Tag Archives: sociolinguistics

Translation, Gender, Sexuality: a report from Genealogies of Knowledge 2017

In December 2017, Sheffield MA student Nathaniel Dziura attended part of the Genealogies of Knowledge conference in Manchester. While the LDNA team were exchanging conceptual insights with other data-driven scholars, Nathaniel participated in sessions connected to a different field of interest. He writes:

As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am keen to contribute to research on how social factors impact language use, particularly gender and sexuality. As a second-generation Polish immigrant, raised with influence from both Polish and English culture, I am also very interested in the effect cultural background can have on the production of linguistic features.

Next year, I hope to start a PhD focused on this interplay between social and linguistic elements. Schumann (1978) suggested that the degree of ‘acculturation’ influences use of non-standard variants in second language learners. In other words, if the speaker is more immersed in the culture of their second language, they will be more likely to acquire native speaker-like linguistic variation. However, previous studies have not considered how other social factors such as sexuality might affect which features are acquired. This is despite previous studies having shown certain linguistic features to be cross-culturally associated with LGBTQ+ membership. These features include fronted-/s/ (Levon, 2006; Pharao et al., 2014) – colloquially stereotyped as the ‘gay lisp’ – and creaky-voice (Zimman, 2013: 3) – speaking with a low elongated ‘creak’, like a stereotypical ‘valley girl’. LGBTQ+ people do not inherently use these features, but they can play an important part in interaction (Barrett, 2017: 9).

I want to help fill this gap in the research by investigating how sexuality might affect the linguistic variants acquired in English by second language speakers (specifically, Polish migrants to England). I will examine whether the use of these features differs depending on two variables: the level of integration into British culture. And the level of involvement with the LGBTQ+ community.

This was the project I had in mind as I headed to Manchester for the conference. I was rewarded by an excellent thematic session on ‘Translation, Gender, Sexuality’.

I found Przemysław Uściński and Agnieszka Pantuchowicz’s presentations to be pertinent and insightful. Uściński’s talk focused on the downfalls with approaching Queer Theory in Poland from a ‘Western perspective’. The political environments in Poland and England have differed historically, and continue to do so. Uściński argues that ‘LGBT emancipation’ has not yet occurred in Poland. Critical theorisations of gender are intentionally scarce in Polish academic discourse. The reception of Queer Theory in academia has been comparatively belated, and has sometimes discredited the LGBTQ+ movement. British society has its share of problems with LGBTQ+-phobia. Yet, Poland has seen much far-right and religious rejection of the LGBTQ+ community. These groups have dismissed LGBTQ+ identities as ‘Western secular propaganda’ and ‘gender ideology’. So, English translations of concepts within Queer Theory, which are gradually being introduced to Polish academic works, reflect English notions and societal progress. Even when concepts from Queer Theory enter Polish, there is no possibility for their dissemination within Polish society. Queer Theory tends to be viewed as a ‘foreign’ and subversive concept. A theoretical importation into Polish from English, and not one congruous with Polish culture.

In another paper, Pauline Henry-Tierney noted that misinterpretations in translation of Beauvoir’s ‘Mauvaise Foi’ have slowed academic progress on the subject. Taking this into account, perhaps misinterpretations of Queer Theory as a ‘foreign’ concept to Poland are hindering the normalisation of LGBTQ+ concepts and perpetuate their perception as something radical and provocative.

This thematic session highlighted that introducing concepts into a language through translation can be a step towards spreading those ideas within another culture. However, this alone might not be enough to achieve society’s understanding and acceptance of those concepts. The translation of Queer Theory between cultures was not an issue I had previously considered. This thematic session reinforced that the political and social environments in Polish and English culture exhibit stark differences. This is significant within the framework of acculturation: LGBTQ+ community membership is arguably more accepted in British culture, and consequently so are associated non-standard language features. So one might predict that LGBTQ+ Polish migrants to England who become more British-acculturated are more likely to produce non-standard features associated with LGBTQ+-community membership than those who are less British-acculturated.

Overall, I was able to interact with academics from areas such as translation studies and politics with whom I would not otherwise be able to network. I am very grateful to the Linguistic DNA team for inviting me to attend the conference. The insights it has given me will be useful in my academic pursuits!

Featured image:
Jaap Verheul (Utrecht) presents an example from ShiCo research at the Genealogies of Knowledge conference, 8 December. Photo (c) I.C. Hine.


Barrett, R. (2017) From Drag Queens to Leathermen: Language, Gender, and Gay Male Subcultures (Studies in Language Gender and Sexuality) Oxford: Oxford University Press

Henry-Tierney, P. (2017) ‘Translating in ‘Bad Faith’? Articulations of Beauvoir’s ‘Mauvaise Foi’ in English’, Genealogies of Knowledge I: Translating Political and Scientific Thought across Time and Space, Manchester: University of Manchester


Pantuchowicz, A. (2017) ‘Translation and the Failure of Gender Mainstreaming in Poland’ Genealogies of Knowledge I: Translating Political and Scientific Thought across Time and Space, Manchester: University of Manchester

Pharao, N., M. Maegaard, J. S. Møller & T. Kristiansen (2014) ‘Indexical meanings of [s] among Copenhagen youth: Social perception of a phonetic variant in different prosodic contexts’ Language in Society 43, 1–31

Schumann, J. H. (1986). Research on the acculturation model for second language acquisition. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 7, 379-392

Uściński, P. (2017) ‘Thinking Sexuality/Translating Politics: Queerness in(to) Polish’ Genealogies of Knowledge I: Translating Political and Scientific Thought across Time and Space, Manchester: University of Manchester

Zimman, L. (2013) ‘Hegemonic masculinity and the variability of gay-sounding speech: The perceived sexuality of transgender men’ Journal of Language & Sexuality 2 (1): 1-39

Seth and Iona present a joint paper with LDNA data at Genealogies of Knowledge. Photos (c) Japp Verheul.

Sociolinguistics Symposium 21: conference reflections

Linguistic DNA Co-Investigator Justyna Robinson attended the Sociolinguistics Symposium at the University of Murcia, Spain, 15-18 June. This year’s conference theme was ‘attitudes and prestige’, and the event included over 1,000 presentations. Justyna represented LDNA with a poster in the general poster session entitled ‘Linguistic DNA: Modelling concepts and semantic change in English, 1500-1800’. Below, she reflects on her experience:

For the LDNA project, one of the really important panel sessions was the one organised by Terttu Nevalainen and Marijke van der Wal, entitled Historical sociolinguistics: Dispelling myths about the past. The session included papers which aimed at revisiting a range of assumptions about the past and the study of the past that are not supported by historical sociolinguistic research. In doing so, particularly important for LDNA, were papers of a methodological nature in which methodologies of historical linguistic research were interrogated. For example, in ‘People, work, values: Tracing societal change through linguistic shifts’, Minna Palander-Collin, Anni Sairio, Minna Nevala, and Brendan Humphries (University of Helsinki) explored social changes in Britain between 1750 and 1900 by analysing keywords within the conceptual domains of PEOPLE, WORD, and VALUES. Questions that emerged from the discussion of this research included whether social shifts can be identified in keywords. This quickly led to asking what concepts are and what kind of relationship exists between keywords and concepts. Although the answer to this question wasn’t decided, there was a unanimous desire to explore the question further. Another observation from Palander-Collin et al.’s talk was that certain concepts can linger on in language when in practice the real–life referents designated by the concepts may be long gone. Miriam Meyerhoff added that this issue was also observed in New Zealand data, i.e. researchers looking at Maori keywords found out that references to certain plants lingered on in narratives of a community, well after the time these plants were used. In this discussion the audience continued to reference the LDNA project as well. It was great to hear that more and more people know about LDNA and are following our progress.

The LDNA poster presentation was set up in a beautiful setting in one of the cloisters at Murcia University. The poster attracted a lot of attention. In it, we presented first findings from using positive and negative PMI values to model discursive concepts around the word soldier in the window of +/-100 words. Having set such a large proximity window. we did not initially know whether what we would find would be interesting and useful in our quest to determine what concepts are. One conclusion from this analysis was that large proximity windows still yield meaningful information and clear semantic domains emerge that are important in grasping the discursive concepts around soldier. Another methodological finding of this research is the value of using negative PMI values in improving our understanding of what concepts are. Thus, soldier shows a notably rare association with a group or items that are a semantically cohesive group. These include religious terms, such as sin and church. One may ask whether this systematic weak correlation may indicate the end of a disappearing concept or the beginning of the development of a new concept. These questions will be soon answered by looking at our data diachronically.


Abstracts from the conference are available from the conference website.