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Kim Burton


Negotiating Transition in a Foreign Language


In many ways it is possible to avoid making an attribution of sex or gender to an interlocutor, a third person, or oneself when speaking or writing English. In the case of a Slavic language, however, the user is continually forced by its grammatical and syntactical system to identify, ascribe and underline the gender of individuals, and even the most convoluted attempts serve at best to delay such ascription. This brief paper is intended to relate some of the pitfalls, problems and advantages encountered by one learner of Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian (BCS) as a foreign language during their transition, and describe how they were forced to examine ideas which would not normally present themselves to a monolingual English speaker, and thus to interrogate certain assumptions about both gender and language. It is also intended to address the speculation that while the system of grammatical gender in BCS tends to reinforce stereotypical gender identities and roles, it can also present powerful strategies for subverting them. Finally, a conclusion may be drawn that transpeople themselves are among those policing the bounds of gender most assiduously, and they can thereby become complicit in the erasure of their own identities.