‘But her language skills shifted the family dynamics dramatically’

Language, gender and the construction of publics in two British newspapers


  • Sally Johnson University of Leeds
  • Astrid Ensslin Bangor University, Wales




language, gender, representation, language ideologies, publics, identity, newspapers, corpus linguistics


Drawing on recent work on language ideologies as ‘sets of representations’ and ‘belief systems’ that are central not only to the construction of languages, but also their communities of users or publics, this paper explores the ways in which language is represented in relation to gender in two British newspapers, The Times and the Guardian. Based on the quantitative and qualitative analysis of a corpus of texts containing 96 instances of the terms or , the study reveals a marked gender distinction in the way in which language is represented in this sector of the print media in relation to four main themes: ‘aesthetic value’, ‘plain talking’, ‘transgression of norms’ and ‘language skills’. The findings are then explored in the context of ongoing theoretical debates on the question of ‘representation’ versus ‘reality’ together with the language ideological notion of gendered ‘publics’.


Anderson, Benedict. 1991 [1983]. Imagined communities: Reflections on the origin and spread of nationalism. London: Verso.

Baxter, Judith. 2003. Positioning gender in discourse: A feminist methodology. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Bauer, Laurie and Peter Trudgill (eds). 1998. Language myths. London: Penguin.

Benwell, Bethan (ed.). 2003. Masculinity and men’s lifestyle magazines. Oxford: Blackwell.

Bergvall Victoria, Janet Bing and Alice Freed (eds). 1996. Rethinking language and gender research: Theory and practice. London: Longman.

Blommaert, Jan (ed.). 1999. Language ideological debates. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Bucholtz, Mary, A. C. Liang and Laurel Sutton (eds). 1999. Reinventing identities: The gendered self in discourse. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Caldas-Coulthard, Carmen Rosa. 1995. Man in the news: The misrepresentation of women speaking as news-in-narrative-discourse. In Sara Mills (ed.). Language and gender: Interdisciplinary perspectives. London: Longman, pp. 226–239.

Cameron, Deborah. 1992. Feminism and linguistic theory. (2nd.ed.) London: Macmillan.

Cameron, Deborah. 1995. Verbal hygiene. London: Routledge.

Cameron, Deborah. 2000. Good to talk? Living and working in a communication culture. London: Sage.

Cameron, Deborah. 2003. Gender and language ideologies. In Janet Holmes and Miriam Meyerhoff (eds). The handbook of language and gender. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 447–467.

Cameron, Deborah 2007. Dreaming of genie. Gender difference and identity on the Web. In Sally Johnson and Astrid Ensslin (eds). Language in the media: Representations, identities, ideologies. London: Continuum, pp. 234–249.

Cameron, Deborah and Don Kulick. 2003. Language and sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Davies, Bethan L. 2005. Communities of practice: Legitimacy not choice. Journal of sociolinguistics 9(4):558–582.

De Clerk, Viv. 1997. The role of expletives in the construction of masculinity. In Sally Johnson and Ulrike Hanna Meinhof (eds). Language and masculinity. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 144–158.

DiGiacomo, Susan M. 1999. Language ideological debates in an Olympic city: Barcelona 1992–1996. In Jan Blommaert (ed.). Language ideological debates. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 105–142.

Eckert, Penelope and Sally McConnell-Ginet. 2003. Language and gender. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ensslin, Astrid and Sally Johnson. 2006. Language in the news: Investigations into representations of ‘Englishness’ using ‘Wordsmith Tools’. Corpora: Corpus-based language learning, language processing and linguistics 1(2):153–185.

Fraser, Nancy. 1992. Rethinking the public sphere: A contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy. In Craig Calhoun (ed.). Habermas and the public sphere. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 109–142.

Gal, Susan and Kathryn Woolard (eds). 2001. Languages and publics: The making of authority. Manchester, UK and Northampton, MA: St. Jerome.

Habermas, Jürgen. 1989 [1962]. The structural transformation of the public sphere. Oxford: Polity.

Hall, Kira and Mary Bucholtz (eds). 1995. Gender articulated: Language and the socially constructed self. London/New York: Routledge.

Heller, Monica. 1999. Sociolinguistics and public debate. Journal of sociolinguistics 3(2):260–288.

Holmes, Janet and Miriam Meyerhoff (eds). 2003. The handbook of language and gender. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Hunston, Susan. 2002. Corpora in applied linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hyland, Ken. 2005. Metadiscourse: Exploring interaction in writing. London: Continuum.

Irvine Judith T. and Susan Gal. 2000. Language ideology and linguistic differentiation. In Paul Kroskrity (ed.). Regimes of language: Ideologies, polities and identities. Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research Press, pp. 35–83.

Jaffe, Alexandra. 1999. Ideologies in action: Language politics on Corsica. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Jaworski, Adam. 1993. The power of silence: Social and pragmatic perspectives. Newbury Park, California: Sage Publications.

Jaworski, Adam (ed.). 1997. Silence: Interdisciplinary perspectives. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Jaworski, Adam, Nikolas Coupland and Dariusz Galasin ˜ski (eds). 2004. Metalanguage: Social and ideological perspectives. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Jaworski, Adam and Itesh Sachdev. 2004. Teachers’ beliefs about students’ talk and silence: Constructing academic success and failure through metapragmatic comments. In Adam Jaworski, Nikolas Coupland and Dariusz Galasin ˜ski (eds). Metalanguage: Social and ideological perspectives. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 227–244.

Jespersen, Otto. 1922. Language: Its nature, development and origin. London: Allen and Unwin.

Johnson, Sally. 2001. Who’s misunderstanding whom? (Socio)linguistics, public debate and the media. Journal of sociolinguistics 5(4):591–610.

Johnson, Sally. 2005a. Spelling trouble? Language, ideology and the reform of German orthography. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Johnson, Sally. 2005b. ‘Sonst kann jeder schreiben, wie er will…’? Orthography, legitimation, and the construction of publics. German life and letters 58(4):453–470.

Johnson, Sally and Ulrike Hanna Meinhof (eds). 1997. Language and masculinity. Oxford: Blackwell.

Kroskrity, Paul (ed.). 2000. Regimes of language: Ideologies, polities and identities. Santa Fe: School of American Research Press.

Lakoff, Robin. 1975. Language and woman’s place. New York: Harper Colophon Books.

Landes, Joan. 1988. Women and the public sphere in the age of the French Revolution. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Levorato, Alessandra. 2003. Language and gender in the fairy tale tradition: A linguistic analysis of old and new story telling. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Lippi-Green, Rosina. 1997. English with an accent: Language, ideology and discrimination in the United States. London: Routledge.

Litosseliti, Lia and Jane Sunderland (eds). 2002. Gender identity and discourse analysis. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins.

McEnery, Tony and Andrew Wilson. 2001. Corpus linguistics. 2nd ed. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Mills, Jane. 1989. Womanwords. London: Longman.

Mills Sara (ed.). 1995. Language and gender: Interdisciplinary perspectives. London: Longman.

Mills, Sara. 2003. Gender and politeness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Niedzielski, Nancy and Dennis R. Preston. 1999. Folk linguistics. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Patrick, Peter L. 2001. The speech community. In Jack Chambers, Peter Trudgill and Natalie Schilling-Estes (eds). The handbook of language variation and change. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 573–597.

Pauwels, Anne. 1998. Women changing language. London: Longman.

Schieffelin, Bambi B., Kathryn A. Woolard and Paul Kroskrity (eds). 1998. Language ideologies: Practice and theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Scott, Mike. 2005. WordSmith tools. Oxford: Oxford University Press (see also http://www. lexically.net/wordsmith/version4/index.html or http://www.liv.ac.uk/english/staff/scott. html).

Silverstein, Michael. 1979. Language structure and linguistic ideology. In Paul R. Clyne, William F. Hanks and Carol L. Hofbauer (eds). The elements: A parasession on linguistic units and levels. Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society, pp. 193–247.

Silverstein, Michael and Greg Urban (eds). 1996. Natural histories of discourse. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Spender, Dale. 1980. Man made language. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Sunderland, Jane. 2004. Gendered discourses. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Talbot, Mary. 2000. ‘It’s good to talk?’ The undermining of feminism in a British Telecom advertisement. Journal of sociolinguistics 4:108–119.

Tannen, Deborah. 1990. You just don’t understand. London: Virago.

Thorne, Barrie and Nancy Henley (eds). 1975. Language and sex: Difference and dominance. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Thorne, Barrie, Cheris Kramarae and Nancy Henley (eds). 1983. Language, gender and society. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.




How to Cite

Johnson, S., & Ensslin, A. (2013). ‘But her language skills shifted the family dynamics dramatically’: Language, gender and the construction of publics in two British newspapers. Gender and Language, 1(1). https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.v1.i1.17192



Virtual Issue Articles