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Peasant men can't get wives: language change and sex roles in a bilingual community1

  • Susan Gal (a1)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 18 December 2008

Language shift from German–Hungarian bilingualism to the exclusive use of German is occurring in the community discussed. Young women are further along in the direction of this change than older people and young men. The linguistic contrast between German and Hungarian is shown to represent the social dichotomy between a newly available worker status and traditional peasant status; thus the choice of language in interaction is part of a speaker's presentation of self. Young women's stated preferences concerning this social dichotomy and their changing marriage strategies indicate that their greater use of German in interaction is one aspect of their general preference for the worker's way of life it symbolizes. Rather than simply isolating a linguistic correlate of sex, the present study suggests that women's speech choices must be explained within the context of their social position, their strategic life choices and the symbolic values of the available linguistic alternatives (language and sex roles; interactional analysis; social determinants of language shift; European bilingualism).

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J. J. Gumperz (1964). Linguistic and social interaction in two communities. American Anthropologist 66 (6). Part II, 137–54.

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Language in Society
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