Ideology, Gender Roles, and Pronominal Choice: A sociolinguistic analysis of the use of English third person generic pronouns by native speakers of Arabic
University of Kansas
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This study is a sociolinguistic investigation of the use of four English generic pronouns (he, she, he or she, singular they) by Arabic-speaking second language learners of English. This study takes a different approach to the investigation of second language (L2) acquisition and use by examining the use of L2 as a function of two social constructs: gender roles and linguistic gender ideology. In this study, 150 participants (50 English NSs and 100 Arabic-speaking L2 learners of English) completed two tasks: a gender role assignment questionnaire and a written sentence completion task. The goal of the first task was to examine what gender roles (i.e., typically female, typically male, or gender neutral) the participants assign to a list of personal nouns (e.g., nurse, mechanic, and person). The goal of the second task was to examine what generic pronouns the participants use to index these personal nouns, whether rated as typically female (e.g., nurse), typically male (e.g., mechanic), or gender neutral (e.g., person). In doing so, this study aimed at examining the effect of Arab/Arabic androcentricity (i.e., male bias) on both gender role assignment and generic pronoun usage. The results of this study showed that singular they was, overall, the most commonly used pronoun by English NSs. In terms of gender roles, English NSs provided singular they for the majority of gender neutral antecedents and for almost one third of both typically male antecedents and typically female antecedents. The masculine pronoun and the feminine pronoun were used for almost half of their corresponding gender roles (i.e., typically male - he, typically female - she). The pronominal he or she was rarely, but consistently, used across all gender categories by English NSs. In comparison to English NSs, Arabic-speaking L2 learners of English rated fewer items as `typically female', but were not significantly different from NSs in terms of the number of `typically male' and `gender neutral' ratings. Unlike English NSs, Arabic-speaking L2 learners of English provided the masculine pronoun (he) for the vast majority of both typically male antecedents and gender neutral antecedents. The feminine pronoun (she) was used with the majority of typically female antecedents by these English L2 learners. The pattern of use of generic pronouns by Arabic-speaking L2 learners of English may be an indication of a typical sexist linguistic practice, where men occupy both the male and neutral positions, and women are assigned to "the marked, the gendered, the different, the forever-female position." MacKinnon (1987:55). The results of this study showed significant differences between English NSs and English L2 learners not only in terms of `gender inclusive' vs. `gender exclusive' language patterns, but also in terms of the strategies employed. Finally, these results point to the limitations of foreign language classroom input for L2 socialization, thus, for the development of L2 sociolinguistic competence.
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