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The social deixis of gender boundaries : person appellation practices in Croatian

Issue: Vol 4 No. 1 (2020) Special issue: Indexing gender, culture and cognition

Journal: Journal of Language and Discrimination

Subject Areas:

DOI: 10.1558/jld.40375


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: Roswitha Kersten-Pejanić

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