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þ m o g u s i r þ o d i s 2 0 0 6 I I I


Stylistic use of English Gender

Stilistinis anglø kalbos giminës


Vilniaus universitetas, Uþsienio kalbø institutas
Universiteto g. 5, LT-01513 Vilnius
El. paðtas: nijole.brazeniene@uki.vu.lt

Straipsnyje nagrinëjama anglø kalbos giminës sti- yra klasifikacinë morfologinë kategorija, todël ávar-
listinis vartojimas, ypaè ávairios konotacinës reikð- dþiø jis ar ji vartojimas su daiktus ar gyvûnus reið-
mës. Neáprastas, nemotyvuotas, net nelogiðkas vy- kianèiais daiktavardþiais yra áprastas, norminis reið-
riðkosios, moteriðkosios ar niekatrosios giminës var- kinys, o ne deviacija, turinti kokiø nors konotaciniø
tojimas daþnai siejamas su personifikacija, “paaukð- reikðmiø. Èia kiekvienas stalas yra jis ir kiekviena
tinimu”ar “paþeminimu” (‘upgrading ir ‘downgra- këdë yra ji.
ding”), apibendrinamuoju he. Anglø kalboje asme- Nors tradicinëse anglø kalbos gramatikose daik-
niniø ávardþiø he ar she vartojimas su gyvûnus, au- tavardþio gaminës kategorijai skiriama nedaug dë-
galus ar daiktus reiðkianèiais daiktavardþiais yra þy- mesio, taèiau stilistinis giminës vartojimas yra svar-
miai iðraiðkingesnis negu lietuviø kalboje, labiau bus kalbos paþinimo ir jos mokymo(si) aspektas.
patraukiantis dëmesá, sukuriantis tam tikrà psicho- Esminiai þodþiai: giminës kategorija, deviacija,
loginá efektà, suteikiantis “prieðakiná planà” (foreg- stilistinë funkcija, konotacinë reikðmë, personifika-
rounding). Lietuviø kalboje daiktavardþio giminë cija

The article analyses stylistic usage of the category gender of nouns is a morphological category;
of gender in English, its different connotative therefore, the use of the pronouns he or she with
meanings. Unusual, not motivated and even illogical nouns denoting animals or things is a norm, without
use of the masculine, feminine or neuter gender is any deviation or connotative meanings. Here, every
often related to personification, “upgrading” or table is he, and every chair is she.
“downgrading”, as well as with generic he. In the Although little attention is paid to the category
English language, the use of the personal pronouns of gender in traditional grammars of English,
he and she with nouns denoting animals, plants or stylistic gender usage is a significant aspect of
inanimate objects is more expressive than in linguistic awareness and language teaching or
Lithuanian. It is a more attention-attracting learning.
phenomenon creating a certain psychological effect Key words: gender category, deviation, stylistic
and providing foregrounding. In Lithuanian, the function, connotative meaning, personification.

Learners of the English language are usually found in different contexts of written and spoken
taught traditional, i.e. unmarked or covert gender usage. Lyons (1968:283) states that gender ‘plays a
system without little consideration of the relatively minor part in the grammar of English’.
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animateness gradation or connotative meaning. Quirk et al. point out that ‘English makes very few
English textbooks neither include the analysis of gender distinctions. Where they are made, the
the stylistic function of the English gender nor connection between the biological category ‘sex’ and
encourage investigating the non-normative cases the grammatical category ‘gender’ is very close,

Stylistic use of English Gender
Stilistinis anglø kalbos giminës vartojimas

insofar as natural sex distinctions determine English The connotative meaning of English gender
gender distinctions (Quirk, 1982:85). Many other appears in its unusual, sometimes unpredictable use
linguists (G. Leech, H. Sweet, G. Curme, O. in certain contexts. Analysis of numerous examples
Jespersen, H. Poutsma, M. Long, D. Emery, R. taken from literary texts, especially from poetry,
Zandvoort, F.Wood) do not recognize English has revealed that the use of gender can be non-
gender as a grammatical category but also define it traditional, illogical, deviating from the accepted
according to biological sex distinctions. It is stated norm: e.g. car can be masculine, feminine or neuter
that nouns denoting things, phenomena, plants, and and replaced with the pronouns he, she or it
animals are neuter and nouns referring to human accordingly. There are cases when baby is
beings can be either masculine or feminine. substituted by it, he or she, sun by he, moon by she,
etc. Any deviation from the norm very often
The difficulties in using English gender becomes endowed with emotive colouring.
correctly for foreign learners, in our case
Lithuanians, arise from different systems of gender The unusual, non-traditional use of gender
category in both languages. In the Lithuanian acquires the connotative meaning, the most
language gender is a grammatical category with expressiveness in personification. The use of the
syntactic consequences throughout the grammar, masculine or feminine gender with the nouns dog,
i.e. with premodifiers in the noun phrase cat, horse, cow and other nouns referring to higher
(determiner or adjective) being in agreement by animals is rather usual in English. E.g.:
grammatical concord with the gender of the noun,
e.g.: geras studentas - gera studentë, ðis studentas – The cat was trying to make herself so compact
ði studentë. The agreement by grammatical that she would not be dripped on (E.Hemingway).
concord is observed in plural, e.g.: geri studentai –
geros studentës, ðie studentai, ðios studentës, also The Chinese dog raised his head – his black eyes
partly in number, e.g. du studentai, dvi studentës. lurid in the glow (J.Galsworthy).
The nouns of the Lithuanian language are assigned
a grammatical gender class of masculine and The fawn-coloured cow, with eyes as soft and
feminine with the help of certain affixes (-as, -is, - brown as Irene’s own, was standing absolutetly still,
ys, etc. for masculine gender and –a, - ë, -is, etc. for not having long been milked. She looked round at
feminine gender) for every animate or inanimate them out of the corner of those lustrous, mild, cynical
thing, every phenomenon or notion.(Dabartinës eyes, and from her grey lips a little dribble of savina
lietuviø kalbos gramatika: 62). threaded its way towards the straw (J.Galsworthy).

In modern English derivational suffixes defining The use of he or she with the nouns dog, cat and
gender are not productive. Morphologically marked cow is observed by people with special concern for
gender is observed in god – goddess, hero –heroine, a certain animal, mostly family pet, when they think
host – hostess, waiter – waitress, steward – stewardess, of them as having personal qualities of human beings.
widower – widow and some other nouns. But such Such usage is expressive, it attracts reader’s attention,
morphological marking is not regular and forming happens to be full of emotive colouring. Wales
of the nouns *friendess or *clerkess is not possible. suggests the following motivations for using
In English there is a so called personal dual gender pronouns he or she instead of it while describing
(e.g. friend, doctor, criminal, foreigner, etc.) used “higher“ animals: personal v. impersonal points of
for both male and female reference. For clarity in view, the owner’s v. the non-owner’s, emotional v.
certain contexts gender is marked by specific lexical non-emotional involvement with referent, positive
affixes such as –man, -woman, boy-/girl-, etc. (e.g.: v. negative evaluation, specific v. generic reference,
girlfriend/boyfriend, businessman/businesswoman). active agent v. passive ‘object’ (Wales,
But the main indicators of gender remain to be 1996,141).The data referring to animals disclosed

personal pronouns he, his, him, she, her, it and its. that the higher the animal on the evolutionary scale,
the more likely the use of the masculine or feminine
The aim of the present article is to analyse stylistic gender is.
function of English gender, its deviation from the
norm and to reveal its connotative meanings. The analysis of the use of gender with ‘lower’
animals (insects, fish, snakes, birds, etc.) and plants

þ m o g u s i r þ o d i s 2 0 0 6 I I I

showed that they do not differ from the inanimates, The stylistic use of English gender varies in
i.e., the pronoun it is more natural and logical. describing phenomena, elements, other inanimate
However, in literary texts, mostly in poetic discourse things. The nouns sun, moon, earth, death, love,
and folk tales, masculine or feminine gender can be nature, etc. usually bear the neuter gender and are
found. Naturally, such usage is stylistically replaced with the pronoun it. However, in literary
expressive and deviant from the norm. Eg.: texts, especially in poetry, they can be masculine or
feminine. E.g.:
That is the grasshopper’s – he takes the lead
In summer luxury, - he never done The glorious sun
With his delights (J.Keats). Stays in his course, and plays the alchemist;
Turning with splendor of his precious eye,
“A rat! Oh, Jesus, a rat!” Her teeth chattered. The meagre cloddy earth to glittering gold
“He went behind there – “And she pointed toward (Shakespeare)
one of the slop buckets (B.Plain).
He always thought of the sea as “la mar” which is
The pike thrust his mouth into the chink and what people call her in Spanish when they love her
opened up the hole. And since that time the pike (E.Hemingway).
has had a flattened mouth (The Fairy Tale Tree).
Death … comes for us all, my lords. Yes, even for
If you lift your eyes a little to the left… thst’s Kings he comes (R.Bolt).
right…along the interlacing lantanas you’ll see a
tree snake gliding about his deadly business (M.Way). Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom
But the Oak-tree understood, and felt sad, for he (W.Shakespeare).
was very fond of the little nightingale who built her
nest in his branches (Oscar Wilde). “Is that the sky?” said the Goldfish. “I thought it
was another sea. And is that the Moon? I thought
The use of the pronoun he for grasshopper, rat, she was a Silver Fish. But who then is the sun?”
pike, snake, Oak-tree and she for nightingale is very “The Sun is the round gold ball that rolls through
expressive, with evident stylistic connotations. the sky by day,” said the Ship. They say he is her
lover, and gives his light”(Once upon…).
Personification of animals, birds, insects, plants,
etc. is frequent in poetry, folk-lore and tales. Stylistic The interpretation of the use of the masculine or
connotation in such cases where human qualities feminine gender with these nouns (sun – he, moon
are attached to any living being, where things come – she, death - he, love - he, sea – she, etc.) varies in
to life is more manifested and more striking in linguistic literature. Wales (1996,148) suggests that
English than in Lithuanian. The use of the pronouns ’masculine’- marked words were grouped according
he or she instead of the usual it attracts the readers to supposedly ‘manly’ attributes: strong, active,
attention right away. In Lithuanian, with aggressive, powerful, clever, big, fierce, etc. and
grammatical gender markers, every namas, medis ‘feminine’- marked words according to ‘womanly’
or voras is he and every këdë, gëlë or skruzdëlë is attributes: weak, timid, passive, loving, soft, helpful,
she. beautiful, small, etc. Thus, the sun was ‘masculine’
in many languages because it gave light (active),
The choice of gender in personifying animals, and the moon was feminine because it received it
birds and other living beings (including plants since (passive). In classical mythology and in English
they also live, grow and die) is usually based on poetry the moon was personified mostly as ‘female’
biological sex differences. In most cases it depends and the sun as ‘male’. Sometimes the choice of
on the speaker’s or writer’s attitude to a certain living gender in such cases depends exclusively on the
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being: big, strong, ugly, pugnacious animals, birds writer’s or speaker’s attitude, his or her view point
or plants are considered to be masculine and small, of a certain object.
weak, gentle, with a maternal instinct are mostly
feminine. The inconstancy of English gender is observed
with the nouns denoting ships, cars, boats, planes

Stylistic use of English Gender
Stilistinis anglø kalbos giminës vartojimas

and other modes of transport. In most cases these …and England had lost her outstanding hero
nouns are substituted by the pronoun she. Quirk (The Times).
and many other linguists suggest that such usage is
emotive and affectionate (R.Quirk et al.1972, 192). ‘It’s a night that Paris reveals her secrets. Just like
Similar explanation is given by Jespersen (1964, a woman (R.Sisman).
58) who pointed out that the use of the pronouns
he/she in speaking of inanimate things ‘always Baron (1986, 110) indicates that the
implies a strong personal feeling of affection’. E.g.: personification of the usually neuter inanimate
nouns of English are influenced by the languages
“Before we start out,” he said pleasantly. “I want from which we borrow our ideas: sea and sword are
to share a couple of facts with you about Annie. treated as masculine, city and tree as feminine, not
She’s one of the largest airboats in the world, and because we see them as reflecting the characteristics
she is quite a lady (M. Charles). of one sex or the other but because these are the
genders assigned to them in Latin, Greek or French.
She was right there in the parking lot where I left
her before I went to Vegas. Gleaming black, her Though it is still possible in all standard forms
chrome shining in the slanting rays of the sinking of English to refer to ships, cars, countries, cities as
sun. Junior let out a low whistle as we came up to she, people become more conscious of such usage
her. He ran ahead of me and touched the car than they used to be. A reduction in the use of she to
reverently. “Too much,” he said in hushed voice (H. refer to countries was observed after investigating
Robins). The Times corpus. The analysis of the data showed
that until 1930 the use of she to refer to countries
She glanced at her car as they walked past the was the norm. Between 1900 and 1930 there were
parking lot. only three cases of it referring back to a country
“Don’t worry. I started it up this morning and it’s which had been named, all in the 1915 data. Bauer
just fine”. (1994, 149) points out that from 1935 the usage of
“He” it increases gradually (though not regularly), until
He cocked an eyebrow. “He?” in 1970 it becomes the majority form in such cases.
“Actually, his name is Alvin”. She is still used, but less so, at least in The Times.
“You named your car Alvin?”
Quinn nodded ( L.R.Wisdom). Sometimes it is difficult to explain the use of the
masculine or feminine gender with some inanimate
The nouns airboat, plane, car usually neuter, have nouns. E.g.:
a personal substitute she which imparts a kind of
affectionate attitude, some emotional involvement. He reached into his vest pocket. ‘Here, George,
It is most evident in the examples with the noun car. have a cigar.’…’I have sent special from New York,’
In the first case the owner of the car is a man, he is Peter told him. ‘They are six cents apiece.’ ‘If it’s all
very proud of his car, speaks with great affection about right with you, Mr. Kessler.’ George said putting
it and refers to it as she. In the other example the the cigar carefully in his pocket, ‘I will smoke him
owner of the car is a woman and she refers to it as he. after dinner to enjoy him better (H.Robins).

The same can be applied to the names of ‘Funny, said he, ‘very funny indeed. I could have
countries and cities. The difference in gender – sworn there was a creak to that board last time I
masculine or feminine – depends on their use: if a stood on her (J. Reeves).
country is treated as a geographical unit it is neuter
and if it is treated as a political, economic unit, with ‘You know, I didn’t realize how much this place
kind of personal concern, expression of a certain had come to mean to me until I have almost lost her

attitude towards it, then it takes the personal (A.Eames).

substitute she. E.g.:
The noun cigar is replaced with the personal
A terrible fear swept through America: that she, pronoun he. The choice of masculine in this case is
too, would be dragged in, to be engulfed by this very unusual. It possibly reveals the speaker’s
mad storm (B.Plain). attitude to the object, his wish to stress its

þ m o g u s i r þ o d i s 2 0 0 6 I I I

significance and value, its expensiveness. For solutions were prescribed to substitute generic he,
explanation of such cases some linguists use the including he or she, she or he, singular they and
terms ‘upgrading’ and ‘downgrading”. The use of others. There are also cases where the feminine
the pronoun he with the word cigar would be gender is indicated by gender markers woman,
‘upgrading’ and the use of it with baby or child would female, girl, lady, e.g.: woman driver, female doctor,
be ‘downgrading’. The use of the pronouns he or she girl friend, lady writer, etc. However, these
expresses the speaker’s emotional involvement, his collocations very often have some connotations, they
or her affectionate attitude towards the baby or child. are not stylistically neuter. Schulz points out that
Parents are not likely to refer to their baby as it. women object to these locutions on several counts.
First, there is often some degree of denigration
However, the use of terms ‘upgrading’ and associated with such terms. Woman driver is intended
downgrading’ is criticized. Romaine writes: as an insulting epithet, and lady writer implies a lack
“Although the downgrading of children with respect of seriousness which sets the woman apart from real
to adults can be understood in relation to their age, writers. Women argue that sex is irrelevant in
I do not think women feel ‘upgraded’ when they assessing the competence of drivers and writers and
hear a male teenager surfer yell out in reference to a that it should be irrelevant in designating them.
big wave ‘Catch her at her height’ or a man say about Secondly, such terms suggest that for a woman to be
his motorcycle engine, ‘I had her really rewed up’. a driver, a doctor or a writer is unusual (Schulz,
Nor did I feel ‘upgraded’ when I opened a recent 1975, 164). Lately, however, collocations with
issue of United Airlines’ magazine Hemispheres woman are considered stylistically neuter and are
and saw an ad for a Toshiba laptop computer telling used both in literary and non-literary discourse.
me to ‘Open ‘er up’. On the contrary, such references
are downgrading and degrading to women” In conclusion, it could be said that English
(Romaine, 1999, 75-76).Thus, the use of the gender distinctions are not as obvious as have
pronoun she in the above mentioned sentences sometimes been assumed. The difficulties to use
(board – her, place – her) and other similar cases English gender correctly for the Lithuanian learner
hardly reflects an intense and close personal arise, on the one hand, from the different systems of
affection towards these objects, it rather expresses a gender category in English and Lithuanian and, on
relationship between a man and his tools since it is the other hand, from the connotative use of personal
found mostly in men’s speech. pronouns he, she and it indicating masculine,
feminine and neuter gender accordingly. Deviation
Sometimes difficulties and uncertainties arise in in English gender is often linked with certain stylistic
the use of English personal dual gender nouns: artist, connotations, such as personification, ‘upgrading,
cook, friend, parent, teacher, etc. In most cases if ‘downgrading’, generic he, etc.
one does not know the gender of a person referred Though our students are mostly taught
to by a noun, he or she will generally use the traditional, ‘unmarked’ gender system without any
masculine pronoun he. Such traditional concept of consideration of the animateness gradation, they
generic he has been argued by some linguists and should be encouraged to investigate and understand
many feminists (Mills,1995, 89; Miller,1989, 197; the stylistic use, the connotative meanings of the
Bodine, 1975, 129-146; Martyna, 1978, 131-138). non-normative cases encountered in different kinds
Solving ‘generic’ issue is not easy. Several alternative of written and spoken discourse.

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Press. New York: Norton.
Bauer L., 1994. Watching English change. An Lyons J.1968. Introduction to theoretical linguistics.
introduction to the study of linguistic change in Cambridge University Press.
Standard Englishes in the Twentieth century. Martyna W.,1978. What does ‘he’ mean? Use of generic
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Bodine A., 1975. Androcentrism in prescriptive Miller C., Swift K., 1989. The handbook of non-sexist
Grammar. Language in Society, vol.4, no.2 writing. The Women’s Press.
Dabartinës lietuviø kalbos gramatika, 1994, Vilnius. Mills S., 1995. Feminist stylistics. London: Routledge.

Stylistic use of English Gender
Stilistinis anglø kalbos giminës vartojimas

Quirk R., Greenbaum S., Leech G., Svartvik J., 1982, Schulz M. R., 1975. How serious is sex bias in
A university grammar of English. Longman. 1972. language? College composition and
The grammar of contemporary English. London: communication. Urbana, vol.26.
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Romaine S. 1999. Communicating gender. London: Cambridge University Press.
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Charles M. Yesterday’s tomorrow. Silhouette Special Plain B., The Golden Cup. A Dell Book.
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-Moscow. English Library.
Eames A., The Unknown Malone. Mills& Boon. Shakespeare W., The Stratford Shakespeare Anthology.
Galsworthy J., 1956. The white monkey. Moscow.1964. Cotman House.
The Forsyte saga. Progress Publishers. Sisman R., 2004. Weekend in Paris. London: Penguin
Hemingway E., 1956. Cat in the rain. Modern American books.
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