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ARTICLES "Hey Lady' AJ. Meier Introduction Two underlying assumptions are brought together in this paper. The first is that the language use of a speech community reflects its attitudes and values, and these in turn inform roles and their status within the social structure of the speech community (see e.g., Fairclough 1989). The second assumption is that the major purpose of a dictionary is to provide current meanings of lexical items. As McCluskey (1989) points out, connotations are an essential part of these meanings. It thus follows that a change in societal attitudes may effect a change in the meaning ofa lexical item, a change which ideally will be captured by dictionaries . This paper focuses on the meaning of one such lexical item, lady, to explore the currency of the range of meanings recorded by dictionaries . Empirical evidence for selected aspects of current usage is drawn from a questionnaire survey. Because meaning is at least partially determined by patterns of opposition and differential usage within semantic fields, woman, female, and girl enter into this study as well. The choice of focus for the study is motivated by recent changes in attitudes towards the role of women in American society and the expectation that these changes will be reflected in the range of meanings of lexical items referring to female human beings. More specifically, I hypothesize that lady has increased its range of nonpreference (cf. Graddol and Swann 1989; Maggio 1988). In 1984, Bebout characterized words for female humans as a relatively unsettled and variable area of the lexicon. However, scholarly interest in the range of meanings carried by woman and lady spans at least six decades of this century, predating the "age of political correctness." In 1937, in an article in American Speech, Withington concerned himself with the different connotations the terms carried on the two sides of the ___________________________"Hey Lady"________________________181^ Atlantic. In 1962, Ackerman endorsed the pronouncement by the newspaper columnist "Ann Landers" (Esther Lederer) that woman and lady were used interchangeably. A year later, Hancock (1963) questioned this assertion of synonymy and suggested that speakers fall into three categories according to their use of the terms (i.e., lady preferred; woman preferred; lady chiefly preferred for those who are unfamiliar). Robin Lakoff (1975) included observations about the usage of lady in contrast to woman in her book Language and Woman's Place, and Graddol and Swann (1989) reacted to the latter with their own intuitions regarding contemporary use. Lady is also among the lexical items McCluskey (1989) considered in a review of the labeling of sensitive words in dictionaries , and its use has received considerable attention in dictionaries and handbooks focusing on nonsexist usage (see, e.g., Kramarae and Treichler 1985; Maggio 1988). In a somewhat different vein, Baron (1986) gave a great deal of attention to the usage history of lady and woman. To my knowledge, however, Bebout (1984) was the first to attempt to formally chart actual usage of the terms in question, employing a questionnaire administered to Canadians, primarily college students. A decade later she replicated the study with a comparable population (Bebout 1995), noting differences but hesitating to draw any unified conclusions owing to the complexity and instability of the terms investigated . The study reported in this paper represents a similar attempt to empirically examine the usage of lady, but with a U.S. population, one that includes a greater percentage of non-college-age respondents and that consists of speakers from the Midwest. This paper will thus shed light on features of meaning that warrant attention by lexicographers and will provide hypotheses for further studies. The study The empirical study was carried out with an anonymously answered questionnaire administered to 148 Iowans between the ages of 19 and 86, thus representing a range ofgenerations in the Northern and North Midland dialect areas. The subjects represent a stratified random sampling, covering a broad range ofoccupations. The numbers and percentages of females and males and their age groups along with the major occupations represented are given in table 1 . The major part of the questionnaire consisted of 19 single-sentence fill-in-the-blank items designed to elicit target words relating to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2160-5076
Print ISSN
0197-6745
Pages
pp. 180-197
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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