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Gender indexicality in the Native Americas: Contributions to the typology of social indexicality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 May 2012

Luke Fleming
Gallatin School of Individualized Study, New York University, 1 Washington Place, New York, NY


This article provides a global survey of categorical gender indexicality that reveals the near exclusive presence of the phenomenon in the languages of the Native Americas, a fact for which a historical rationale is offered. The survey is helpful in contributing to our understanding of social indexicality in three ways. First, while two-place (or relational) social indexicals, like honorifics, have been well studied, one-place (or absolute) social indexicals have not. Systems of gender indexicality, overwhelmingly of the absolute type, thus help flesh out the typology of social indexicality. Second, the survey illustrates the remarkable complementarity of semantic gender, as a category of denotation, and social gender, as an aspect of identity indexed in discourse, in particular as these overlap in cases of gender deixis. Finally, the study of gender indexicality in the Native Americas reveals that not all gender indexicality is equally gender performative. A number of diagnostics of a categorical type—from ubiquitous rule-governed regularity of patterning to quotability—illustrate that in the cases discussed, forms are highly presupposing, not performative, of the social gender of the speech participants they index. (Gender, indexicality, deixis, Native Americas)*

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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