Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 June 2012
A chapter called “Language, Gender, and Sexuality” could hardly have appeared in the first Language in the USA because the field of language and gender studies was too young in 1980. Mary Bucholtz here contextualizes her discussion of the subject within the historical, intellectual, and political forces at play in recent decades, and she illustrates how fluid both language use and scholarly understanding of it can be. For decades, many sociolinguists had established correlations between linguistic features such as pronunciations and grammatical forms with fixed social categories like socioeconomic status, sex, and ethnicity. A notable development in the late twentieth century was the rise of feminist studies, gender studies, and studies of sexuality in language and literature. This chapter analyzes language variation from these latter perspectives.
Beginning with “the fundamental insight of feminism” that “the personal is political,” Bucholtz describes analyses of women's language in the 1970s and the unprecedented move to replace sexist nouns like fireman and stewardess and sexist pronouns like he (meaning ‘he and she’) with nongendered expressions (firefighter, flight attendant, he and she, s/he). Less well known is the notion of indexes – how “identities form around practices and … practices develop around identities.” The chapter shows that temporary identities (interaction-specific identities, Bucholtz calls them) such as ring maker or hopscotch player can take precedence over broader identities such as girl, African American, or Latina.