The Linguistic Phenomenon of Interpellation and Performativity

The phenomenon of interpellation is explored by linguists in academic research. For example, Kira Hall who wrote “It’s a Girl!: Bringing Performativity back to Linguistics” insists that language is key in constructing gender. She sites Judith Butler’s work which talks about the idea of interpellation: “no ‘I’ stands behind discourse.” Hall explains the meaning of this to be that ‘I’ and ‘you’ interpellate each other, which means to call upon or call into being. She further emphasizes that when a Doctor, for example, says “It’s a girl” or “It’s a boy” at finding out of the sex of a child, the Doctor is interpellating, or calling into being, a type of person that exists – an ideal constructed by society. These terms of “boy” and “girl” are rigidly set in society and for those who exist within this binary or outside of it, Hall believes that performativity (that is to say the effects created to convey our gender) is crucial in linguistics.

In this video, Judith Butler speaks about gender performativity:

However, this phenomenon is also explored in popular media. As we can note in the video below, popular media explores the idea of interpellation. This video was made by the well-known youtube sex-positive educator, Laci Green. Green breaks this phenomenon down in a simple way for viewers to understand and applies it to the transgender community.

Transgender Terminology

Upon considering the idea of interpellation, one can see the necessity of having labels for people if other labels for other identities already exist. Transgender terminology is becoming better understood and used by those outside of the community; however, the evolution of language inside the community is rapidly evolving.

Besides the terminology used to explain how the people within the community identify (i.e. trans*, agendered, genderqueer, genderfluid, etc), there has to be modifying terms for referring to those types of people in certain situations. For example, there isn’t just a binary in pronouns. We have binary in words like “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” and “Sir” and “Ma’am”. Fortunately, again found in popular media, there is an attempt to create a lexicon where these words relating to “non-gendered” or “bigendered” people exist. This tumblr has gender neutral/genderqueer titles. Listed on the site are terms like “personfriend” which is a neutral of “boy/girlfriend” and “enbyfriend” which is derived from NB meaning non-binary.

One Response to Linguistic Phenomenon and Terminology

  1. […] Whereas sex refers to having biological male and/or female sexual characteristics. Judith Butler is at the forefront of current gender theory used in linguistics, their idea of ‘Gender […]

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