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Toward a comprehensive theory of language and gender

  • VICTORIA L. BERGVALL (a1)
    • Published online: 01 April 1999
Abstract

The search for explanatory coherence in language and gender research has fostered a variety of research methods and analyses; this article evaluates the contributions of the Communities of Practice approach, with its focus on the constructive practices of a group – especially mutual engagement of learning a jointly negotiated practice of gender. Rather than presupposing gender differences as a starting point, CofP emphasizes the learning and mutability in gendered linguistic displays across groups; CofP theory thus naturalizes intragroup variation, not marking it as deviant. However, while the CofP approach focuses much-needed attention on the social construction of gender as local and cross-culturally variable, gender research must be augmented by critical study of two other facets of gender: ideology and innateness, which are critical components of a more comprehensive theory of gender for language research. I would like to give thanks to Janet Holmes for organizing the original forum in which the paper developed, and for her very helpful comments; to Sally McConnell-Ginet and Penny Eckert for their sustained support, through their work, of me and others in the field; and to all three of them – plus Alice Freed, Miriam Meyerhoff, and Susan Ehrlich – for stimulating comments and discussion of these issues. Thanks also go to Mary Talbot and Craig Waddell for comments on an earlier draft. All errors remain my own responsibility.

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Language in Society
  • ISSN: 0047-4045
  • EISSN: 1469-8013
  • URL: /core/journals/language-in-society
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