Language in Society


Peasant men can't get wives: language change and sex roles in a bilingual community1

Susan Gala1

a1 University of California, Berkeley


Language shift from German–Hungarian bilingualism to the exclusive use of German is occurring in the community discussed. Young women are further along in the direction of this change than older people and young men. The linguistic contrast between German and Hungarian is shown to represent the social dichotomy between a newly available worker status and traditional peasant status; thus the choice of language in interaction is part of a speaker's presentation of self. Young women's stated preferences concerning this social dichotomy and their changing marriage strategies indicate that their greater use of German in interaction is one aspect of their general preference for the worker's way of life it symbolizes. Rather than simply isolating a linguistic correlate of sex, the present study suggests that women's speech choices must be explained within the context of their social position, their strategic life choices and the symbolic values of the available linguistic alternatives (language and sex roles; interactional analysis; social determinants of language shift; European bilingualism).


1 The data reported here were gathered during 1974 as part of dissertation fieldwork supported by a N.I.M.H. Anthropology Traineeship at the University of California, Berkeley. My thanks to Paul Kay, John Gumperz and E. A. Hammel for their many suggestions. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the symposium on ‘Language and Sex Roles’ at the 74th Annual Meeting of the AAA, December 1975.