Gender and Language, Vol 10, No 2 (2016)

A discursive approach to structural gender linguistics: theoretical and methodological considerations

Heiko Motschenbacher
Issued Date: 15 Jul 2016


This article addresses the current marginalisation of structural gender linguistics within the field of language and gender. Traditional, structuralist-minded approaches to language and gender are briefly reviewed, and it is argued that a revitalisation of the study of gendered language structures can only be achieved when such analyses reflect recent theoretical developments within the field. More specifically, this necessitates a reconceptualisation of (gendered) language structures in the light of discursive or poststructuralist theories, namely as the result of processes of discursive materialisation in language use. Also discussed at a methodological level is how de-essentialisation as a central driving force of discursive approaches to language and gender can be operationalised in various types of structural linguistic analysis. Four basic dimensions of deessentialisation are distinguished for this purpose: first, the contrastive linguistic dimension (de-essentialisation across languages); second, the historical linguistic dimension (de-essentialisation across time periods); third, the lexicogrammatical dimension (de-essentialisation across linguistic gender categories); and fourth, the pragmatic dimension (de-essentialisation across usage contexts). A contrastive sample analysis of the complexities of pronominalisation in English and German complements the discussion.

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DOI: 10.1558/genl.v10i2.25525


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