Academic journal article Bilingual Review

Sociolinguistic Development and Gender Identification in Childhood: A Bilingual Case Study (Birth to Age 10)

Academic journal article Bilingual Review

Sociolinguistic Development and Gender Identification in Childhood: A Bilingual Case Study (Birth to Age 10)

Article excerpt

Dedicado a mi hija, Carla Alina, quien me proporciono el tema de este articulo.

Abstract

Over the past fifty years, sociolinguists have done much to clarify the nexus between language and cultural norms. Nowhere is this clearer than in studies that address expressive styles and gender issues. With few exceptions, however, most works focus on the fully formed language of adult speakers, ignoring developmental aspects: When and how do children begin to manifest differentiated speech patterns, behaviors, roles, and speech styles associated with gender? This study explores these sociolinguistic issues using data from a girl bilingual in Spanish and English. Spanning a period from birth to age 10;0, it explores the emergence of gender identification, grammatical gender (intrinsic to Spanish), differentiated female-male behaviors and roles, and the speech styles appropriate to her sense of self as a female. The study concludes with a summary of the processes that led to her enculturation as a member of the two distinct societies in which she was raised.

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Overview

Over the past fifty years, sociolinguists have done much to clarify the nexus between language and cultural norms. Nowhere is this clearer than in studies that address expressive styles and gender issues (see Lakoff 1973; Gleason 1987; Crawford 1995; and Tannen 2001, among others). With few exceptions, however (e.g., Cook et al. 1985; Berghout Austin et al. 1987; Ladegaard and Bleses 2003; Piller and Pavlenko 2004), most works focus on the fully formed language of adult speakers. As Ladegaard and Bleses (2003, 223) point out: "Relatively little research has been done on the emergence of gender differences in the language of children."

For this reason, various developmental questions remain unanswered: When and how do children display gender identity? Where in language and culture is it rooted? How is it transmitted and perceived? And when and how do children begin to manifest differentiated speech patterns, behaviors, roles, and speech styles associated with gender? This article attempts to contribute in part to this void.

The current research effort results from a longitudinal case study designed to explore these essential questions. Using data obtained from a child bilingual in Spanish and English, this study spans a period from birth to age 10;0. The study explores the child's sociolinguistic development in terms of gender identification, grammatical gender (intrinsic to the Spanish language), differentiated female-male behaviors and roles, and the emergence of speech styles appropriate to her sense of self as a female. These are all important issues because as one writer states: "Gender is an important division in all societies and of significance to human beings. Being born male or female has far reaching consequences for an individual. It affects how we act in the world, how the world treats us. This includes the language we use, and the language used about us" (Talbot 1998, 1).

It is well known, of course, that children's behaviors are influenced by a variety of factors, including personality, temperament, and individual interests. However, role models and environmental variables often constitute a major influence. For this reason, we might anticipate in this study that the subject's gender identity and expressive development are heavily influenced initially by caretakers in a variety of obvious and subtle ways, augmented eventually by other speakers and the media as the child's environment expands beyond the home. As Gleason and Perlman (1985) point out in their work, this pattern has been generally established by other researchers.

Even so, it is instructive to examine in detail how this process unfolds, albeit through the observation of one child. Although developmental processes naturally vary across individuals and cultures, an individual case study can nonetheless suggest a range of indicators of gendered speech, factors affecting their transmission, the effects of grammatical gender, and how gender specific behaviors and speech styles emerge, as well as situate them within a developmental time frame. …

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