A matter of style

gender and subject variation in Spanish


  • Miguel A. Aijón Oliva Universidad de Salamanca
  • María José Serrano Universidad de La Laguna




style, gender, syntax, variation, subject, interaction


The construction of sex/gender as a dynamic set of values in communicative interaction is a matter of ever growing interest, superseding traditional approaches based on socio-structural and/or biological factors. The purpose of this paper is to investigate the relationship between the statistical patterning of linguistic choices across genders and the meaningful use of such elements in particular contexts. The main hypothesis is that large-scale patterns of variation are tightly connected to the dynamics of specific interaction: speakers are to some extent aware of the typical association of linguistic variants with social groups and interactional domains. In turn, their creative stylistic choices can help maintain or alter such associations. The variable expression of several Spanish subject pronouns is quantitatively and qualitatively analysed. The results indicate that male discourse usually shows higher rates of expressed subject pronouns, while women are more inclined to omission. But there are also differences in their respective preference for particular grammatical subjects, with men promoting the use of the singular first person and women that of the second one. A relationship is suggested between gendered styles and the discursive–cognitive continuum from objectivity to subjectivity, this being projected on a wide range of communicative possibilities.

Author Biographies

Miguel A. Aijón Oliva, Universidad de Salamanca

Miguel A. Aijón Oliva is an associate professor at the University of Salamanca (Spain). He obtained his PhD degree with a study of Spanish verbal clitics from a functionalcognitive as well as sociolinguistic viewpoint. He has subsequently worked on several research projects devoted to Spanish morphosyntactic variation and communicative style. His recent work has been published in journals such as Language and Communication, Language Sciences, Folia Linguistica and Pragmatics. He has also authored the books Variación morfosintáctica e interacción social (2006) and Style in Syntax (2013, with María José Serrano).

María José Serrano, Universidad de La Laguna

María José Serrano is a full professor at the University of La Laguna (Tenerife, Spain). Her areas of expertise are syntactic variation from a discursive-pragmatic and cognitive approach, sociolinguistics and discourse analysis. She is the main researcher in several projects on Spanish subject and object pronoun variation funded by the Spanish Ministerio de Economía y Competividad. Her findings have contributed to the development of studies about Spanish syntactic variation. She has authored books such as Estudios de variación sintáctica (1999), Gramática del discurso (2006), Sociolingüística (2011) and Variación variable (ed., 2011), and book chapters including ‘Morphosyntactic variation in Spain’ (The Handbook of Hispanic Sociolinguistics, 2011, ed. M. Díaz-Campos) and ‘La variación sintáctica’ (Enciclopedia de Lingüística Hispánica, 2016, ed. Javier Gutiérrez-Rexach).


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How to Cite

Oliva, M. A. A., & Serrano, M. J. (2016). A matter of style: gender and subject variation in Spanish. Gender and Language, 10(2), 240–269. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.v10i2.18325