February 11th, 2006

ozarque figure

Linguistics; gender and language; about that requested S/D-item list...

meowse commented, some time ago:
"Could you please point me at a couple of specific instances in movies of a man doing S-items, a woman doing S-items, a man doing D-items, and a woman doing D-items? If you will offer just a couple of movies and roles that would illustrate this for me, I will most diligently obtain them and watch them (and, if you will permit, post my best attempt at the "list" that I and others have been requesting, based on what I see)."

I keep opening this comment and looking at it, and thinking hard, and closing it again, and then starting over. I haven't known what to do about it, obviously.

Suppose there were an ET -- but humanoid -- species that also had a language with a set of items that signal dominance and another set of items that signal subordination. Suppose that one of the D-items looks like this: "Strike your chin sharply three times with the fingertips of your right hand." (That's the kind of thing you find in all the mass media stuff about "reading people like a book.") You could watch a movie produced by those ETs, carefully observe the behavior of the character that the plot of the movie establishes as the most powerful, and identify that particular D-item and write it down on a list along with other items of the same kind that you had identified in the same way. Let's call it Item #13, for convenience.

However, you would soon discover that Item #13 never happens in isolation in the ET's speech. Sometimes it happens when the ET's head is turned slightly to the right. When the ET is smiling. When the ET has his/her/its legs crossed. When the ET only has his/her/its ankles crossed. When the ET's eyebrows are sharply raised. When the ET's eyebrows are drawn together. When the ET's voice has a tender and caressing quality. When the ET's voice has a harsh and angry quality. When the ET's voice has a tender and caressing quality and his/her/its eyebrows are sharply raised and his/her/its legs are crossed and his/her/its shoulders are drawn back rigidly and... And so on ad infinitum. This makes each item multimodal and multidimensional. And the precise message that is transmitted by Item #13 will be different in each and every one of that infinity of instances. The ET's humanoid brain is perfectly capable of choreographing all of this, but the ET is not consciously aware of the multitude of physiological adjustments included in that choreography. And miscommunication is going to be the inevitable result when someone who doesn't know the system natively memorizes one particular Item-#13-bodyparl-cluster and uses it -- in conversation -- with words that carry a message not congruent with that cluster.


To see a woman doing D-items, watch and listen to Geena Davis in any episode of "Commander in Chief." To see a man doing D-items, watch and listen to John Wayne, in any John Wayne western movie. To see a man doing S-items, watch and listen to Frank Burns in any episode of "Mash." To see a woman doing S-items, watch and listen to Aunt Bea in any "Andy Griffith" episode. (To see a woman flagrantly faking S-items, watch and listen to the lead female character in any episode of "The Closer.")

And I would be pleased to have meowse post the resulting list for discussion. For sure.
ozarque figure

Linguistics; gender and language; the Alexander and Hines vervet monkey study...

Thanks to Holly Parkis, for whose help and generosity I am truly grateful, I've now had the opportunity to read one of the original research articles about the vervet monkey study we've been discussing -- the research alleged to present evidence that gendered toy preferences are to some degree "innate" in human beings. The complete reference for that article, again, is:

Alexander, Gerianne M., and Melissa Hines. "Sex differences in response to children's toys in nonhuman primates (Cercopithecus aethiops sabaeus). In Evolution and Human Behavior 23 (2002); 467-479.

I'm not going to discuss here a paper that's not available online and that you can't easily obtain and read. I do want to say -- with the caveat that the paper's content is not from my own scientific field -- that I am now totally unconvinced. If the paper should ever become available to the general public online, we can always go back to it again.

I want to quote just one paragraph that turns up at the end of the paper just before the acknowledgment and the bibliography, that has not been referred to in any way in the mass media reports on the research, and that in my opinion throws some light on the issue. On page 476:

"We found differences between male and female vervet monkeys that resemble the well-established differences in the toy preferences of boys and girls, consistent with the proposed existence of innate object preferences. However, although female vervets preferred 'feminine' toys over 'masculine' toys, male vervets did not appear to prefer 'masculine' toys over 'feminine' toys. This difference between male vervets and boys may indicate that toy preferences in boys are directed by gender socialization to a larger degree than are toy preferences in girls. Alternatively, in research on children's toy preferences, all the toys are presented at once and we presented toys one at a time. So, in that respect, we did not conduct a preference test."