SEX-FOR-GENDER metonymy?

A consideration of three expressions from Akan


  • Grace Diabah University of Ghana



gender, sex, metonymy, social constructionism


Social constructionists consider gender as socially constructed, fluid and context-specific. An individual can thus behave in ways considered as either masculine or feminine in various contexts, irrespective of their sex. However, speakers of Akan (in Ghana) sometimes talk about people who behave in ways considered as contradictory to sociocultural expectations about gendered behaviour for ‘their sex’ as metonymically having two sexes. In this paper, I discuss three Akan metonymic expressions that exemplify this: Kojo besia (Monday-born male who is also female), ?baa barima (woman-man) and ?baa akok?nini (female-rooster). I argue that such expressions derive from a conceptual metonymy ‘SEX-FOR-GENDER’, and discuss how the analysis of such expressions contributes to theoretical perspectives on gender and language and to our understanding of metonymy. Although the understanding and interpretation of these metonymies appear quite essentialist, I argue that it may also be read as lending some support to the argument by some social constructionists that sex, like gender, is a social construction.

Author Biography

  • Grace Diabah, University of Ghana

    Grace Diabah is a Senior Lecturer of Linguistics at the University of Ghana, and a Post-doctoral Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies’ (ACLS) African Humanities Program (AHP). She holds a PhD and a Master of Research in Applied Linguistics from the Lancaster University (UK). She teaches and researches into Gender and Language, with a special interest in how men and women are portrayed in media discourses. Some of her publications include ‘From “Recharger” to “Gidi Power”: The representation of male sexual power in Ghanaian radio commercials’ (Critical Discourse Studies), ‘Caring supporters or daring usurpers? The representation of women in Akan proverbs’ (Discourse & Society) and ‘Powerful women in powerless language: media representation of African women in politics’ (Journal of Pragmatics).


Baxter, J. (2002) Competing discourses in the classroom: a post-structuralist analyses of girls’ and boys’ speech in public contexts. Discourse and Society 13(6): 27–42.

Baxter, J. (2003) Positioning Gender in Discourse: A Feminist Methodology. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Baxter, J. (2008) Is it all tough talking at the top? A post-structuralist analysis of the construction of gendered speaker identities of British business leaders within interview narratives. Gender and Language 2(2): 197–222.

Benwell, B. (2002) Is there anything new about these lads? The textual and visual construction of masculinity in men’s magazines. In L. Litosseliti and J. Sunderland (eds) Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis 149–77. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Berger, P. L. and Luckmann, T. (1966) The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Anchor Books.

Bucholtz, M. (1999) Why be normal? Language and identity practices in a community of nerd girls. Language in Society 28(2): 203–23.

Bucholtz, M. (2007) Variation in transcription. Discourse Studies 9(6): 784–808.

Burr, V. (2003) Social Constructionism (2nd edn). Hove: Routledge.

Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Butler, J. (2006) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (2nd edn). New York: Routledge.

Cameron, D. (2005) Language, gender, and sexuality: current issues and new directions. Applied Linguistics 26(4): 482–502.

Diabah, G. (2011) ‘My lioness wife’: constructions of gender identities in the discourse(s) of Ghanaian couples in the UK Diaspora. PhD thesis, Lancaster University, UK.

Eckert, P. and McConnell-Ginet, S. (2003) Gender and Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Edley, N. (2001) Analysing masculinity: interpretive repertoires, ideological dilemmas and subject positions. In M. Wetherell, S. Taylor, and S. Yates (eds) Discourses as Data: A Guide for Analysis 189–228. London: Sage.

Edley, N. and Wetherell, M. (1995) Men in Perspective: Practice, Power and Identity. London: Prentice Hall/Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Evans, V. (2007) A Glossary of Cognitive Linguistics. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Evans, V. and Green, M. (2006) Cognitive Linguistics: An Introduction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Fausto-Sterling, A. (2000) Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books.

Gal, S. (1978) Peasant men can’t get wives: language change and sex roles in a bilingual community. Language in Society 7(1): 1–16.

Hagan, G. P. (2006) Gender: evolving roles and perceptions. In Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences Proceedings 2004 Gender: Evolving Roles and Perceptions 47–62. Accra: Black Mask.

Hegstrom, J. L. and McCarl-Nielsen, J. (2002) Gender and metaphor: descriptions of familiar persons. Discourse Processes 33(3): 219–34.

Hines, C. (1999) Rebaking the pie: the WOMAN AS DESSERT metaphor. In M. Bucholtz, A. C. Liang and L. A. Sutton (eds) Reinventing Identities: The Gendered Self in Discourse 145–62. New York: Oxford University Press.

Hiraga, M. (1991) Metaphors Japanese women live by. Working Papers on Language, Gender, and Sexism 1(1): 37–57.

Koller, V. (2002) ‘A shotgun wedding’: co-occurrence of war and marriage metaphors in mergers and acquisitions discourse. Metaphor and Symbol 17(3): 179–203.

Koller, V. (2004a). Businesswomen and war metaphors: ‘possessive, jealous and pugnacious’? Journal of Sociolinguistics 8(1): 3–22.

Koller, V. (2004b) Metaphor and Gender in Business Media Discourse: A Critical Cognitive Study. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Koller, V. (2008) CEOs and ‘working gals’: the textual representation and cognitive conceptualisation of businesswomen in different discourse communities. In K. Harrington, L. Litosseliti, H. Sauntson and J. Sunderland (eds) Gender and Language Research Methodology 211–26. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Koller, V. and Semino, E. (2009) Metaphor, politics and gender: a case study from Germany. In K. Ahrens (ed.) Politics, Gender and Conceptual Metaphors 9–35. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kövecses, Z. (2002) Metaphor: A Practical Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kövecses, Z. (2006) Language, Mind and Culture: A Practical Introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Kövecses, Z. and Radden, G. (1998) Metonymy: developing a cognitive linguistic view. Cognitive Linguistics 9(1): 37–77.

Lakoff, G. and Turner, M. (1989) More than Cool Reason: A Field Guide to Poetic Metaphor. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, R. (1975) Language and Women’s Place. New York: Harper & Row.

Lazar, M. M. (2005) Politicizing gender in discourse: feminist critical discourse analysis as political perspective and praxis. In M. M. Lazar (ed.) Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis: Gender, Power and Ideology in Discourse 1–28. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Mills, S. (2008) Language and Sexism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Milroy, L. (1980) Language and Social Networks. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Nilsen, A. P. (1996) Of ladybugs and billygoats: what animal species names tell about human perceptions of gender. Metaphor and Symbolic Activity 11(4): 257–71.

Semino, E. and Koller, V. (2009) Metaphor, politics and gender: a case study from Italy. In K. Ahrens (ed.) Politics, Gender and Conceptual Metaphors 36–61. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Smith-Spark, L. (2006) Are rites of passage out of step? BBC News (2 July). Retrieved on 4 June 2016 from

Sunderland, J. (2000) Parenthood discourses: the construction of fatherhood and motherhood in parentcraft literature. Discourse and Society 11(2): 249–74.

Sunderland, J. (2002) Baby entertainer, bumbling assistant and line manager: discourses of paternal identity in parentcraft texts. In J. Sunderland and L. Litosseliti (eds) Gender Identity and Discourse Analysis 293–324. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Sunderland, J. (2004) Gendered Discourses. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Talbot, M. (1998) Language and Gender: An Introduction. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Tannen, D. (1990) You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. London: Virago.

Wetherell, M., and Edley, N. (1999) Negotiating hegemonic masculinity: imaginary positions and psycho-discursive practices. Feminism and Psychology 9(3): 335–56.






How to Cite

Diabah, G. (2016). SEX-FOR-GENDER metonymy? A consideration of three expressions from Akan. Gender and Language, 10(2), 170-190.