The Intersection of Gender and Ethnic Stereotypes as Reflected in Crimeans' Linguistic Behavior

Mica Hall, Medina Joint Language Center

This study is a sociolinguistic attempt to establish the degree of intersectionality of ethnic group and gender stereotypes within the Crimean culture. Crimean society consists of three major ethnic groups: the majority ethnic Russians (R), and the minority ethnic Ukrainians (U) and Crimean Tatars (CT). Using Crenshaw’s (1991) intersectional analysis, I examine how ethnic group and gender interact to shape Crimeans’ identity and ideas about each other.

According to Romaine (1980) and others, people respond to linguistic samples based on their beliefs about those speakers’ social group identification. By providing linguistic samples of conversational style without indicating ethnic identity, I attempted to elicit linguistic stereotypes held by males and females of each ethnic group about members of their own and the other two main ethnic groups in Crimea.

As a result of their shared Soviet history, all three groups use Russian as their primary language of communication. The three groups’ language varieties diverge only phonologically and variations do not hinder normal communication. Many speakers are not even aware of these features on a conscious level. In this paper I analyze Crimeans’ responses to the two Russian-language speech samples that I obtained from each of six speakers, one male and one female of each ethnic group. Judges used a modified form of Osgood’s semantic differential consisting of a six-point scale rating the speakers’ character and physical features based on adjectives stated as polar opposites.

All of the judges and speakers were residents of Crimea, ages twelve to thirty. I chose this age group to examine the potential perpetuation of ethnic and gender stereotypes in future generations. Half of the R judges were male and half female; the majority of the U judges were male; and the majority of the CT judges were female. Some significant differences in judgment appeared depending on both the gender of the judges and of the speakers, so the additional gender analysis was much more revealing than the ethnic analysis alone.

According to Labov (1966) perceptions of language reflect people’s perceptions of social experience. Among Crimeans, the Russians as the majority and the Crimean Tatars as a strongly unified ethnic group both have strong motivations for identifying with in-group speakers and downgrading out-group speakers. Instead, I found strong positive in-group identification only among CT females, while CT males rated their in-group speakers lower than judges from other ethnic groups. The R female judges downgrade out-group members, while R male judges upgrade them. In Crimea, Ukrainians gain no popularity for supporting their ethnic group, as there is widespread disdain and mistrust of the central Ukrainian government in Crimea (Barrington and Herron, 2002). Indeed, the Ukrainian judges demonstrate an upgrading of out-group members and downgrading of in-group members, particularly among U males.

This paper both presents this intersectional data and attempts to explain how gender and ethnic group affiliations interact in forming stereotypes in Crimea. My analysis shows that hypotheses about ethnic stereotypes are sometimes borne out when analyzed by gender but often, and surprisingly, they are not.