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I've come to understand that language plays a central role in producing political identities such as "black", "white"; "man", "woman", "genderqueer"; "heterosexual", "queer". How exactly does language affects the formation and variation of such categories?

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  • I don't understand this question at all. I suspect it's not even a linguistics question. Jun 9, 2013 at 13:25
  • Mostly it's done through metaphor. Probably you ought to read George Lakoff's Don't Think of an Elephant.
    – jlawler
    Jun 9, 2013 at 15:18
  • It may be a linguistics question, at least in part, but in any way it's much too open. Of course, societies create identities (not just gender and ethnicity, but also profession, subculture, etc.) and of course, language has its way of displaying and reinforcing such concepts, but ... yeah what was the question again?
    – Fryie
    Jun 19, 2013 at 22:24

2 Answers 2

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It doesn't, not directly. Those categories are more political and cultural than any other thing. It's not because of language, but because of social factors that we say "genderqueer". So, socio political and cultural factors affect the way we use language. Was that your question?

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I have to disagree with the other answers. I think the evidence supports a yes (with a caution on the interpretation of the word "produce"). The way we speak to children and ask them to speak back contributes strongly to their gender identity. Having an available label such as "queer" can contribute to a particular kind of sexual identity. A better book to look by Lakoff is Moral Politics which is much less partisan.

But a better starting point is identity in general, rather than political identity. And identities are complex creatures. A great source of evidence for the processes involved are studies of bilingualism. There you can see where and how people use which language. I usually point people to the phenomenon of 'code switching' which often hints at language-based identities.

To address the objection of this being a "linguistics question". It is unless you assume a very modular view of language and identity. They are both complex, unstable and not easily bounded concepts. So as long as we keep that in mind, we can make interesting observations about their relationships.

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