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Gender Paper

Gender Paper

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Published by BallStateEnglish335

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Published by: BallStateEnglish335 on May 06, 2011
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Rory KilleleaDr. Michael DonnellyLindsey Vesperry19 April 2011Gender: a Consequence of Language?Many of us go about our day-to-day life without ever thinking how thelanguage we use cultivates social order. However, studiers of sociolinguisticsand linguistic anthropology have given thoughtful insight to this concern thatthey have termed “linguistic relativity.” As Lera Boroditsky, an assistantprofessor of psychology, neuroscience, and symbolic systems at StanfordUniversity, asks, “Do the languageswe speak shape the way we see the world, the way we think, and the way welive our lives?” (edge.org) The simple answer to her question is yes, and byanalyzing the language a certain society uses we can begin to understandthe implications of that language’s grammatical structures. More specifically,we can examine the cultural creations of identity and identification throughthe grammatical understanding of gender in its prevalent language. Thus,this essay will examine the relationship between gender and language withconsideration to— (1) the significance of masculine and femininegrammatical structures, and (2) cultural perceptions created by languagethat is not grammatically exclusive to masculine and feminine classification.In other words, the essay will explore how language and gender intersectand how this connection reinforces cultural constructions of sociallyacceptable gender denominations in public discourse.While surfing the Internet recently, we stumbled across ablog post 
 
about two new editions of the Bible, the New International Version and theNew American Bible, and how they would be using gender-neutral languagein their newest translations. As you might imagine, the conversation thatinitiated within the readers’ comments addressed a few of the larger issuessurrounding the subject of the post, like American’s need for politicalcorrectness and the dangerous implications of, as one commenter wrote,“changing the Word of God.” The latter of these issues was quickly dismissedby comments with more considerate and careful scrutiny; attempting toexplain that the Bible most of us have read is a translation of the document’soriginal text, which would be a blasphemous deviation from God’s words.However, the former of these issues really grabbed my attention as astudent of rhetoric and language. After reading through comments thatagain and again alluded to the Bible being written, originally, in Hebrew thentranslated into Greek, and again further down the timeline into English, webegan to wonder how the grammatical structures of those ancient languagescreated notions of gender identity, and the consequences those perceptionshave had on the contemporary English-speaking American society. This curiosity led us to an article on Wikipedia where we noticed alist of languages organized by the grammatical genders they recognize.Interestingly enough, Hebrew fell into the category of languages containingexclusively masculine or feminine noun classes, which creates a cleardichotomy in the speakers’ cultural understanding of gender identification.After some additional reading on the Hebrew language, I learned that the
 
primary marker of noun class when referring to people and animals was thebiological and social concept of “natural gender.” However, this concept isby no means limited to ancient languages like Hebrew, but was andcontinues to be the authoritative indicator of grammatical gender in anumber of other languages. Among those is Modern English, the languagethat is chiefly responsible for shaping public discourse in contemporaryAmerican society. Examining our language’s use of pronouns can furtherelucidate this point.Modern English distinguishes gender threefold between masculine(he/his), feminine (she/hers), and neuter (it/its) classifications. Traditionally,the language’s neuter noun classification is not used when referring to livingbeings, human or animal, in circumstances where the biological sex can bedetermined. In other words, speakers of Modern English conceptualize“natural gender” as exclusively male or female, leaving little tolerance forsocial or even uncontrollable biological deviations from that dichotomy. Withthis in mind, perhaps the best way to understand how gender might beconceptualized outside of a two gender system is to consider how othercultures define the concepts of gender assignment through non-exclusivelinguistics.In the southwestern region of the Indonesian province Sulawesi, anethnic group known as the Bugis believes that there are five genders—Oraoané (biological males living as men), Makkunrai (biological femalesliving as women), Calalai (biological males living as women), Calabai

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