University of Washington




Professor Laada Bilaniuk


Office: Denny Hall M37

Office tel.: 543-5393

Course Description

Do men and women talk differently? How, and why? What are the implications of differences in language use on social relations? How can we research these questions?

In this course we will explore the relationships between language and gender, and how gender ideologies shape and are shaped by language use. The intersection of gender and power will be central in our examination. How are certain ways of Òdoing genderÓ empowering or disempowering? To what extent are we constrained by subconscious gendered norms of language, and to what extent can we be creative agents in the construction of gender through language?

In pursuing these questions, we will confront the problems of defining gender in different cultural contexts. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to pull apart the effects of gender from those of class, race, ethnicity, age, profession, regional background, sexuality, and other aspects of identity. We will study various theoretical approaches and methodologies that deal with the complex layerings of identity, including approaches that challenge the binary categorization of gender.

Further, we will address the question of how language shapes how we think. We will examine sexism in language and culture through both satirical and academic writings. Can language be changed to make it less sexist? How do changes in language affect society? Readings will consider several feminist theories of gender relations in which language plays a prominent role.

Throughout this course we will explore how language can be studied systematically on many levels, using both quantitative and qualitative methods. We will discuss studies that focus on variation in phonology, lexicon, syntax, prosody, discursive features, and body language. Through both readings and in-class analyses, students will hone their awareness of linguistic features and their analytical skills, to be applied in their own field research projects on language and gender. All students will complete two small ethnographic exercises: one involving the collection of quantitative data on language use, and one involving taping, transcription, and analysis of a segment of conversation. Students may build on either approach for their final project.

Course Requirements and Grading

Course requirements include:

40% Class participation (including participation in discussions, occasional quizzes, brief homework assignments)

30% 2 field research exercises (15% each): 1) quantitative study; 2) transcription and conversational analysis. Write-up for each should be 3-4 pages (plus transcript for second exercise).

30% Final Project. May be a more extensive development of one of the fieldwork projects done earlier in the quarter. The analysis should address theoretical issues introduced in the class. Write-up should be 7-8 pages.



Main reader:

Coates, Jennifer, ed.
1998 Language and Gender: A Reader. Blackwell.

Brantenberg, Gerd.
1977 (transl. 1985) EgaliasÕs Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes. The Seal Press.

Cameron, Deborah.
1985. Feminism and Linguistic Theory. MacMillan press


Other required articles, from a variety of sources, are listed in the following course schedule. Additional articles may be announced and will also be made available at the Roy Webb Library.


Week 1: Introduction: Directions in language and gender research

Historical overview of studies of language and gender

Levels of linguistic analysis

Searching for sociolinguistic universals

The complexity of contexts: Òthinking practically, looking locallyÓ

Questioning binary categories


Reader Introduction & Part VIII (articles 30, 31, 32) in the Language & Gender Reader

¥ Introduction

¥ Holmes, Janet. WomenÕs talk: the question of sociolinguistic universals.

¥ Eckert, Penelope & Sally McConnell-Ginet. Communities of Practice. where language, gender, and power all live.

¥ Bing, Janet M. & Victoria L. Bergvall. The question of questions: beyond binary thinking.

Week 2: Theoretical debates: gender/power, difference/dominance


For Tues: Part VI in the Language & Gender Reader (articles 24, 25, 26)

¥ OÕBarr, William & Bowman Atkins. ÔWomenÕs languageÕ or Ôpowerless languageÕ?

¥ Wetzel, Patricia. Are ÔpowerlessÕ communication strategies the Japanese norm?

¥ West, Candace. When the doctor is a ÔladyÕ: power, status and gender in physician-patient encounters.

For Thurs. Part VII in the Language & Gender Reader (articles 27, 28, 29)

¥ Maltz, Daniel & Ruth Borker. A cultural approach to male-female miscommunication.

¥ Tannen, Deborah. Talk in the intimate relationship: his and hers.

¥ Troemel-Ploetz, Senta. Selling the apolitical.

Week 3: Intersections of gender with other identities: Quantitative studies

Intersections of gender with class, age, social group, status, profession


Language & Gender Reader: Tues.: articles 3, 4, 6

¥ Cheshire, Jenny. Linguistic variation and social function.

¥ Eisikovits, Edina. Girl-talk/boy-talk: sex differences in adolescent speech.

¥ Eckert, Penelope. Gender and sociolinguistic variation.

Thurs.: articles 7, 8, 10

¥ Brown, Penelope. How and why women are more polite: some evidence from a Mayan community.

¥ Holmes, Janet. ComplimentingÑa positive politeness strategy.

¥ Gal, Susan. Peasant men canÕt get wives: language change and sex roles in a bilingual community.

Optional: articles 2, 5

Trudgill, Peter. Sex and covert prestige.

Nichols, Patricia. Black women in the rural south: conservative and innovative.

Week 4: Structural and functional analyses of interaction:

Conversational dominance, cooperation and competition

Tues.: Field research exercise #1: write-up due in class.


Language & Gender Reader: articles 9, 11, 12, 13

¥ Goodwin, Marjorie Harness. Cooperation and competition across girlsÕ play activities.

¥ West, Candace & Don Zimmermen. WomenÕs place in everyday talk: reflections on parent-child interactions.

¥ DeFrancisco, Victoria Leto. The sounds of silence: how men silence women in marital relations.

¥ Swann, Joan. Talk control: an illustration from the classroom of problems in analyzing male dominance of conversation.

Week 5: Strategies in same-sex talk

Styles and structures of gossip

Language and constructions of masculinity


Language & Gender Reader: Part V (articles 16, 17, 18, 19)

¥ Coates, Jennifer. Gossip revisited: language in all-female groups.

¥ Pilkington, Jane. ÔDonÕt try and make out that IÕm nice!Õ the different strategies women and men use when gossiping.

¥ Cameron, Deborah. Performing gender identity: young menÕs talk and the construction of heterosexual masculinity.

¥ Kuiper, Koenraad. Sporting formulae in New Zealand English: two models of male solidarity.

¥ Kiesling, Scott F. Power and the language of men. In Language and Masculinity, ed. by S. Johnson & U. H. Meinhof. pp. 65-85.

Week 6: WomenÕs talk in the public domain

Performativity and power

Reconsidering structure and function, text and context


Language & Gender Reader: articles 20, 21, 22, 23

¥ Reynolds, Katsue. Female speakers of Japanese in transition.

¥ McElhinny, Bonnie. ÔI donÕt smile much anymoreÕ: affect, gender and the discourse of Pittsburgh police officers.

¥ West, Candace. ÔNot just doctorÕs ordersÕ: directive-response sequences in patientsÕ visits to women and men physicians.

¥ Nelson, Marie Wilson. WomenÕs ways: interactive patterns in predominantly female research teams.

Week 7: Sexism in language

Tues.: Transcript exercises due. Bring 3 copies of transcript, one for professor and two to pass to other students.

Tues.: discussion of sexism in language

Thurs.: In-class discussion of analyses of transcript exercises.


William Satire (alias Douglas Hofstader). 1990. A person paper on purity in language. In: The Feminist Critique of Language, ed. By Deborah Cameron. pp. 187-196.

Cameron, Deborah. 1985. Making changes: Can we decontaminate sexist language? Feminism and Linguistic Theory. MacMillan press. Pp. 72-90.

Brantenberg, Gerd. 1977 (transl. 1985) EgaliasÕs Daughters: A Satire of the Sexes.

(a satirical novel that uses various linguistic features in making its point)

Week 8: Language and Sexuality

Thurs.: Movie(s): ÒParis is BurningÓ; and/or ÒYou DonÕt Know DickÓ


Selections from Queerly Phrased, ed. by A. Livia & K. Hall: (Intro, Chs. 10, 11, 13, 17, 22)

¥ Livia, Anna & Kira Hall. ÒItÕs a girlÓ: bringing performativity back to linguistics.

¥ Barrett, Rusty. The Òhomo-geniusÓ speech community.

¥ Moonwomon-Baird, Birch. Toward the study of lesbian speech.

¥ Queen, Robin. ÒI donÕt speak spritchÓ: locating lesbian language.

¥ Leap, William. Performative effect in three gay English texts.

¥ Bagemihl, Bruce. Surrogate phonology and transsexual faggotry: a linguistic analogy for uncoupling sexual orientation from gender identity.

Weeks 9 & 10: Gender, language and power: feminism and linguistic theory


¥ Cameron, Deborah. 1985. Feminism and Linguistic Theory. MacMillan press. Pp. 91-173.
Silence, alienation and oppression: feminist models of language (I).
Feminist models of language (II): semiology and the gendered subject.
Beyond alienation: an integrational approach to women and language
Conclusion: feminism and linguistic theory: problems and practices.

¥ Graddol, David and Joan Swann. The voice of authority. Gender Voices. Pp. 12-40.