Tamara Faschingbauer, Institut für Germanistische
Sprachwissenschaft, Philipps-Universität Marburg (Germany)

Another book about gender and language? Research on gender and language
has seen considerable growth -- the number of books published in this
field within the past two decades is enormous. Yet, not many of these
publications offered new insights to this field of research. Gender
Across Languages definitely does not belong to this category.

Gender Across Languages represents the first of a three-volume
comprehensive reference work on the field of language and gender
research. The aim of this book is to provide a systematic description
of various classifications of gender within 30 different languages.
Among the analysed languages of Volume I are the following: Arabic,
Belizean Creole, Eastern Maroon Creole, English (British, American, New
Zealand, Australian), Hebrew, Indonesian, Romanian, Russian and
Turkish. This listing conveys the successful effort of putting more
focus on non-western languages within the research of gender and
language. This volume provides the much-needed basis for comparative
analyses of gender across languages. Due to this comparative paradigm
all contributions follow a general outline which take the following
questions into account:
* What are the structural properties of the language that have an
impact on the relations between language and gender?
* What are the consequences for areas such as agreement,
pronominalization and word-formation?
* How is specification of and abstraction from (referential) gender
achieved in language?
* Is empirical evidence available for the assumption that
masculine/male expressions are interpreted as generics?
* Can tendencies of variation and change be observed, and have
alternatives been proposed for a more equal linguistic treatment of
women and men? In answering these guideline questions the book is
packed with examples/transcripts taken from recent research and
presents considerable depth and breadth. One criticism is the fact that
on the whole poststructural theories of gender are neglected by most of
the authors.

This first volume begins with an overview-article by the editors.
Hellinger and Bußmann discuss the linguistic representation of women
and men and stress the complex and multi-dimensional concept of gender.
With regard to the fact that white middle class North American English
does not represent other languages, they emphasize the need for
"comparative analyses based on adequate descriptions of a large number
of languages of diverse structural and sociocultural backgrounds" (p.

Hachimi gives insights into Language and gender in Moroccan Arabic,
which is only used for informal and mundane communication but not for
written purposes. She refers to sociolinguistic perspectives like
multiglossia and multilingualism, compares Moroccan Arabic with other
varieties of Arabic and explains the differences of the gender system
of Moroccan Arabic from Classical Arabic. The socio- religious basis of
gender issues is analysed as well as the role of women and men in
religious texts.

Escure investigates Belizean Creole with regard to aspects like gender,
creole and the role of women in language change. Having analysed a
considerable amount of data she concludes that in a postcolonial creole
community "the definition of gender roles is a variable factor
determining linguistic choices in the context of the extensive range of
linguistic variability available to most creole speakers" (p. 81).
However, the evolution of gender roles is interpreted as having a
significant impact on linguistic development.

Migge explores communicating gender in the Eastern Maroon Creole of
Surinam. Her analysis "revealed that even though the language lacks the
grammatical category of gender, its speakers are still able to
communicate referential gender" (p. 101). Moreover, an in-depth look at
different interpretations of personal nouns is taken.

Hellinger's chapter "English - Gender in a global language" explains
the decision to cover more than one variety of English in this book
with the vital role English plays today and concludes that "it is no
longer meaningful to make assumptions about "English" without
specifying the respective regional variety" (p. 105). Moreover, she
sketches the historical linguistic development from highly inflected
Old English with three grammatical genders to Modern English where
gender is primarily a semantic category. The phenomenon of semantic
derogation is as well discussed as alternatives for replacing
asymmetric usage in English.

Holmes takes a corpus-based look at gender in New Zealand English.
Address terms, occupational titles and morphological markings in
written and spoken corpora of New Zealand English are examined. This
chapter is rounded off by the comparison with data from Australian
English, British English as well as American English.

Pauwels focuses on the spreading and adoption of the title Ms in
Australian English. Using questionnaire and interview methods, she
discusses variation and change in Australian English. Moreover, she
evaluates feminist language planning strategies.

Romaine compares British, American, Australian and New Zealand English.
She presents the results of a search of the British National Corpus
while comparing them with the data provided by Holmes and Pauwels in
the preceding chapters. Furthermore, she makes assumptions about
different tendencies of language change in progress of the discussed
four varieties of English.

Tobin examines the phenomenon of gender switch in Modern Hebrew: males
addressing close female friends and relatives using masculine pronouns
and verb morphology as a sign of affection. The other way round, close
females use this form of gender switch as well. Hebrew discourse is
characterised as gendered as the structure of Hebrew requires gender
categorisation on all levels of language use.

Kuntjara investigates gender in Javanese Indonesian. Focus is put on
complex Javanese terms of address. On the one side the exclusion of
women in the use of many generic words is observed, but on the other
side some generic words excluding men can also be noticed. The
reluctance of women to use Javanese in conversational interaction is
interpreted as women's preference of a more egalitarian language.
Nevertheless, she concludes that Indonesian people are far from being
egalitarian and that men still represent the powerful group and women
the powerless.

Maurice takes an in-depth look at the to be taken literally phenomenon
of deconstructing gender in Romanian where the subject of language and
gender is not much discussed. The reasons for a nearly non-existent
feminist discourse on language and gender are seen in the specific
political situation of post-communist countries. Yet, linguistic
guidelines for the equal treatment of women and men are work in
progress. Although the term deconstruction is used in the title of this
chapter, poststructural theories receive no consideration.

Even though Doleschal and Schmid seem to focus on the concept of doing
gender in Russian as the title of their chapter suggests,
unfortunately, they do not attach importance to it. The authors
describe the variety of possibilities of referring to women in Russian.
In official contexts stylistically neutral masculine forms are used in
reference to woman as well as in self-reference by women whereas in
more informal situations the gender of the referent plays a more
important role. Although not from a feminist perspective, research on
language and gender has a long tradition in Soviet linguistics. Soviet
ideology took the implementation of equal rights for women and men for
granted, therefore the problem of their unequal treatment by language
was non-existent.

Braun takes an in-depth look at the communication of gender in Turkish.
She shows that grammatical neutrality as it is the case in Turkish does
not necessarily correspond to gender neutrality in discourse. Moreover,
Braun's data confirm that even grammatically neutral forms can be
gender biased. A general rule to be drawn from her data "is that male
gender remains mostly unmarked regardless of context, whereas female
gender tends to be overtly expressed" (p. 295).

To sum it up, this book makes significant contributions to current
research on gender and language and serves as a comprehensive guide to
central issues in this field. This publication is rounded off by rich
bibliographical and indexical material.

I am finishing a doctoral thesis on gender and language. My research
interests include discourse analysis, gender and language as well as
learning strategies with new media.