January 6th, 2008

ozarque figure

Linguistics; gender and language; genderlects; minor clarification...

In a comment responding to yesterday's post on gender and language, foomf paid me the compliment of mentioning a form of language behavior that appears in my writing -- the language behavior of the Ozark Grannys in my science fiction. I appreciate the compliment, and think that it might be helpful if I provided a minor clarification about it here. Like this:

The way my Ozark Grannys communicate is neither a dialect nor a "genderlect," it's a register. That is, it's a set of language behaviors tightly linked to a particular life-role.

When a police officer testifying in a courtroom says "The perpetrator was observed roughly ten yards from the crime scene at 6:46 p.m. on December 14th and was subsequently captured by surveillance cameras in the act of forcibly entering the building...", that officer is using a register. It's not the way the officer ordinarily communicates, it's a language behavior that's part of the skill set for his or her job.

The set of language behaviors characteristic of my Ozark Grannys is like that; it's part of the skill set used in the performance of the Granny life-role. And any male in that fictional culture older than about the age of seven, as a result of having been exposed to that register since infancy, could communicate using that register if he chose to do so.

I know it's a hassle to go to the links I posted yesterday and read through those items. It might be helpful, therefore, for me to quote just one paragraph from the second of those links, which says:

"I don't disagree with those of you who are saying that you do observe men and women talking differently. That's not a matter of controversy. I'm saying... that those differences are not due to gender. Suppose we're talking about just that one item of bodyparl that we all appear to agree is for sure an S-item [Subordinate-item]: batting the eyelashes. I am saying that when you observe someone batting his or her eyelashes, it's not happening because that person is a man or a woman, it's happening because that person has chosen -- for whatever reason -- to signal some degree of subordination."

[As I said before, I make that claim only for American English, and am not suggesting that it's valid for other Englishes and other languages.]