ENGL489V - Language, Sex, and Gender

Over the last 40 years, the domain of language and gender studies has become increasingly vital within sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, feminist studies, psychology, philosophy, lexicography, and other disciplines. The issues of sexist and gender-neutral language and, more recently, the proliferation of, and reaction to, so-called “politically correct” language have gained a wide currency in both the scholarly and popular consciousness, while influencing legal and religious discourse as well. Sociolinguists such as William Labov and Deborah Tannen have investigated the function of sex as a variable in communication, linguistic structure, and language change, while other linguists, anthropologists, and psychologists have studied the implications of both real and perceived asymmetries in the way women and men (as well as girls and boys) speak, are spoken to, and are spoken about. Recent and current research highlights a variety of potentially significant cross-linguistic and cross-cultural differences and parallels that demand closer investigation, while also raising important questions about how and when sex-based asymmetries in speech practices are acquired by children. The relation of language to sexuality and sexual orientation has recently also been a focus of increasing scrutiny.

This course offers an informed overview of these issues through an examination of major readings in the area and an introduction to some of the basic empirical and analytic techniques which inform this literature. Course work will include active participation in the discussion of readings, exercises focussing on data collection and analysis, a group project and presentation, and an individual research paper related to the group project. Students will also keep a journal (or scrapbook) of observed data—clippings from newspapers or magazines, snippets of overheard conversations, lines/exchanges from movies or TV shows, and so on, with annotations—that bear in some way on the issues of language, sex, and gender explored over the course of the semester.