LINGUISTIC RELATIVITY AND SEX/GENDER STUDIES: EPISTEMOLOGICAL AND METHODOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS
Article first published online: 27 OCT 2006
© 1984 Language Learning Research Club, University of Michigan
Volume 34, Issue 2, pages 47–64, June 1984
How to Cite
Clarke, M. A., Losoff, A., McCracken, M. D. and Rood, D. S. (1984), LINGUISTIC RELATIVITY AND SEX/GENDER STUDIES: EPISTEMOLOGICAL AND METHODOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS. Language Learning, 34: 47–64. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-1770.1984.tb01003.x
- Issue published online: 27 OCT 2006
- Article first published online: 27 OCT 2006
Two studies have investigated one purported manifestation of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis of linguistic relativity—the relationship between gender loading in languages (a linguistic construct) and the perception of gender (a psychological construct) by speakers of those languages. The results of the study conducted by the University of Michigan Language Behavior Research Group indicated that adult speakers of English and Hebrew categorized objects/concepts in essentially the same fashion regardless of native language. The results of our study (a replication of the Michigan studies) indicate that Arabic speaking adults categorize essentially asexual objects/concepts in a markedly different way from English speaking adults, suggesting that gender loading in Arabic influences Arabic speakers' perceptions of those objects/concepts. These findings appear to contradict conclusions reached by the Michigan group.
In this paper we review the studies briefly, and we question their value in illuminating the issue of linguistic relativity. We then examine a number of theoretical and methodological issues in linguistic relativity research. Given that the work of Benjamin Lee Whorf serves as the foundation for most of the recent studies, we suggest that researchers need to develop a theoretical framework which accurately mirrors the complexity and subtlety of his views on the relationship between language and consciousness. We argue that such a framework is available in the sociological/philosophical tradition of phenomenology. Phenomenologists ascribe an important (though not a causal) role to language in determining an individual's view of reality. Finally, we raise a number of methodological issues that result from this perspective, and we suggest avenues for further research.