Helga Hilmisdóttir, Árna Magnússons Institut, Island


Gender and Personal Pronouns in Icelandic Debates and Conversations

In recent years, pronouns have been a central issue in discussions about language and gender in Iceland. This is not surprising, since pronouns are a basic component of a language at the same time as they reveal how speakers categorize other members of society. So far, research has mostly been structure-oriented focusing on issues such as agreement, deixis, and anaphora in examples constructed by the researcher. In these studies, the choice of pronouns has been explained in terms of two separate gender categorizations: grammatical gender and referential gender. Grammatical gender, on one hand, is an inherent property of a noun, and it is not affected by the non-linguistic reality. Referential gender, on the other hand, identifies the referent as male, female or neuter.

In this paper, the aim is to analyze how gender is used in authentic, recorded conversation from an interactional perspective. In particular, I will focus on the gender use when interlocutors are referring to non-present persons. The database consists of ca 30 hours of conversational data recorded between 1996 and 2017. The conversations represent a wide range of interactional settings, including everyday conversations, phone calls, radio interviews about current affairs, and moderated debates.

The data show, that the choice between personal pronouns is sometimes problematic in conversation. This is particularly the case when interlocutors talk about non-recognitional referents or referents that have formal occupational roles. In these cases, the persons are often referred to with a lexical phrase that has a grammatical gender which may or may not correspond with the referential gender. In this talk, I will analyze some of these sequences and discuss notions such as action and system relevance of gender.


Jón Ingvi Kjaran, assisterande professor vid Islands Universitet 


“Fag, dude, dyke, fat or hot”. Word prevalence among high school students in terms of gender/sexual stereotypes

The aims of my lecture are two: Firstly to give an overview of research on (hetero)sexist language within institutions and how words / symbols are used and/or misused in terms of sexuality/gender identity. In other words, how is heteronormativity sustained within different institutions of society through particular language? Secondly the results from two research projects will be presented, in which the focus is on attitudes of high school students to stereotypes of appearances, gender and sexual orientation, as well as word prevalence in terms of gender/sexual stereotypes. Two different surveys were conducted in Icelandic high schools. The former one was a quantitative photo-survey which were conducted in two high schools. It consisted of seven photographs that were selected beforehand. These photographs were considered to be typical of certain characteristics, such as sexual orientation, appearances, masculinity or femininity. Students were asked to mark a given word(s) that they thought was relevant to each image. The findings indicate that there was a significant gender difference in the answers of the participants, when it came to the use of certain words in describing the photographs in the survey. The second survey was conducted in four high schools and its aim was to explore if and how frequently students either had heard or used themselves negative words in terms of sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The data for the second survey are still being analyzed and the preliminary results will be presented in this lecture. Generally, it could be concluded from the findings presented in the lecture that many characteristics of institutionalized heterosexism were noted in attitudes and responses of the students, although in varying degrees. Boys used for example more negative words in terms of sexaulity/gender identity and they adopted rather than the girls the dominant discourse of femininity and masculinity. Both sexes, however, were influenced by the dominant discourse about the appearances, stereotypes of gender and sexual orientation, suggesting that the gender system continues to affect the culture of the high schools and the attitudes of their students. 


Kristina Fjelkestam
, Stockholms universitet, Sverige


"How I Learned to Love the Bomb": Peirce and Feminist Semiotics

What can a decent language theory, suitable for the emancipatory project, look like? The complex relationship between text and context has always been a central issue for feminist literary scholars, and its importance has for instance been pointed out by Toni Morrison in her Nobel lecture: ”Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence.” However, the saussurean tradition which dominated semiotic thinking all through the twentieth century has several flaws, amongst them the misogynistic effects of structuralism. In my talk I will describe how I instead came to appreciate the semiotics of C. S. Peirce, and eventually started to consider it a possible point of departure for theorizing language from a feminist perspective. 


Stina Ericsson, Linné universitetet, Sverige


Sustaining and Challenging Gender and Sexuality Norms: Cis, Hetero, and Family Normativities in Children's Interactions

Seeing family as a locus of ‘intra-action’ (Lykke 2010:51) between the micro level of everyday intersubjective actions and macro level discourses, the form and meanings of the family vary with time and place. Our time and place – say, the ‘West’ from the end of the 20th century onwards – is characterised by an individualisation of relationships, of love and intimacy being connected to self-identity, of an increased diversity of family forms in both practice and legislation correlating with, for instance, sexual identity and continued shared parenthood following divorce or separation, together with a somewhat problematised but still fairly naturalised heteronormativity (e.g. Beck & Beck-Gernsheim 1995; Giddens 1991; Ericsson 2012; Hockey, Meah & Robinson 2007; Weeks, Heaphy & Donovan 2001). Individualisation and diversity are also increasingly seen with regards to gender, and this in media, politics, and everyday life, including trans, intersex, and various other non-binary identities and positionings (King 2015; Wojahn 2015). Within the sociology of the family, as well as within interactionally focused linguistic research, the last couple of decades have also seen an increased interest in and awareness of children’s competences and agencies (e.g. Christensen & James 2008; Gardner & Forrester 2010).

Against this background, my research investigates children’s experiences of family and relationships in Sweden today, as witnessed by interactional data in the form of conversations between children and parents. In this talk, I will specifically present and discuss gender, sexuality, and family normativities in such interactions, showing how norms are being both challenged and sustained through linguistic means at the micro level. Data comes from the research project Daddy, Daddy, Child, with 14 participating families, including 24 children aged 5–8 years. Families include single mothers by choice through insemination/IVF, same-sex and different-sex parental couples, parents who are married and not married, parents living together and not. Data was elicited and recorded using a purpose-designed tablet app, encouraging conversations on the topics of one’s own and other families, living together, marriage/weddings, and love.

Using the notion of ‘family display’ (Finch 2007), I show how form and content correlate in children’s presentations of their own families, and how this correlation normalises certain kinds of families and not others. Regarding sexuality, the analysis of the data reveals the multiple and sometimes conflicting ways in which norms are confirmed and challenged. For example, in response to the question Who can get married?, 8-year-old Marika states that It doesn’t matter, boy and boy can marry, and girl and girl can marry. Here, the explicit statement of it doesn’t matter invites an inference that ‘it’, on the contrary, does/can matter. Finally, I will show how the genderings that the children and parents do in the conversations re-establish a firmly binary and cisnormative view of gender.