Language and Sexuality

By Deborah Cameron; Don Kulick | Go to book overview
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Chapter 1
Making connections

This book sets out to explore a particular set of connections, between 'language' on one hand and 'sexuality' on the other. Each of these terms encompasses what is really a complex range of phenomena, and in addition each has connections to other terms which are related but not identical. Before we do anything else, therefore, it is important to try and get as clear as possible what it is that we will be discussing under the heading of 'language and sexuality'.


SEX, GENDER, SEXUALITY

In 1975 a groundbreaking collection of feminist scholarship on language was published under the title Language and Sex (Thorne and Henley 1975). Today, this title appears anachronistic: the field of inquiry that the volume helped to establish is known (in English) as 'language and gender studies'. The change reflects a general tendency, at least among social scientists and humanists, for scholars to distinguish gender (socially constructed) from sex (biological), and to prefer gender where the subject under discussion is the social behaviour and relations of men and women. In a somewhat similar way (and for somewhat similar reasons), sex in its 'other' sense of 'erotic desire/practice' has been progressively displaced for the purposes of theoretical discussion by sexuality. Sexuality, like gender, is intended to underline the idea that we are dealing with a cultural rather than purely natural phenomenon.

In this book we will follow most contemporary scholars in using sex, gender and sexuality to mean different, rather than interchangeable, things. Nevertheless, we think it is worth remembering that the English word sex has only recently yielded to alternative terms. There are good reasons to prefer the alternatives, but we should not underestimate the significance, nor the continuing relevance, of the connection that was made explicitly in the termsex with its dual meaning. That connection (between the phenomenon

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