Sketching the Prospects: Language and Gender Studies in Georgia *

Article excerpt

Almost every time, when I answer I am from Georgia, in English, to the question What country are you from?, I have to add sentences clarifying that this is not one of the American states, but a former Soviet republic, situated between Turkey and Russia, that this is one of the ancient countries in the world, and that, for seventy years in the 20th century, colonial status forced Georgia (Sakartvelo) to be separated from the rest of the world by the iron curtain. However, after the breakup of the Soviet empire, both our sovereignty and the globalization process allowed a plethora of new ideas, concepts and approaches into my society, and I have to admit that we did not seem to be ready to accept and welcome all of them. Due to the fact that nowadays our society is exposed to so much influence from the Western world, things that were great news some three or four years ago have become rather common now.

The above said is true about the notion of gender, as a socio-cultural phenomenon. As for the issues of language and gender studies, so far, they have not been acknowledged to be purely scholarly problems. The situation can be paralleled with what Deborah Cameron was saying in the mid 1990:

   When I began to do feminist linguistics there 
   was, in Britain anyway, no field more generally 
   obscure and lacking in credibility--an 
   interviewer once commented, about my own 
   book Feminism and Linguistic Theory, 'But isn't 
   that like writing a book on linguistics and 
   organic gardening?' (Cameron 1995:31) 

Likewise, when I gave a paper (concerning some issues of language and gender studies) at one of the scholarly conferences in Georgia, I saw some not unexpected skepticism on the faces of several participants. Therefore, the question arises: Why are we so late? In part it was due to the Communist regime blocking outside ideas, and, generally, scholars weren't permitted to do research in the area that was seen as an issue of the 'capitalist world'. Secondly, there was no fertile soil for feminism in Georgia where there have been many signs

   of the power of the maternal side, following 
   Georgian traditions related to the reverence of 
   women. (Traditionally, Georgia is considered to 
   be a country of the Virgin; Georgians were, 
   moreover, Christianized by a woman--Nino, and 
   the most popular of the Georgian rulers was a 
   woman, Tamar) (Apridonidze 1991: 140) 

Naturally enough, the described situation has a considerable reflection in the language; and, hence, as far as there were no acute societal problems in terms of woman's place in society, there had been no intrinsic need for the study of related issues. But, given the previously described changes, one can easily predict that, in this country, the coming years will soon see the boom of considerations upon gender issues in general, and, particularly, upon the interrelationships of language and gender. Even though in the 1990s some Georgian scholars published papers dealing with various issues of language and gender, the issue still requires further investigation, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Below I list some issues that can be relevant in language and gender research in Georgia, indicating what has been done, and what is to be done:

* how women and men speak in various settings (sociolinguistic and ethnolinguistic aspects). Only some ethnographic observations exist commenting on women's and men's differing speech behaviors, though with no reference to the notion of gender. The German scholar Helga Kotthoff has written papers (e.g. Kotthoff 1995; 2001) dealing with the relationship between gender, emotion, and culture in Georgian mourning rituals and in toast performances, discovering a certain kind of a gendered division of labor. Her ethnomethodologic approach is rather effective, leading to many valuable findings. …