Walking the straight and narrow
linguistic choice and gendered presentation
Keywords:English, Gender, Variation, Transsexual
The social category of gender is often considered binary in linguistic research, but this division glosses over the myriad identities within the broad categories of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. It also ignores the gendered experiences of participants, particularly transsexuals, for whom language is an important social signal of identity. Two sociolinguistic variables (adjectival intensification and the phonetic production of [s]) are used to explore the linguistic construction of gender within a corpus of straight, queer and transsexual speakers in Ottawa, Canada. Both variables emerge as sites for social identity work, suggesting that speakers with the most to lose practice a kind of linguistic conservatism. Straight men, who run the risk of losing the enormous social capital associated with heteronormative masculinity, take pains to avoid sounding gay or effeminate. Transsexuals, who risk both emotional and physical repercussions should their gender identities be questioned, aim for a safer middle ground.
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