Gender and Language, Vol 6, No 2 (2012)

Gender, nationalism, and the attempted reconfiguration of sociolinguistic norms

Suzanne Wertheim
Issued Date: 10 Sep 2012


Tatar nationalist men in post-Soviet Tatarstan (a republic in the Russian Federation), affiliated with the ongoing sub-state sovereignty project there, periodically engage in linguistic practices that are do not adhere to local sociolinguistic norms and can be perceived as face-threatening. Some men signal ideological devotion to the Tatar cause by refusing to accommodate to Russian-dominant public space or Russian speakers, addressing unknown interlocutors in Tatar when Russian is the norm and remaining in Tatar for several conversational turns even when their interlocutors have expressed incomprehension. Others engage in continuous monitoring and standards-keeping for public Tatar linguistic performance, openly critiquing Tatar speech and writing perceived as unduly influenced by Russian in public reprimands or confrontations. Their linguistic activism, part of the process of revalorization of this contracting and stigmatized language, takes place in public domains and is not limited to either ethnic Tatars or Tatarphones. By contrast, their female counterparts in the promotion of the Tatar state and Tatar national culture index their pro-Tatar ideological stances more diplomatically, and with linguistic practices situated only within the Tatar-speaking community. Their promotion of the Tatar language tends to take place within institutional contexts such as philology departments, Tatar-language classes, and Tatar-language media, and their standards-keeping and critiques tend to be discreet, non-confrontational, and when directed at a speaker, in private, face-to-face interactions that often have language as the focus. This gendered patterning of behavior has parallels that have been documented elsewhere, and is also in keeping with normative gender roles within the Tatar republic. Counter-hegemonic activities such as adherence to a stigmatized minority language in public domains have a masculine public face: it is nationalist men who are on the front lines, revitalizing and revalorizing Tatar by using it not only within the Tatar political, cultural, and intelligentsia communities but outside of the community as well, on the streets and in the buildings where Tatar had been silent for generations. These interpersonal interactions seem to be part of the process of masculinizing the nationalist project, where the less-confrontational women’s revitalization work is within community boundaries – in the home, within friendship circles, within the classroom – and so behind the scenes. The Tatar case suggests new avenues of research on the interaction of gender and politeness, nationalism, and language contraction.

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DOI: 10.1558/genl.v6i2.261


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