Grandmother, gran, gangsta granny

semiotic representations of grandmotherhood


  • Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard Federal University of Santa Catarina
  • Rosamund Moon University of Birmingham



ageism, corpus, evaluation, grandmothers, images, representation


Age as an important identity dimension has been comparatively neglected within gender studies. Our paper concerns the semiotic representation of a role performed in the main by older women: that of ‘grandmother’, a social category particularly associated with ageing. To explore this, we draw on image banks, corpus data and other texts in order to discuss images, lexical/textual labelling and their intermodal relations. We find in our visual data that grandmothers are contextualised in two ways: sharing semiotic resources of childhood or domestic contexts, or presented as transgressive actors, located in incongruous situations or performing behaviours inappropriate for their ‘age’. Our discussion of corpus data complements the multimodal analyses, providing further examples of stereotyping: while references to individual grandmothers often evaluate positively, there is also strong evidence of generic, figurative and other usages that trivialise and derogate. Our conclusions point to processes of social devaluation: ageism and sexism are the pervasive and underlining ideologies recurrent in these representations. The broader implications are particularly relevant for the present time, as new forms of grandmothering appear.

Author Biographies

  • Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard, Federal University of Santa Catarina

    Carmen Rosa Caldas-Coulthard is professor of English language and applied linguistics at the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil and Senior Research Fellow in the English Department at the University of Birmingham, UK. Her main publications include Language and Sex (1991), News as Social Practice (1997) and Texts and Practices: Reading in CDA (co-edited with Malcolm Coulthard; 1996). She is the editor (with Tommaso M. Milani) of Gender and Language.

  • Rosamund Moon, University of Birmingham

    Rosamund Moon is an honorary research fellow in the Department of English Language and Applied Linguistics at the University of Birmingham, where, before her retirement, she was a senior lecturer. Her main research areas have been lexis and phraseology, figurative language, lexicography and corpus linguistics, and she has published widely on these areas, including Fixed Expressions and Idioms in English: a Corpus based Approach (Oxford University Press, 1998) and Introducing Metaphor (with Murray Knowles, Routledge, 2006).


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How to Cite

Caldas-Coulthard, C. R., & Moon, R. (2016). Grandmother, gran, gangsta granny: semiotic representations of grandmotherhood. Gender and Language, 10(3), 309-339.