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Language transgression of the binary: articulating one's own voice and resisting the dominant discourses

Novinarski dom, Oct 7, 2005 , 4:00 – 7:00 p. m.


There is a long tradition within linguistics of studying the relationship between language and gender in spite of great differences in approaches and methods, both in terms of history and in the works by different authors during certain periods of time. Having started with studying "differences in language of men and women", most often in non-Western cultures, and continuing with describing the characteristics of so-called “women’s language”, this field has only recently included in its scope of interest the language of gender-variant (non-female and non-male) and non-heterosexual persons. This has, among other things, enabled a theoretical shift from studying ways in which language reflects gender identities towards studying ways in which human beings use language as the means of performance and construction of gender identities, or, from the reverse perspective, a shift from understanding identity as a source of language behavior towards understanding identity as an effect of language practices. Among studies dealing with these topics, the most numerous texts pertain to lesbians and gay men, while the language of people whose gender identities transgress the dominant binary model, although a promising field of research, has not been sufficiently studied. It can be expected that this field will in the future take a central position in the domain of studying the relationship between language and gender, although a wide range of epistemological questions will arise about distinguishing language and gender studies from related disciplines (the field of language and sexuality, queer linguistics, GL linguistics, etc.), and about the need for distinction in their terminology. Furthermore, this will raise the issue of defining these studies in relation to those disciplines whose models and approaches are being taken over in their analysis (discourse analysis, sociolinguistics, pragmatics, anthropological linguistics, etc.)



1. Trans/interdisciplinary and epistemological questions:

the field of language and gender – the field of language and sexuality – feminist linguistics – GL linguistics – queer linguistics; their relation to sociolinguistics, social semiotics, anthropological linguistics, socially oriented discourse analysis, conversation analysis.


2 „Dominant“ discourse:

a) institutionalized discourse (medical, legal, political, journalistic…): discourses on transgender, intersexuality, transsexuality (“rhetoric of illness” vs. “rhetoric of right to a choice”, calls for reexamining the binary sex model), unspoken identities, labeling, discrimination and transphobia (derogatory terms, stigmas), characteristics of desirable language behavior in handbooks/guides for FTM and MTF persons.

b) everyday language usage and slang: language construction and expression of (in)equality (solidarity vs. superiority), harassment (insults, jokes, teasing), collective nominations (strategies of mutual empowerment, and as a consequence violating the right to freedom of expression).


3 Reverse discourse/discourse of resistance:

language construction/creation and expression of gender/sex identities that transgress the boundaries of the dominant binary model, language managing/behavior of persons who transgress the dominant sexed/gendered system, slang, language performances of drag kings and drag queens, introducing changes in language/adjusting language to one's own language and communication needs.


4. Language performances and construction of non-male and non-female identities in societies that recognize greater gender diversity.




To register for the round table discussion please fill out this form, and send it to [email protected] no later than October 1, 2005