The social deixis of gender boundaries

person appellation practices in Croatian


  • Roswitha Kersten-Pejanić University of Rijeka



gender indexing, alternative language use, “generic” masculine, perception, Croatian


This article studies aspects of the multi-layered role of language in establishing and maintaining a social order based on gender. Gendered person appellations are traditionally seen as person reference, an interpretation loaded with essentialist views of gender that hardly comply with current gender theories. By taking a close look at the Croatian context, this article analyses the indexical meaning and active role of language use in normalising dominant gender norms. Slavic languages have played a minor role in international discussions on gender and language. However, they convincingly allow us to show how indexical functions of language use are integrated in and contribute to gendered perceptions of people in general. For this, an interdisciplinary approach is taken that alludes to both the production and the perception of this specific dimension of social deixis by (1) evaluating the linguistic norm of person appellation as found in a leading conservative newspaper, and (2) testing the perception of these normalised appellation forms against alternative person-naming practices in an online-based questionnaire. As highlighted in this article, the making of linguistically manifest gender boundaries is clearly observable in research on a language possessing rigid grammatical rules of gender marking in person appellation, such as Croatian.

Author Biography

Roswitha Kersten-Pejanić, University of Rijeka

Roswitha Kersten-Pejanić is Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies Southeastern Europe at Rijeka University, where she holds a Research Fellowship from the German Research Foundation (DFG) to fund her ongoing project ‘Linguistic Landscapes at the margins: Performativity of ethnic belonging and memory politics in Croatian post-conflict border regions’ (2018–2021). Roswitha completed her PhD thesis on the interrelation of linguistic norms and gender perceptions in Croatian in 2016 at the Center for Transdisciplinary Gender Studies, Humboldt University. She holds MAs in Modern History and Serbian/Croatian from Humboldt University and in EU Studies from Centre International de Formation Européenne.


Abbou, J. (2011) Double Gender Marking in French: A Linguistic Practice of Antisexism. Current Issues in Language Planning 12(1): 55–75.

Alvanoudi, A. (2014) Grammatical Gender in Interaction. Cultural and Cognitive Aspects. Leiden and Boston: Brill.

Ariel, M. (2008) Pragmatics and Grammar. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge and New York.

Austin, J. L. (2002 [1962]) Zur Theorie der Sprechakte (How to Do Things with Words). Reclam: Stuttgart.

Babi?, S. (2006) Hrvatski jezik, zakonodavstvo i ravnopravnost spolova [Croatian language, legislation, and gender equality]. Jezik 53(3): 81–87.

Bem, S. L. and Bem, D. J. (1973) Does Sex-Biased Job Advertising ‘Aid and Abet’ Sex Discrimination? Journal of Applied Social Psychology 3(1): 6–18.

Bertoša, M. (2001) Jezi?ne promjene i feministi?ka kritika jezika [Language change and feminist critique of language]. Revija za sociologiju 1–2: 63–75.

Bertoša, M. (2006) O jezicnoj transgresij i spolne/rodne binarnosti [On language transgression and sex/gender binarity]. In Ženska Soba (ed.) Transgresija roda: Spolna/rodna ravnopravnost zna?i više od binarnosti 223–235. Ženska Soba: Zagreb.

Bori?, R. (1998) Ženski identitet u jeziku [Female identity in language]. Tre?a 1: 37–44.

Boroditsky, L., Schmidt, L. A. and Philipps, W. (2003) Sex, Syntax, and Semantics. In D. Gentner and S. Goldin-Meadow (eds.) Language in Mind. Advances in the Study of Language and Thought 61–79. MIT Press: Cambridge.

Braun, F. (1995) Making Men out of People: The MAN Principle in Translating Genderless Forms. Working Papers on Language, Gender and Sexism 5(2): 5–38.

Braun, F., Sczesny, S. and Stahlberg, D. (2005) Cognitive Effects of Masculine Generics in German: An Overview of Empirical Findings. Communications 30: 1–21.

Bugarski, R. (2005) Pol i rod u jeziku [Sex and gender in language]. Forum Bosnae 34: 184–194.

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

Butler, J. (1997) Excitable Speech: A Politics of the Performative. Routledge: New York and London.

Državni zavod za statistiku (2010) Nacionalna klasifikacija zanimanja [National classification of occupations]. Narodne Novine 147. Accessed December 1, 2018.

Fillmore, C. J. (1971) Santa Cruz Lectures on Deixis. Indiana University Linguistics Club: Bloomington.

Fleming, L. (2012) Gender indexicality in the Native Americas: Contributions to the typology of social indexicality. Language in Society 41(3): 295–320.

Formanowicz, M., Bedynska, S., Cis?ak, A., Braun, F. and Sczesny, S. (2013) Side Effects of Gender-Fair Language: How Feminine Job Titles Influence the Evaluation of Female Applicants. European Journal of Social Psychology 43: 62–71.

Glovacki-Bernardi, Z. (2008) Kad student zatrudni. Rasprava o rodnoj perspektivi u jeziku [When the student.m gets pregnant: Discussion of the gender perspective in language]. Alfa: Zagreb.

Glovacki-Bernardi, Z. (2012) Job Advertisements in Croatian Newspapers – Gender Perspective. In Kersten-Pejani?, R., Rajili?, S. And Voß, C. (eds.) Doing Gender – Doing the Balkans: Dynamics and Persistence of Gender Relations in Yugoslavia and the Yugoslav Successor States 147–159. Peter Lang: Munich.

Greenberg, R. (2008) Language and Identity in the Balkans: Serbo-Croatian and its Disintegration. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Gygax, P. and Gabriel, U. (2008) Can a Group of Musicians Be Composed of Women? Generic Interpretation of French Masculine Role Names in the Absence and Presence of Feminine Forms. Swiss Journal of Psychology 67(3): 143–151.

Gygax, P., Gabriel, U., Sarrasin, O., Oakhill, J. and Garnham, A. (2008) Generically Intended, but Specifically Interpreted: When Beauticians, Musicians, and Mechanics are All Men. Language and Cognitive Processes 23(3): 464–485.

Gygax, P., Gabriel, U., Lévy, A., Pool, E., Grivel, M. and Pedrazzini, E. (2012) The Masculine Form and its Competing Interpretations in French: When Linking Grammatically Masculine Role Names to Female Referents is Difficult. Journal of Cognitive Psychology 24(4): 395–408.

Hellinger, M. and Bußmann, H. (2001) Gender across languages: The linguistic representation of women and men. Volume 1. John Benjamins. Amsterdam.

Hellinger, M. and Bußmann, H. (2002) Gender across languages: The linguistic representation of women and men. Volume 2. John Benjamins. Amsterdam.

Hellinger, M. and Bußmann, H. (2003) Gender across languages: The linguistic representation of women and men. Volume 3. John Benjamins. Amsterdam.

Hellinger, M. and Motschenbacher, H. (2015) Gender across languages. Volume 4. John Benjamins. Amsterdam.

Heise, E. (2003) Auch einfühlsame Studenten sind Männer: Das generische Maskulinum und die mentale Repräsentation von Personen [Sensitive students+MASC are men too: The generic masculine and the mental representation of persons]. Verhaltenstherapie und psychosoziale Praxis 35(2): 285–291.

Hornscheidt, A. (2006) Die sprachliche Benennung von Personen aus konstruktivistischer Sicht. Genderspezifizierung und ihre diskursive Verhandlung im heutigen Schwedisch [Linguistic appellation of people in a constructivist perspective: Gender specification and discoursive negotiation in today’s Swedish]. DeGruyter: Berlin and New York.

Irmen, L. and Steiger, V. (2006) Zur Geschichte des Generischen Maskulinums. Sprachwissenschaftliche, sprachphilosophische und psychologische Aspekte im historischen Diskurs [On the history of the generic masculine: Linguistic, language philosophical, and psychological aspects in the historical discourse]. Zeitschrift für germanistische Linguistik 32(2–3): 212–235.

Kapovi?, M. (2011) Language, Ideology and Politics in Croatia. Slavia Centralis: 45–56.

Kersten-Pejani?, R. (2015) »Imenice muškog roda imenice su op?eg roda…« Why Questioning Androgendering Naming Practices for People Is Still Worth the (Slavicist’s) While. In D. Scheller-Boltz (ed.) New Approaches to Gender and Queer Research in Slavonic Studies 129–147. Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden.

Kersten-Pejani?, R. (2017) Die Macht von Sprachnormen. Perzeption, Produktion und Dekonstruktion von personaler Appellation im Kroatischen [The power of language norms: Perception, production, and deconstruction of person appellation in Croatian]. E-Server Humboldt Universität zu Berlin. Accessed December 1, 2018.

Kersten-Pejani?, R. (2018) Language Ideology and Linguistic Manifestations of Gender Conceptualisations in Croatian. In A. Bauer and D. Bun?i? (eds.) Linguistische Beiträge zur Slavistik. XXIII. JungslavistInnen-Treffen in Köln, September 2015 77–97. Peter Lang: Munich.

Kersten-Pejani?, R. (2019) The Anti-Language of Feminist and Queer Activism. Linguistic Norm-Breaking and the Formation of the Heretical Discourse in Croatia. Women's Studies International Forum 77.

Khosroshahi, F. (1989) Penguins Don’t Care, but Women Do: A Social Identity Analysis of a Whorfian Problem. Language in Society 18: 505–525.

Konishi, T. (1993) The Semantics of Grammatical Gender: A Cross-Cultural Study. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research 22(5): 519–534.

Kordi?, S. (2002) Das verallgemeinernde „?ovjek“ ‚man‘ im Kroatoserbischen [The generalising „?ovjek“ ‚one‘ in Croatiserbian]. In Symanzik, B., G. Birkfellner, A. Sproede, H. Gemba and W. Tenhagen (eds.) Frau und Mann in Sprache, Literatur und Kultur des slavischen und baltischen Raumes. Beiträge zu einem Symposium in Münster 11./12. Mai 2000 165–187. Dr. Kova?: Hamburg.

Kusterle, K. (2011) Die Macht von Sprachformen. Der Zusammenhang von Sprache, Denken und Genderwahrnehmung [The power of language norms. The interrelation of language, thought and gender perception]. Brandes & Apsel: Frankfurt/Main.

Levinson, S. C. (1979) Pragmatics and Social Deixis: Reclaiming the Notion of Conventional Implicature. Proceedings of the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Berkeley Linguistics Society: 206–223.

Lévy, A., Gygax, P. and Gabriel, U. (2014) Fostering the Generic Interpretation of Grammatically Masculine Forms: When My Aunt Could Be One of the Mechanics. Journal of Cognitive Psychology 26(1): 27–38.

Liben, L. S., Bigler, R. S. and Kogh, H. R. (2002) Language at Work: Children’s Gendered Interpretations of Occupational Titles. Child Development 73(3): 810–828.

Livia, A. and Hall, K. (1997) »It’s a Girl!« Bringing Performativity Back to Linguistics. In A. Livia and K. Hall (eds.) Queerly Phrased. Language, Gender, and Sexuality 3–18. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

Mey, J. L. (1993) Pragmatics as Deconstruction. Social Semiotics 3(2): 219–230.

Motschenbacher, H. (2016) A Discursive Approach to Structural Gender Linguistics: Theoretical and Methodological Considerations. Gender and Language 10(2): 149–169.

Motschenbacher, H. and Weikert, M. (2015) Croatian: Structural Gender Trouble in Croatian. In M. Hellinger and H. Motschenbacher (eds.) Gender Across Languages, Vol. 4, 49–94. John Benjamins: Amsterdam.

Ochs, E. (1992) Indexing Gender. In A. Duranti and C. Goodwin (eds.) Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon 335–358. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Parks, J. B. and Roberton, M. A. (1998) Contemporary Arguments Against Nonsexist Language: Blaubergs (1980) Revisited. Sex Roles 39(5/6): 445–461.

Pavlidou, T.-S. and Alvanoudi, A. (2013) Grammatical Gender and Cognition. In N. Lavidas, T. Alexiou and A. M. Sougari (eds.) Major Trends in Theoretical and Applied Linguistics, Vol. 2, 109–124. De Gruyter: London.

Posch, C. (2011) Mitgefangen – Mitgehangen. Generisches Maskulinum und Normen geschlechtergerechten Sprachgebrauchs [In for a penny, in for a pound: Generic masculine and norms of gender-fair language use]. In C. Antenhofer, A. Oberprantacher and K. Schnegg (eds.) Methoden und Wahrheiten. Geistes- und sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung in Theorie und Praxis 207–228. Innsbruck University Press: Innsbruck.

Rehder, P. (2006) Das Kroatische [Croatian]. In P. Rehder (ed.) Einführung in die slavischen Sprachen 250–267. Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft: Darmstadt.

Sapir, E. (1929) The Status of Linguistics as a Science. Language 5(4): 207–214.

Scheller-Boltz, D. (ed.). (2015) Sprache als konstituierendes Element einer gegenderten Gesellschaft. Entwicklungen, Perspektiven und Möglichkeiten in den slawischen Sprachen [Language as constitutive element of a gendered society: Development, perspectives, and possibilities in Slavic languages]. Harrassowitz: Wiesbaden.

Stokoe, E. H. and Smithson, J. (2001) Making gender relevant: conversation analysis and gender categories in interaction. Discourse & Society 12(2): 217–244.

Valdrová, J. (2008) »Žena a v?dec? To mi nejde dohromady«: Testy generického maskulina v ?eském jazyce [Woman and scientist.M? This does not fit. tests of the generic masculine in the Czech language]. Naše ?e? 91(1): 26–38.

Verschueren, J. (1995) The Pragmatic Perspective. In J. Verschueren, J.-O. Östmann and J. Blommaert (eds.) Handbook of Pragmatics: Manual 1–19. John Benjamins: Amsterdam and Philadelphia.

Vervecken, D. and Hannover, B. (2015) Yes, I Can! Effects of Gender Fair Job Descriptions on Children’s Perception of Job Status, Job Difficulty, and Vocational Self-Efficacy. Social Psychology 46(2): 76–92.

Voß, C. (2007) Zum Problem der Sprachgrenzen im (ex)jugoslawischen Raum [On the Problem of language borders in the ex-Yugoslav area]. In W. Gladrow and D. Stern (eds.) Beiträge zur slawischen Philologie. Festschrift für Fred Otten 193–211. Peter Lang: Frankfurt/Main.

Whorf, B. L. (2012 [1940]) Science and Linguistics. In J. B. Carroll, S. C. Levinson and P. Lee (eds.) Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf 265–280. MIT Press: Cambridge and London.




How to Cite

Kersten-Pejanić, R. (2020). The social deixis of gender boundaries: person appellation practices in Croatian. Journal of Language and Discrimination, 4(1), 98-118.