Faculty Publications


The Gender of Child Discourse: Same‐Sex Peer Socialization Through Language Use in a Taiwanese Preschool

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Journal of Linguistic Anthropology





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Language, as both a system of meaning and a form of social action, is central to any analysis of social reproduction. Gender emerges as a major category in social reproduction and is therefore implicated in language and speech. Although scholars of language and gender studies generally have not used a post‐structuralist theoretical approach, I argue for such a phenomenological and interactive perspective, which takes gender as a socially and culturally constructed set of symbols that subjects produce and transform in daily interactions in specific contexts. This research is an ethnographic study of language and peer sex role socialization in a Mandarin Chinese speaking preschool and is based on fieldwork carried out in 1984 in Taibei, Taiwan, the Republic of China. Videotapes of naturally occurring conversations among same‐sex peer groups of three‐ to six‐year‐old boys and four‐ to eight‐yearold girls in a variety of settings are examined to show the discursive means by which these Chinese girls' and boys' interests and behaviors are reflexively organized and reproduced. Through verbal and nonverbal interaction, boys create a childish masculine ethos that centers on action, competition, and aggression, punctuated with onomatopoeia and mild vulgarity, and that is organized and expressed discursively through loud, terse, direct forms of speech. Whereas girls create a feminine ethos that centers on the construction and maintenance of quasi‐familial social relations or on authoritarian roles based on teacher models, and that is organized and expressed discursively through coy, affected, and indirect forms of speech. Copyright © 1991, Wiley Blackwell. All rights reserved

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