Arabic and gender
God created Eve from Adam’s bent lower rib. That is why women are
always twisted. They never talk straight
An Egyptian Bedouin recounting the story of Adam and Eve, quoted
by Abu-Lughod (1987: 124)
The idea that women never talk straight is an assumption found not only among the Bedouins in Egypt, but also more universally. Holmes (1998: 461) contends that the myth that women talk too much exists in all cultures. Supposedly women do not know their own minds. They hedge and qualify everything they say. As Holmes puts it, they are supposed to be ‘indirect and devious’ (1998: 461).
However, the presupposition that men and women, because of their sex differences, speak differently should not be taken as a given. The research on gender has moved and developed beyond this presupposition. Holmes and Meyerhoff (2003b: 9) contend that when linguists make generalisations about a community at large, they apply their generalisations to both men and women. Gender is still an essential factor in language variation and change, but, it is a factor that interacts with other independent variables in a community, i.e. it has to be ‘put into context’ (2003b: 9). Sadiqi (2003a: 312) posits that it is in fact only within a particular culture that ‘gender performance acquires meaning.’
This chapter gives an overview of the study of gender in the field of linguistics in relation to Arabic. Gender has been defined by Coates (1993: 4) as ‘the term used to describe socially constructed categories based on sex’. On the other hand, gender is perceived by feminist linguists as something that one performs in an interaction rather than something which one has