The Linguistic Expression of Gender Identity: Albania's 'Sworn Virgins'
Dickerson, Carly Elizabeth
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This paper studies the linguistic tools employed in the construction of masculine identities by burrneshat (‘sworn virgins’) in northern Albania: biological females who have become ‘social men’. Unlike other documented ‘third genders’ (Kulick 1999), burrneshat are not motivated by considerations of personal identity or sexual desire, but rather by the need to fulfill patriarchal roles within a traditional social code that views women as property. Burrneshat are thus seen as honourable and self-sacrificing, are accepted as men in their community, and are treated accordingly, except that they do not marry or engage in sexual relationships. Given these unique circumstances, how do the burrneshat construct and express their identity linguistically, and how do others within the community engage with this identity? Analysis of the choices of grammatical gender in the speech of burrneshat and others in their communities indicates both inter- and intra-speaker variation that is linked to gendered ideologies.