The Language Power

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A lucid account and analysis of interrelationships between language, gender and power

 

 

Dr Shahid Siddiqui is a well known teacher, teacher educator, and researcher. His book on language, gender and power is a valuable addition to the extant literature on the socio-cultural aspects of language, gender, educational change, and critical pedagogy.

Language is, doubtless, a powerful tool in representing and structuring the world. In this book, Shahid Siddiqui has conducted an in-depth study of the role and behaviour of language in constructing stereotypes, identities, and human relationships. Manifestation and perpetuation of gender differentiation is a natural offshoot of this process. The book seeks to examine ’how gender is in fact made up on a continuous basis in different linguistic and artistic expressions, e.g., sayings and proverbs, jokes, slogans, films, TV plays, newspapers, theatre, and slogans behind vehicles’, and reveal ‘how these apparently playful activities strengthen gender stereotypes unnoticed’.

Professors Jim Cummins, Norman Fairclough, and Tariq Rehman have commended the author, in their respective flaps appended to the book, for a lucid account/analysis of interrelationships between language, gender, and power. Thus the reader gets a deeper understanding ‘of the ways in which language provides a lens to bring into focus the influence of societal power relations on the performance of gender’. This social aspect of language could be better appreciated through an interdisciplinary approach to the subject by benefiting from sociology, psychology, politics, gender studies, anthropology, literature, culture studies, feminism, etc.

Robin Lakoff’s Language and Woman’s Place (1975) is a natural starting point for any discussion of the complex intersections of gender, language, and power. She has focused her attention on class, power, and social justice in addition to gender with a view to exploring ways in which outside context entered the structure of language.

Otto Jesperson (The Woman), Simone de Beauvoir (The Second Sex), J.L. Austin (Sense and Sensibilia), Dale Spender (Man Made Language), Judith Butler (Gender Trouble), Debora Tannen (You Just Don’t Understand), Kira Hall (Language, Gender, Power, and Performance on the Fantasy Lines), and Mary Crawford (Talking Difference: On Gender and Language) initiated a provocative discussion on the subject at various points of time through their writings.

Eminent sociologist Prof. Sally Raskoff’s views on language, gender and power also bear close relevance to Shahid Siddiqui’s averments in his book. She has dilated on the gendered nature of the English language and correlated it to the discipline of sociology.

The author of the instant book has in the near past, pioneered the model of an academic course on language, gender, and power in the indigenous context for the benefit of the students at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) and Lahore School of Economics (LSE) where he has had the opportunity to teach.

The book consists of twenty chapters falling under six major heads titled Language, Representation, and Hegemony; Language and Gender Construction; Language, Gender and Society; Language, Gender, and Education; Language, Gender, and the Media; and Gendered Discourse: Reform and Resistance wherein the author has discussed the themes of language as a socio-political phenomenon; power and politics of discourse; language, representation, and control; manufacturing gender and language; growing up with gender; language and gender: research directions; literature and the politics of exclusion; sayings, proverbs, and women; gender and jokes; matrimonial ads: societal expectations; gender and education; nursery rhymes and gender representation; representation of women in fairy tales; gender and media; women in advertisements; television plays and gender stereotypes; construction of gender in films; representation of women in songs; need for language reform, and resistance through language. The writer has also drawn on a broad spectrum of references, both topical and cross-cultural, as cited in the bibliography, to illustrate and reinforce his considered stance in the book.

Shahid Siddiqui has conducted an in-depth study of the role and behaviour of language in constructing stereotypes, identities and human relationships. Manifestation and perpetuation of gender differentiation is a natural offshoot of this process.

Eminent sociologist Prof. Sally Raskoff’s views on language, gender and power also bear close relevance to Shahid Siddiqui’s averments in his book. She has dilated on the gendered nature of the English language and correlated it to the discipline of sociology. She contends that men dominate women in relation to power and gender in this society. In her line of argument, ‘important ideas that spawn other works (not to mention Nobel Prizes) are called “seminal” not ovular’. She traces the raison d’etre of the cursed words also to what R.W. “Bob” Connell, another distinguished woman sociologist, would term as ‘hegemonic masculinity’. Contrarily, ‘emphasised feminity’, its counterpart, would encourage women to be ‘passive, nurturing, caring, mothering, and otherwise subordinate’. The emergence of the female title ‘Ms.’ (a contraction of ‘Miss’ and ‘Mrs.’) coincided with the rise of feminism in 1960-70s when women sought to be identified not by their marital status but as an independent human entity which tends to reaffirm the paradigm that language reflects society and it is contemporaneously engaged in reinforcing and maintaining ‘the gendered hierarchy of power’.

Thus Dr Shahid Siddiqui’s current work on language, gender and power is a commendable contribution to the international literature on the subject as he has applied all his learning and experience to the native situation in this exposition, meant to combat the rising gender discrimination here, as elsewhere, by reforming and rightsizing the language.

Language, Gender, and Power A

Language, Gender, and Power

(The Politics of Representation and Hegemony in South Asia)

Author: Shahid Siddiqui

Publisher: Oxford University Press, Karachi

Pages: 220; Price: Rs995/-