ACLC Seminar | Dr Peter Bakker (Aarhus University)

Genderlects: a survey and attempt at explanation for societies where men and women speak categorically differently

21Dec2018 16:15 - 17:30


Peter Bakker, School of Communication and Culture, Aarhus University, is the guest speaker at this ACLC seminar (in cooperation with Françoise Rose, CNRS, Lyon).


In some communities, men and women are reported to speak different languages, which we will call “genderlects”. These varieties are very rarely completely different languages, but in all cases the differences between men and women speaking are quite prominent. The genderlect features are systematic and categorical, not statistical. The differences are not referential, but indexical, and thus differ from referential gender agreement in e.g. the Romance languages. In most cases, gender indexicality is connected to the sex of the speakers, i.e. different forms are used by men and women, independent of the gender of the interlocutor. The opposite is also found, viz. that people adjust their choice of words depending on the sex of the person spoken to.

The genderlects typically affect personal pronouns, discourse markers including interjections, verbal morphology, a limited set of everyday vocabulary and/or a small subset of phonemes that differ for men and for women. In some cases, the differences are limited to less than a handful of words or morphemes.

In my talk I will give a global overview of these genderlects. They are mostly reported from the Americas, and they are least common in Africa. Thus far close to 100 cases have been identified. I will discuss the different pathways by which the genderlects may have come about. In all cases dialect contact or language contact seems to have played a role. 

The cases I will focus on are Irish Sign Language, Island Carib/Garifuna of the Caribbean and Central America (lexical), Basque (verbal morphology), West Greenlandic (phonetic/phonological), Kukama of Peru (pronouns/deixis), and Atayal of Taiwan (lexical and phonological). I will also discuss the implications of these genderlects for historical linguistics, in which the phenomenon has received surprisingly little attention.


Published by  ACLC