SOAS University of London

Department of Linguistics, School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistics

Gender and Linguistic Fieldwork Abstract

Gender and its role in shaping my understanding of the Mvskoke linguistic world
Pamela Innes, University of Wyoming

In my first meetings with speakers of Mvskoke, a Southeastern Native American language spoken by members of the Muskogee Nation, it was obvious that members of this community expected me to work with women on issues of language documentation and pedagogy development. Men were receptive and responsive to my questions, but they kept pushing me to speak with their wives whenever I called upon them. Initially, drawing upon my Anglo-American feminist background, I thought this practice reflected a gendered division of labor and knowledge that limited me to working with Muskogee women as Bell 1990 suggests. Later, it became clear that Mvskoke speakers’ desire that I work with women arose because the men and women I was approaching considered women’s speech styles and genres as both different and valuable (Innes 2006). Mvskoke speakers had noticed the near absence of women’s ways of speaking in the ethnographic and linguistic record of the community and this had become an area of concern to them. The import of this gap was made clear only several years later when the topic was discussed in depth by some of my linguistic assistants as we worked on translations of stories collected by Dr. Mary Haas (Innes 2010). As part of an attempt to provide the female side, women’s voices and linguistic usages have been included in several of my publications about the language of this community (Innes 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010). Following this, other scholars and language activists working in the community have incorporated women’s language forms, knowledge, and participation in academic work on the language.

These experiences will be used to examine how and why the work that we do as linguists and linguistic anthropologists must be responsive to community concerns about gendered forms of talk. As Hill (2002) suggests and my consultants confirmed, publications produced about language and gender conditions in the communities we work in are read and evaluated by community members. Uneven treatment of gendered language forms can be taken to suggest gendered divisions of linguistic labor and value are present in a community when they are not, may cause researchers to overlook interesting performance styles, and hinder our understanding of variation among the community’s linguistic resources.

  • Bell, Amelia Rector 1990 Separate people: Speaking of Creek men and women.  American Anthropologist 92(2):332-345.
  • Hill, Jane H. 2002 “Expert rhetorics” in advocacy for endangered languages: Who is listening, and what do they hear?  Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 12(2):119-133.
  • Innes, Pamela 2010 Ethical problems in archival research: Beyond accessibility.  Language & Communication 30(3):198-203.
  • Innes, Pamela 2006 The interplay of genres, gender, and language ideology among the Muskogee.  Language in Society 35(2):231-259.
  • Innes, Pamela with Linda Alexander and Bertha Tilkens 2009 Intermediate Creek: Mvskoke Emponvkv Hokkolat.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
  • Innes, Pamela with Linda Alexander and Bertha Tilkens 2004 Beginning Creek: Mvskoke Emponvkv.  Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.