The Whole Woman: Sex and Gender Differences in Variation [chapter]

Penelope Eckert
1997 Sociolinguistics  
Speaker's sex has emerged as one of the most important social factors in the quantitative study of phonological variation. However, sex does not have a uniform effect on variables or even on variables that represent sound change in progress. This is because sex is not directly related to linguistic behavior but reflects complex social practice. The correlations of sex with linguistic variables are only a reflection of the effects on linguistic behavior of gender -the complex social construction
more » ... social construction of sex-and it is in this construction that one must seek explanations for such correlations. Sociolinguists generally treat sex in terms of oppositional categories (male/female), and the effects of sex on variation are generally sought in linguistic differences between male and female speakers. However, because gender differences involve differences in orientation to other social categories, the effects of gender on linguistic behavior can show up in differences within sex groupings. Data on sound changes in progress (the Northern Cities Chain Shift) among Detroit area adolescents show that gender has a variety of effects on variables and that the significance of gender in variation cannot be reduced to notions of male or female speech as "more or less conservative." The tradition of large-scale survey methodology in the study of variation has left a gap between the linguistic data and the social practice that yields these data. Since sociolinguistic surveys bring away little information about the communities that produce their linguistic data, correlations of linguistic variants with survey categories have been interpreted on the basis of general knowledge of the social dynamics associated with those categories. The success of this approach has depended on the quality of this general knowledge. The examination of variation and socioeconomic class has benefited from sociolinguists' attention to a vast literature on class and to critical analyses of the indices by which class membership is commonly determined. The study of gender and variation, on the other hand, has suffered from the fact that This work was supported by the Spencer Foundation and the National Science Foundation (BNS 8023291). 1 owe a great debt of thanks to David Sankoff for his very generous and important help with this article. The value of his suggestions for strengthening both the conception and the presentation of these arguments is immeasurable. 245
doi:10.1007/978-1-349-25582-5_18 fatcat:yriwsurixnellaaovghfgpujfm