Living in several languages: Language, gender and identities

Burck, Charlotte (2011) Living in several languages: Language, gender and identities. European Journal of Women's Studies, 18 (4). pp. 361-378. ISSN Print ISSN: 1350-5068; Online ISSN: 1461-7420 Full text available

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Living in several languages encompasses experiencing and constructing oneself differently in each language. The research study on which this article is based takes an intersectional approach to explore insider accounts of the place of language speaking in individuals’ constructions of self, family relationships and the wider context. Twenty-four research interviews and five published autobiographies were analysed using grounded theory, narrative and discursive analysis. A major finding was that learning a new language inducted individuals into somewhat ‘stereotyped’ gendered discourses and power relations within the new language, while also enabling them to view themselves differently in the context of their first language. This embodied process could be challenging and often required reflection and discursive work to negotiate the dissimilarities, discontinuities and contradictions between languages and cultures. However, the participants generally claimed that their linguistic multiplicity generated creativity. Women and men used their language differences differently to ‘perform their gender’. This was particularly evident in language use within families, which involved gendered differences in the choice of language for parenting – despite the fact that both men and women experience their first languages as conveying intimacy in their relationships with their children. The article argues that the notion of ‘mother tongue’ (rather than ‘first language’) is unhelpful in this process as well as in considering the implications of living in several languages for systemic therapy.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: Sex Psychology > Gender Identity
Communication (incl. disorders of) > Language
Department/People: Children, Young Adult and Family Services

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