The role of gender stereotypes in language perception - a contrastive analysis.

Glapka, Ewa Anna

Adam Mickiewicz University, Poland


The role of gender stereotypes in language perception – a contrastive analysis.

The paper discusses the ways in which gender stereotypes organize one’s linguistic awareness around rigid gender oppositions. The relations between gender stereotyping and common beliefs concerning gender-based differences in the patterns of language use were examined in a contrastive English-Polish study conducted for the purpose of the presentation.

Gender is firmly embedded in the structure and functioning of culture and society. The presence of the category of gender in these two realms is especially evident in the process of gender polarization in which gender similarities are effaced while differences emphasized and exaggerated (Eckert – McConnell-Ginet 2003). Importantly, this polarizing inclination leads to “the organizing of social life around the male-female distinction, the forging of a cultural connection between sex and virtually every other aspect of human experience” (Bem 1993: 192). What seems intriguing from a sociolinguistic point of view, is whether (and how) this dichotomous gender order is reflected in language. In the current presentation, it is maintained that language is indeed profoundly influenced by the common beliefs pertaining to gender. First, these complex interdependencies between language and gender are discussed in reference to disparate theories of the language and gender interplay:social-cognitive approaches and social constructionism. It is demonstrated that the former tend to perpetuate gender stereotypes inherent in language use and perception, whereas in the latter language and gender stereotypes are often ignored. Next, the discussion centers on the ways in which these conceptualizations of language and gender refer to the actual influence of gender stereotypes on language perception examined in the study. In the survey, informants, presented with pieces of authentic language, were asked to identify the sex of the authors and justify their opinions. Next, they read contrived texts unambiguously departing from normative genderlects and evaluated their authors. Finally, they enumerated features which they considered masculine, feminine or gender-neutral. The aim of this investigation was to examine whether there are explicit gender dichotomies in the social and linguistic awareness of the speakers of both languages and whether there are any social implications of gender non-stereotypical linguistic expression. In the analysis of the results of this piece of research, special attention is given to the stereotypical gender binarities in people’s linguistic and social awareness. Overlaps in the responses provided by the informants of the two divergent cultures and languages are presented as indicative of the fact that gender polarization is reflected in both global and local patterns of language perception. The paper discusses also some local differences in the respondents’ perception of language and in their social interpretation of language cues provided. The elucidation of the social and cultural background of the abovementioned findings is provided. Finally, an alternative theoretical approach to the matter at hand is proposed.


Bem Lipsitz, Sandra. 1993. The lenses of gender. Transforming the debate on sexual identity. NewHaven: Yale University Press.

Eckert, Penelope – Sally McConnell-Ginet. 2003. Language and gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Session: Paper session
Gender / Discourse
Friday, April 4, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 16