The Masculinist Dreams of Nineteenth-Century Linguistics
As part of a workshop for German teachers on the topic of gender, Sophie Salvo, Ph.D. will give an overview of the historical theories of grammatical gender in German linguistics. The lecture will be in English and is free and open to the public.
Grammatical gender has long been the bane of language learners. That in German “a young lady has no sex, but a turnip has” led Mark Twain to lament it as a “slipshod and slippery” language. But for many 19th-century German linguists, grammatical gender was not capricious or irrational, but a deeply meaningful structure that could give insight into cultural norms and primitive forefathers. This lecture will provide an overview of historical theories of grammatical gender and the gendered premises that make them possible: the assumed complementarity of the sexes, and the primacy of the masculine over the feminine. We will also consider how nineteenth-century theories of gender and language are echoed in far-right political discourse today.
Sophie Salvo, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Germanic Studies at the University of Chicago. She is currently working on a book manuscript titled Articulating Difference: Sex and the Study of Language in the Long Nineteenth Century, for which she has been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship at the Newberry Library in 2021-2022. She has published articles on Jacob Grimm and grammatical gender (MLN, 2021) and on Jenny Erpenbeck and the politics of form (The Germanic Review, 2019).