Gender, Language and Discourse

By Ann Weatherall | Go to book overview

4

THE DISCURSIVE TURN

Introduction

In the past, there has been a sharp division between studying the way women and men use language and studying their representation in language (i.e. sexist language). However, the two areas are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In a review of the gender and language literature, Cameron (1998a) described the inter-relationships between language use by and language about women and men, in the following way:

When a researcher studies women and men speaking she is looking, as it were, at the linguistic construction of gender in the first- and second-person forms (the construction of I and you); when she turns to the representation of gender in, say, advertisements or literary texts she is looking at the same thing in the third person ('she' and 'he'). In many cases it is neither possible nor useful to keep these aspects apart, since the 'I-you-she/he' is relevant to the analysis of every linguistic act or text.

(Cameron, 1998a, p. 957)

A realisation that the boundaries typically dividing gender and language research are artificial has had a significant influence on the field. Consistent with Cameron's (1998a) insight, more recent work on gender and language has shifted focus so that the distinction between the two areas has become less marked. One consequence of the breaking down of old question boundaries is that the focus of research has shifted to discourse rather than language per se as the main locus for the construction (and contesting) of gendered and sexist meanings. At a discursive level, language about women (and men) and women (and men) speaking are both aspects of one process-the social construction of gender.

A shift in thinking from essentialist to constructionist approaches for understanding gender is part of a more general 'turn' to language in the humanities and social sciences (Burman and Parker, 1993). That turn has

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Gender, Language and Discourse
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgements ix
  • Introduction 1
  • 1 - Sexist Language 10
  • 2 - Questions of Difference: Verbal Ability and Voice 32
  • 3 - Women's Language? 54
  • 4 - The Discursive Turn 75
  • 5 - Gender and Language in Ethnomethodology and Conversation Analysis 97
  • 6 - Language, Discourse and Gender Identity 122
  • 7 - Following the Discursive Turn 146
  • References 157
  • Index 175
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