Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Reasoning: That's What She Said

I was at a conference over the weekend which focused on female speech in the ancient world, entitled "That's What She Said." The keynote on Friday was given my Sharon James, an author whom I read in my Latin Love Elegy class. I am embarrassed to say that I do not actually remember the piece from Learned Girls and Male Persuasion we read for the class.
Learned Girls and Male Persuasion: Gender and Reading in Roman Love Elegy (Joan Palevsky Imprint in Classical Literature)
James' speech at the conference was both scholarly and accessible. She discussed female speech, and particularly the speech of mothers in Roman comedy. She divided up the mothers into three types: married dowried citizen women (uxor dotata), married undowried citizen women, and unmarried citizen mothers.

Her discussion centered around the amount of power displayed in their address when they were talking to different types of characters. Her intent was to disprove the hypothesis of "female speech markers" such as polite modifiers and intimate forms of address. What she discovered was that it was not the person speaking, but rather the context in which they spoke which determined the presence of these "female speech markers." Women talking among themselves without men listening or when ordering their slaves use "powerful language" such as unmodified imperatives and insults. Furthermore, a dowried wife chastises her husbands with similar types of language if she believes her husband is acting impropriety or neglecting his duty.

However, the undowried mother usually speaks in a deferential manner to her husband. However, she, too, strays into harsher language when she feels her husband is acting impropriety, especially in regards to their son. The final class, the unmarried citizen-class mother, has almost no social power and James argues "has only the power of emotional appeal" and hence tend to use these "female speech markers" alongside other tactics to garner sympathy and guilt from the person with whom they are speaking.

I do not know much about Roman comedy, but her arguments were persuasive to me. Furthermore, Sharon James has a wonderful speaking style that effectively blends scholarly authority with a friendly approachable attitude and has an impressive command of humor. I thoroughly enjoyed her talk.

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