He Is the Sun, She Is the Moon: A Feminist Sociolinguistic Approach to Teaching the French Language

By Moscovici, Claudia | Women and Language, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

He Is the Sun, She Is the Moon: A Feminist Sociolinguistic Approach to Teaching the French Language


Moscovici, Claudia, Women and Language


As a result of current sociolinguistic research, we have begun to acknowledge the fact that language is neither a "neutral" nor a "natural" phenomenon, but a symbolic system which produces, shapes and perpetuates social norms and relations.(1) The growing interest in the complicated network of lived and articulated power relations among variously differentiated communities of speakers--along the interconnected markers of class, race, gender, and ethnicity--has profound implications for pedagogical methods which emphasize the cultural, communicative, or contextual aspects of language. In particular, feminist sociolinguistic research compellingly articulates the necessity of examining the sexists attitudes and practices which are systemically encoded in the structures, grammar, and connotations of a given language: particularly in the Romance languages, where gender differentiation plays a crucial role in the linguistic organization of social functions. The purpose of this essay is to examine some of the fundamental androcentric biases of the French language in a manner which can be usefully and flexibly integrated into foreign language curricula. To offer a more specific illustration, this essay will apply this method in a one-semester, Intermediate-level (or second year) course in French language and culture.

As sociolinguistic Marina Yaguello succinctly phrases it, "Sexual difference presents itself most of all as a product of the socio-cultural order which is reflected in language as a demiotic system among others."(2) Given the serious social implications of language--which can function as one of the most fundamental modes of perpetuating or, with conscious and strenuous efforts, of combatting prejudicial and sexist norms--we can no longer afford to teach courses in foreign languages without being conscious and sensitive to its systemic gender-based normative hierarchies and to their social implications for communities of both native and nonnative speakers. A course which will flexibly and comfortably combine language and content-based teaching relies upon the increasingly wide-spread assumption that "language is learned most effectively for communication in meaningful, purposeful social and academic contexts. {...} Content can provide both a motivational and a cognitive basis for language teaching and learning. Content provides a primary motivational incentive for language insofar as it is interesting and of some value to the learner and therefore worth learning."(3) A study of the sexist structures and connotations of the French language can be taught on its own' in content-based courses that focus upon specialized feminist or sociolinguistic topics, or can function as a necessary supplement to basic, intermediate, and advanced language, literature and society courses. Because any sociolinguistic approach treats language as a lived social phenomenon, the courses which either focus upon or integrate critical analyses of the gender of language will rely upon authentic materials that range in linguistic and theoretical sophistication depending upon the focus and the level of the course. Such courses would be organized around the assumption shared by content and context-based methods that:

The contexts for language practice should be

devised, as much as possible, from culturally

authentic sources. The use of real or simulated

travel documents, hotel registration forms,

biographical data sheets, {...} newspapers and

magazines, {novels and plays} will acquaint the

students more directly with real language than

will any set of contrived classroom materials used

alone. Videotapes of authentic or simulated

exchanges between native speakers, radio and

television broadcasts, films, songs, and the like

have long been advocated by foreign language

educators as stimulating pedagogical aids. …

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He Is the Sun, She Is the Moon: A Feminist Sociolinguistic Approach to Teaching the French Language
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