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Lavender linguistics
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Lavender linguistics is a term used by linguists, most notably William Leap, to describe the study of language used by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) speakers. It "encompass[es] a wide range of everyday language practices" in LGBTQ communities.[1] The term derives from the longterm association of the color lavender with gay and lesbian communities.[1] The related terms lavender language and simply gay and lesbian language also refer to the language used by LGBTQ speakers. "Language" in this context may refer to any aspect of spoken or written linguistic practices, including speech patterns and pronunciation, use of certain vocabulary, and in a few cases an elaborate alternative lexicon such as Polari.

Contents

Emergence of the field of lavender linguistics

Early studies in the field of lavender linguistics were dominated by the concept of "lavender lexicons" such as that recorded by Gershon Legman in 1941.[2] In 1995 William Leap, whose work incorporates gay and lesbian culture studies, cultural theory, and linguistics, called for scholarship to move toward a fuller and more nuanced study of gay and lesbian language use.[3] Anna Livia and Kira Hall have noted that while research in the 1960s and 70s on the difference between men's and women's speech made the implicit assumption that gender was the relevant way to divide the social space, there is still considerable room for linguistic research based on sexual orientation.[4]

Issues with studying speech patterns in relation to sexuality and sexual identity

Don Kulick argues that the search for a link between sexual identity categories and language is misplaced, since studies have failed to show that the language gay men and lesbians use is unique. Although some researchers are politically motivated to imagine a gay community that is a unified whole and which is identifiable through linguistic means, this speech community does not necessarily exist as such; the gay community is not homogeneous, nor is its language use. Features of “gay speech” are not used consistently by gay individuals, nor are they consistently absent from the speech of all heterosexual individuals. Further, he takes issue with the frequently rather circular definitions of queer speech; speech patterns cannot be labeled gay and lesbian language simply because they are used by gay and lesbian people. [2]

Studies of a speech community that presuppose the existence of that community can reproduce stereotypes that often fail to accurately depict social reality of variance between subgroups within a community and overlapping identities for individuals. Furthermore, studies of gay male language use often look at middle class European Americans who are "out" to the exclusion of other subgroups of the gay community, and hence may draw misleading conclusions about the community as a whole. [5]

Rusty Barrett suggests that the idea of the homogeneous speech community could perhaps be more accurately replaced by one of the queer community and its spirit, or cultural system, rather than trying to claim linguistic regularity.[5] Kulick proposes, instead of research based on gay and lesbian language that he concludes "do not and cannot exist" because of methodological problems, a study of "language and desire" that examines repression in the context of linguistics by considering both what is said and what is not or cannot be said.[2] He addresses the need for consideration of the role of sexuality in sexual identity, although some research in the field of lavender linguistics neglects it while focusing instead on other traits, such as linguistic features, that characterize the community and as such help legitimize it as an existent identity.[6]

Theories about the reasons for differences in language use

Traditionally it was believed that one's way of speaking is a result of one's identity, but in the postmodernist approach, the way we talk is considered a part of identity formation and gender identity is variable and not fixed.[7]

In the early 20th century, theories about language as associated with sexuality were common, with a quite different basis than modern studies about this topic. One of these early views was that homosexuality was a pathology, with certain speech patterns as part of its manifestation. Another was that homosexual individuals used a secret code to indicate their status as part of this group to other members. In the 1980s, the gay community was increasingly viewed as an oppressed minority group, and there were new investigations into the possibility of characterizing gay language use, influenced in part by studies of African American Vernacular English. There was a shift in beliefs from language being a result of identity to language being employed to reflect a shared social identity and even to create identities.[6]

Language use as performance

A shared way of speaking can be used to create a single, cohesive identity to organize political struggle.[8] Sexuality is a form of social identity, discursively constructed and represented; this shared identity can in some cases be strengthened through shared forms of language use. Language can be used to negotiate relations and contradictions of gender and sexual identities, and indexes identity in various ways, even if there is no specific gay or lesbian code of speaking.[9]

The idea of a “speech community” is a community that shares linguistic traits whose boundaries tend to coincide with social units. Membership in speech communities is often assumed based on stereotypes about the community as defined by non-linguistic factors.[5] Speakers may resist culturally dominant languages and oppose cultural authority by maintaining their own varieties of speech.[10]

Language use can also mimic culturally dominant forms or stereotypes; transsexuals are taught how to use conventionally accepted men’s and women’s speech patterns.[6][11] Performing identity can only work as long as the indexes used are conventional and socially recognized, which is why stereotypes are sometimes adopted.[2] A community can establish the affiliation of its people with shared ways of speaking, acting, and thinking. Such discourses can reproduce or modify social relationships.[12] Sometimes, a code can fall out of use when it becomes widely known, because it loses its exclusive nature, as occurred with Polari after it was used on the BBC.[6] Transsexuals and transvestites often use vocabulary that includes members and excludes nonmembers to establish social identity and solidarity and to exclude outsiders. Using a private language can serve to keep identities that may be negatively viewed from being publicly apparent.[11]

Members of a community can use stylistic and pragmatic devices to index and exaggerate orientations and identities, but others may deliberately avoid stereotypical speech.[11] Gender is frequently indexed indirectly, though traits that are associated with certain gender identities. In this way, for example, speaking forcefully is associated with masculinity but also with confidence and authority.[6]

Goals of distinctive language use among gay men

People often are members of multiple communities, and which community they want to be most closely associated with can vary. For some gay men, the primary self-categorization is their identity as gay men. To achieve recognition as having this identity, they can recognize and imitate forms of language that reflect the social identity of the group they want to be identified with, or which are stereotypically considered to be characteristic of this group.[5] Using female pronouns is used by some gay men to dissociate themselves from heterosexual norms and designate themselves as opposed to heterosexual masculinity.[13] Use of female pronouns by gay men is variable and can be done for a variety of reasons, such as in jest or as a stabilizing and bonding elements with in a group.[14]

Goals of distinctive language use among lesbians and heterosexual women

Developing gay identity is different for men and women; for many women, both heterosexual woman and lesbians, the identity that is important to them is as women and not as lesbians or heterosexual women. It is often more important to gay men to distance themselves from heterosexual masculinity, because male roles are more rigidly enforced in Western society than female roles.[15]

Most studies of lesbian speech patterns focus on conversational patterns, as in Coates and Jordan (1997) and Morrish and Saunton (2007). Women can draw on a variety of discourses, particularly feminist discourses, to establish themselves as not submissive to heteropatriarchy, by using cooperative all-female talk, which is marked by less distinct turns and a more collaborative conversational floor. Often the bond the conversational participants have as women overrides their sexual identities.[16] However, the content of Lesbian discourse can serve to separate the speakers from heterosexuality and the values of dominant cultures. Collaborative discourse involves resisting dominant gender norms through more subtle creation of solidarity, and not necessarily resisting “gender-typical” linguistic behavior.[9]

An example of a distinctive way of speaking for a female community is that of female bikers. Both Dykes on Bikes, a mostly lesbian group, and Ladies of Harley, a mostly heterosexual group, have shared experiences, though different cultures; both have a focus on female bonding and motorcycles, and have a shared female biker languages. Their shared language helps to establish their shared identity in a largely male dominated domain and to mark boundaries between them and traditional femininity.[17]

Changing styles of speech

Changing speech styles, or codeswitching, can indicate when individuals want to foreground a certain identity. Choices of language use among gay men depend on the audience and context,[15] and shift depending on situational needs, like demonstrating or concealing gay identity, when being read in different ways could be to the benefit or detriment of the speaker. Likewise, women identifying as lesbians can foreground this identity in some contexts but not others.[9] Podesva discusses as an example the language use of a gay lawyer in a radio interview about anti-gay discrimination; he balanced the situational demands to sound recognizably gay, but also to sound recognizably like an educated and professional lawyer, because “gay speech” is stereotypically associated with less academic characteristics, like frivolity.[18]

“Exploratory switching” can be used to determine whether an interlocutor belongs to the same group identity as the speaker. In this way, for example, a gay man could use certain lexicon and mannerisms shared within his community, and judge whether his interlocutor recognizes the indexical power of these forms. In this way, a member of the gay community can potentially establish solidarity with fellow members of the community, while avoiding explicitly telling his orientation to people outside the gay community. However, lack of consistency of language use between different sub-groups of the gay community, and even within smaller communities, along with non-members who can be familiar with a mode of speech, can make such interpretation difficult.[5]

People can also switch styles of language use to comment on society or for entertainment. Black drag performers often use stereotypical “female white English”, to disrupt societal assumptions about gender and ethnicity and to express criticisms about these assumptions. Imitations do not necessarily represent actual language use of a group, but rather the generally recognized stereotypical speech of that group. In the language of drag performers, language play is also marked by juxtaposition of contradictory aspects like very proper language mixed with cursing, which adds to their deliberate disruption of cultural and linguistic norms.[10]

Gay male speech patterns

Differences in speech patterns

Overview

Linguists have attempted to isolate exactly what makes gay men's language different from that of their heterosexual counterparts. They find though that this is a difficult process, because there are many variations within each of these two groups. That is, for both the gay and straight category, there exists a wide spectrum that characterizes speech into degrees ranging from masculine to feminine. However, these descriptors alone do not comprehensively describe the range of vocal characteristics. Additionally, it is difficult to isolate the markers of gay speech, since the gay community consists of many smaller groups that make up a diverse subculture. Therefore, categorizing leather daddies, drag queens, circuit boys, gay prostitutes, activists, and “straight-acting” males into one group would inaccurately homogenize the diversity within the gay community.[18] Despite these hurdles, linguists have studied gay men’s speech, almost always in contrast to straight male speech and in comparison to female speech, following the precedent set in the early 20th century.[6]

Comparison to female speech

Gay speech has stereotypically been thought of as resembling women’s speech.[19] In her work Language and Woman’s Place[20], Robin Lakoff not only compares gay male speech with women’s speech traits, but she claims that gay men deliberately imitate these traits. According to Lakoff, stereotypical gay male speech takes on the characteristics of her own description of women’s speech, such as an increased use of expletives (e.g. divine), inflected intonation, and lisping.[20] However, later linguists have reevaluated Lakoff's claims and concluded that these characterizations are not consistent for all women or in all contexts. These characterizations reflect commonly held beliefs about how women speak, which have social meaning and importance, even though they do not fully capture the actual situation of gendered language use. [21]

David Crystal also describes gay male speech as “effeminate.” He states "a 'simpering' voice, for instance, largely reduces to the use of a wider pitch-range than normal (for men), with glissando effects between stressed syllables, a more frequent use of complex tones (e.g. the fall-rise and the rise-fall), the use of breathiness and huskiness in the voice, and switching to a higher (falsetto) register from time to time."[22] The relationship of gay men's speech to women's speech is not always addressed as positive or as an indicator that gay men identify with women; mimicking women's speech and using female pronouns has sometimes been judged as derogatory, trivializing women.[2]

The problem with the studies that focus on gay male speech is that they simply compare gay speech with women’s speech in hopes of categorizing how masculine or feminine these types of speech are, without actually defining the terms that they use. They claim that the deviance from the norm (though undefined) makes one effeminate. In early works, the comparison of "masculine" and "feminine" speech can be based on rather biased views and must be considered as such instead of taken as truth, particularly when claims are not supported by empirical evidence. In Lee Edward Travis’ work, a speech pathologist claims:

"A consistently high-pitched voice in the late adolescent and adult male is one of the most distressing of voice defects. The resemblance to the female voice suggests a lack of masculinity."[23]

Social perception study

Methodology

Rudolf Gaudio’s social perception experiment was conducted for the analysis of the acoustics of male speech and listeners’ perception of it. The study consisted of eight male volunteers from the age of 21-31. Four of the men identified as gay, and the other four as straight. The volunteers were individually asked to read two passages while being recorded. The first passage was a short paragraph from an accounting text, while the other was an emotional monologue from a play entitled Torch Song Trilogy by Harvey Fierstein. The volunteers were asked to read the first passage (accounting passage) as if they were giving a lecture to an accounting class, and the second passage (dramatic passage) as if they were reciting lines for a play. After the volunteers were recorded reading the two passages, they each had a private interview where they were asked general questions about their lives.

Sixteen segments of the recordings were created for analysis, which was to be done by thirteen undergraduate volunteer listener-subjects. The sixteen segments could be divided up in two groups: the first eight segments were recordings of each speaker reading the accounting passage, and the second eight were recordings of each speaker reading the dramatic passage. Listener-subjects were to categorize each of the recorded speeches using four semantic differential pairs (straight/gay, effeminate/masculine, reserved/emotional, and ordinary/affected) that resemble the commonly held stereotypes of gay men in the United States. The polar adjective pairs were then used to rate how effeminate or masculine the speech was based on the listener-subjects’ choices.[19]

Results of the study

The listener-subjects were generally able to correctly identify the sexual orientation of the speakers based on the recorded speech segments. The listener-subjects’ ratings of the recorded speech segment using the four set of polar adjective pairs resembled common American stereotypes of gay and straight men’s speech.

Though the experiment did not isolate what exactly makes up gay male speech, it seemed to indicate that variations in intonation and pitch affect the judgment of men’s speech as “gay” or “straight.” However, the difference was not statistically significant and did not occur in all speech contexts. It seems for this reason that the differences the listeners were identifying were not intonational, if indeed differences existed, which is unclear in such a small study.[19]

Traits believed to characterize the speech of gay men

Robert J. Podesva, Sarah J, Roberts, and Kathryn Campbell-Kibler have also studied difference in gay male speech and have looked at the following traits to do so in their work Sharing Resources and Indexing Meanings in the Production of Gay Styles:[18]

  1. Durations of /æ/, /eɪ/
  2. Durations of onset /s/, /l/
  3. Fundamental frequency (f0) properties (max, min, range, and value at vowel midpoint) of stressed vowels
  4. Voice onset time (VOT) of voiceless aspirated stop consonants
  5. Release of word-final stops

While the researchers found some correlation with these speech traits and gay language, they clarify that these characterize only one of the many speech styles that exist in the language variety spoken by homosexual males.[18]

Lesbian female speech pattern

Distinctions of "lesbian speech"

Distinguishing characteristics of “lesbian speech,” though much debated, have not been unanimously established or agreed upon. Though there exists a common stereotype that homosexual females speak at a lower pitch than heterosexual females (contributing to the perception that homosexuals have more in common with the other sex than their own), there have not been studies to support this.[24]

Robin Queen argues that analyses have been too simplistic, and that a uniquely lesbian language is constructed through the combination of sometimes conflicting stylistic tropes: stereotypical women's language (e.g. hypercorrect grammar), stereotypical nonstandard forms associated with the (male) working class (e.g. contractions), stereotypical gay male lexical items, and stereotypical lesbian language (e.g. flat intonation, cursing). Sometimes lesbians deliberately avoid stereotypical female speech, to distance themselves from “normative” heterosexual female speech patterns. [21] It is more often believed that clothing and physical mannerisms can be used as indicators of female sexualities. Because femininity is a marked style, adopting it is more noticeable than avoiding it, which could also add to why certain stereotypically gay male speech styles are socially identifiable, but there are no such socially salient styles for lesbians.[6]

Birch Moonwomon conducted an experiment asking listeners to identify female speakers as either lesbian or straight based solely on voice. The listeners were unable to successfully distinguish the lesbian women from the heterosexual woman based on the recordings they listened to, but unlike Gaudio, Moonwomon did not analyze the intonational features of the speaker's voices. [24] Moonwomon chose to interpret the lack of differentiation as the listeners' "unwillingness to acknowledge lesbian presence," but the results could also be taken as evidence that there are no salient distinctions between the speech of lesbian and heterosexual women, or that listener evaluation of female sexuality depends on more than intonation.[2]

Lesbian slang

There is, however, a stronger argument for “lesbian slang.” In his article entitled Dyke Diction, Leonard R.N. Ashley lists nearly eighty “slang words commonly used among lesbians” that are typically synonymous for the female genitalia and sex acts. “What H.L Menkens said of nuns in cloisters, that they ‘have developed their own slang (amusing but of course genteel) can, on the whole, be said of lesbians."[25]

The most prominent example of “lesbian slang” is the rising re-ownership of the word “dyke.” Though still in many contexts considered a derogatory word, “dyke” has become a symbol for the increasing acceptance of the lesbian movement and identity. Homosexual women, themselves, have used it in order to further solidarity and unity among their community. Examples include dyke marches (which are female-exclusive gay pride parades) and “dykes with tykes” (describing lesbian motherhood). Like other minorities, female homosexuals are slowly claiming a word that was once used to hurt them in the past.[25]

Issues with culturally specific ideas about sexual identity

According to many language scholars, it is misleading to assume that all sex and gender roles are the same as those that are salient within Western society or that the linguistic styles associated with given groups will be like the styles associated with similarly identified Western groups. [26]

Examples of non-Western sexual identities and their language use

Baklas

Baklas are homosexual Filipino men; however, the concept is not exactly the same as homosexuality as it is understood in the West. With Baklas, sexual identity is tied up with gender identity. Baklas often assume female attributes and dress like women. They also use females terms for themselves and occasionally for their body parts, and are sometimes are referred to and refer to themselves as not being “real men”.[27]

Although they have contact with other gay cultures through technology, the culture of baklas remains fairly distinct. They have their own rapidly shifting linguistic code, called Swardspeak, which shows global influence in its Spanish and English borrowings. This code mostly consists of lexical items, but also includes sound changes such as [p] to [f]. It continued to be used by some when they move to America to maintain some consistency though their move, but others abandon it, regarding it as a Filipino custom that is out of place in America, and they replace it with aspects of American gay culture.[27]

Hijras

There are a group of individuals in India called hijras, who often refer to themselves as neither man nor woman. Because of this, some describe them as a “third sex.” Their identity is distinct from the American gay identity, although many of them have male sexual partners. There is a distinctive mode of speech often attributed to them, though frequently in a stereotyped or derogatory way.[26] They sometimes adopt feminine mannerisms and pronouns, depending on context and their interlocutors, to create solidarity or distance.[28] They also use stereotypically male elements of speech, such as vulgarity. Their combined use of masculine and feminine speech styles can be see as reflecting their ambiguous sexual identities, and challenging dominant sexuality and gender ideologies.[29]

See also

References

  1. ^ a b Swann, Joan, Ana Deumert, Theresa Lillis and Rajend Mesthrie. A Dictionary of Sociolinguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2004
  2. ^ a b c d e f Kulick, Don. “Gay and Lesbian Language”. Anthropology Annual Review. 29 (2000):243-85
  3. ^ Leap, William L. Beyond the Lavender Lexicon. Newark: Gordon & Breach, 1995
  4. ^ Livia, Anna and Kira Hall. Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997
  5. ^ a b c d e Barrett, Rusty. "The “Homo-genius” Speech Community." Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality. Ed. Anna Livia and Kira Hall. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 181-201
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Cameron, Deborah, and Don Kulick. 2003. Language and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  7. ^ Cameron, Deborah. "Performing Gender Identity: Young Men’s Talk and the Construction of Heterosexual Masculinity." Language and Masculinity. Ed. Sally Johnson and Ulrike Hanna Meinhof. Malden: Blackwell Publishers Ltd., 1997. 47-64
  8. ^ Morgan, Ruth and Kathleen Wood. "Lesbians in the Living Room: Collusion, Co-Construction, and Co-Narration in Conversation." Beyond the Lavender Lexicon. Ed. Leap, William L. Newark: Gordon & Breach, 1995. 235-248
  9. ^ a b c Morrish, Liz and Helen Saunton. New Perspectives on Language and Sexual Identity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007
  10. ^ a b Barrett, Rusty. "Supermodels of the World, Unite! Political Economy and the Language of Performance Among African-American Drag Queens." Beyond the Lavender Lexicon. Ed. Leap, William L. Newark: Gordon & Breach, 1995. 207-226
  11. ^ a b c Cromwell, Jason. "Talking About Without Talking About: The Use of Protective Language Among Transvestites and Transsexuals." Beyond the Lavender Lexicon. Ed. Leap, William L. Newark: Gordon & Breach, 1995.267-296
  12. ^ Moonwomon, Birch. "Lesbian Discourse, Lesbian Knowledge." Beyond the Lavender Lexicon. Ed. Leap, William L. Newark: Gordon & Breach, 1995. 45-64
  13. ^ Livia, Anna. "Disloyal to Masculinity: Linguistic Gender and Liminal Identity in French." Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality. Ed. Anna Livia and Kira Hall. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 349-368
  14. ^ Graf, Roman and Barbara Lippa. "The Queens’ English." Beyond the Lavender Lexicon. Ed. Leap, William L. Newark: Gordon & Breach, 1995. 227-234
  15. ^ a b Zwicky, Arnold M. "Two Lavender Issues for Linguists." Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality. Ed. Anna Livia and Kira Hall. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 21-34
  16. ^ Coates, Jennifer, and Mary Ellen Jordan. "Que(e)rying Friendship: Discourses of Resistance and the Construction of Gendered Subjectivity." Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality. Ed. Anna Livia and Kira Hall. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 214-232
  17. ^ Joans, Barbara. "Dykes on Bikes Meet Ladies of Harley." Beyond the Lavender Lexicon. Ed. Leap, William L. Newark: Gordon & Breach, 1995. 87-106
  18. ^ a b c d Podesva, Robert J., Sarah J. Roberts, and Kathryn Campbell-Kibler. "Sharing Resources and Indexing Meanings in the Production of Gay Styles." Language and Sexuality: Contesting Meaning in Theory and Practice (2001): 175-89.
  19. ^ a b c Gaudio, Rudolf P. "Sounding Gay: Pitch Properties in the Speech of Gay and Straight Men." American Speech 69 (1994): 30-57.
  20. ^ a b Lakoff, Robin Tolmach. Language and Woman's Place. New York: Oxford UP, 2004.
  21. ^ a b Queen, Robin M. “’I Don’t Speek Spritch’: Locating Lesbian Language”. Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality. Ed. Anna Livia and Kira Hall. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 233-256
  22. ^ Crystal, David. English Tone of Voice: Essays in Intonation, Prosody and Paralanguage. London: Edward Arnold, 1975.
  23. ^ Travis, Lee Edward, ed. Handbook of Speech Pathology. New York: Appleton, 1957.
  24. ^ a b Moonwomon, Birch. "Toward a Study of Lesbian Speech." Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality. Ed. Anna Livia and Kira Hall. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 202-213
  25. ^ a b Ashley, Leonard R.N. "Dyke Diction: The Language of Lesbians." Maledicta. 6(1982): 123-62
  26. ^ a b Bucholtz, Mary and Kira Hall. “Theorizing Identity in Language Research”. Language in Society. 33(2004):501-47
  27. ^ a b Manalansan, Martin F. IV. “’Performing’ the Filipino Gay Experiences in America: Linguistic Strategies in a Transnational Context.” Beyond the Lavender Lexicon: Authenticity, Imagination and Appropriation in Lesbian and Gay Language. Ed. William L Leap. New York: Gordon and Breach, 1997. 249-266
  28. ^ Hall, Kira and Veronica O’Donovan. “Shifting gender positions among Hindi-speaking Hijras.” Language and Gender: Major Themes in English Studies Vol. III. Ed. Susan Ehrlich. New York: Routledge, 2008
  29. ^ Hall, Kira. “’Go Suck Your Husband’s Sugarcane!’: Hijras and the Use of Sexual Insult.” Queerly Phrased: Language, Gender, and Sexuality. Ed. Anna Livia and Kira Hall. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. 430-460

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