Language reform as language ideology: an examination of Israeli feminist language practice
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This dissertation, an ethnographic and sociolinguistic case study of Israeli feminist practices, investigates the relationship between language use, language ideology, and the socio-cultural construction of gender and gender identity. Taking the definition of language use presented by McConnell-Ginet (1988) as a guide, I analyze both the linguistic behavior and the metalinguistic discourse of fifteen self-identified Israeli feminists, to determine how ideologies related to language, gender, and philosophies of social change interact with the structural and sociolinguistic facts of Modern Israeli Hebrew (MIH) to shape these women’s intentional and habitual practices of language use. I used the theoretical concepts of “indexicality” (Ochs 1992) and “community of practice” (Holmes and Meyerhoff 1999) to examine how the participants in my study used the linguistic resources in their socio-culture repertoire to negotiate a coherent social identity in both feminist and mainstream Jewish Israeli contexts. To date, most of the literature on feminist language practice has examined these issues in English or other Indo-European language speaking contexts. This dissertation contributes to the discussion on the relationship between language and gender by examining these issues in a Hebrew-speaking context. Hebrew, a root-and-pattern language, has a binary system of gender based noun classification in which agreement is marked on predicates as well as pronouns and adjectives. Thus, avoiding gender pre-specification of animate referents in language use, particularly spoken language, is extremely difficult. Furthermore, the association of cultural gender characteristics with the grammatical categories of MASCULINE and FEMININE, through the processes of iconization and erasure (Gal and Irvine 2000), has more implications for meanings of gendered forms. Feminist Hebrew is distinguished from the contemporary and the prescribed standard uses of Modern Israeli Hebrew in three specific ways: (1) the use of hyper-standardized FEMININE forms for referential and indexical marking of feminine gender in sex-specific contexts, (2) the use of FEMININE forms for ambiguous generic or definite inclusive reference, and (3) the overt double gendering of nominal or predicate forms (the Hebrew equivalent of he/she) in speaking or writing. The dissertation includes a detailed quantitative and qualitative sociolinguistic analysis of my informants’ practices to explain how they used variables from feminist and conventional varieties of MIH to express both referential and social-indexical meaning. I discuss the possible social meanings of inter-speaker and intra-speaker variation. I explore what these meanings can (or cannot) tell us about each woman’s status in the community as well as the overall relationship between language use and the constitutive nature of the Israeli feminist community. Finally, I examine the sociolinguistic strategies employed by two women, an Israeli feminist politician and a Jewish feminist activist married to an Arab man, to explore how they use the full range of their linguistic repertoires to negotiate their identities in specific socio-cultural contexts.