Asymmetries of Male/Female Representation in Arabic

  • Samira Farwaneh


The correlation between language and gender has advanced to the forefront of sociolinguistic research, particularly after the widely acclaimed yet highly controversial work of Lakoff (1975) in which she examines societal gender inequity and its effect on linguistic performance, focusing on language used by women as well as language used to refer to women. She sheds light on several linguistic domains where gender asymmetry figures prominently. Her work generated an upsurge in research on language and gender issues, primary among which is the detection of sexist language usage in English and other languages. Evident throughout is the assertion that sexist language usage, that is, the overt expression of gender bias, manifests itself in a variety of linguistic domains: syntax, semantics, discourse and the lexicon, as demonstrated unequivocally in the study of naming practices, terms of address usage, sex language and use of metaphors (Pauwels, 1998). According to these studies, gender inequity manifests itself in a variety of patterns ranging from the subtle to the profound. These manifestations include the following:
  • 1. The generic use of the masculine pronoun; for example, ‘to each his own’.

  • 2. Ordering the masculine form before the feminine; for example, ‘husband and wife’ rather than ‘wife and husband’.

  • 3. Euphemisms; such as using the term ‘lady’ instead of ‘woman’.

  • 4. Semantic derogation; for example, ‘mistress’ which is no longer the exact equivalent of ‘master’.

  • 5. Lexical and paradigmatic asymmetries; for example, the term ‘spinster’ which refers exclusively to females has no masculine counterpart in the English lexicon; nor does the title of address ‘Miss’ which reflects differentiation on the basis of marital status.


Language Pattern Grammatical Gender Gender Inequity Professional Title Feminine Noun 
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© Samira Farwaneh 2005

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  • Samira Farwaneh

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