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PMDC needs to wake up | Research trends in language

PMDC needs to wake up
Aug 04, 2008: They may not be there in numbers but owners of medical institutions are apparently ruling the roost at the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council (PMDC), which has remained in the news for some time for one reason or the other. Their presence would not have been an issue had it not been to the detriment of the cause of medical education in the country which is on a decline in the absence of professional monitoring. With private medical institutions enjoying influence in the regulatory body itself, the conflict of interest is too obvious to be missed. No wonder then that the fee structure keeps going up without matching improvement in infrastructure or quality of teaching. All this has been going on for long but now, with at least one of the owners publicly enjoying close links with the government, the influence has only grown that much more. This is evident in the manner in which the PMDC secretary, who had a reputation of being his own man, was sidelined. Thereafter provisional NOCs to private enterprises were converted into full-scale permits without any let or hindrance. All rules and regulations were set aside. To ensure smooth sailing in their not-above-board undertaking PMDC members have strongly resisted the election of a senior member of the Pakistan Medical Association from Sindh who is known to have questioned the credibility of many private medical colleges. Held after 13 long years, the election result notification was put off for several weeks before someone arranged a stay order from a court. A year after the elections, the medical practitioner has yet to take his seat on the council.

Political and commercial reasons have together brought things to such a pass that the PMDC is seriously struggling to function as a regulatory body. What is urgently required is an autonomous representative of the various stakeholders in the equation who may ensure compliance with the standing criteria for both public and private medical institutions in terms of infrastructure, faculty and facilities. Medical education is not an area that can be left to the whim and fancy of certain individuals. Dawn

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Research trends in language
Research on language and gender is not very old. Linguists perhaps recognised the importance of this field relatively late when in the 1970s we saw a number of research papers and books published on this subject.

Before we look at some seminal trends in the research on language and gender, I would like to briefly mention Jesperson's work, Language: Its Nature, Development, and Origin. Jesperson's book, published in 1922, contained a chapter about women's language. The title of the chapter was 'The Woman' which suggested a language deviant from the norm. The norm in this case was the language spoken by men.

The first important book, completely devoted to language and gender research, was Robin Layoff's book, Language and Woman's Place in 1975. The book focused on women's language and the attributes that make it 'weak'. Some of the characteristics of women's language highlighted by Lakoff are: (a) women have a large stock of words related to their specific interests, generally related to them as 'woman's work'; (b) 'empty' adjectives like divine, charming, cute; (c) tag questions, (d) the use of hedges, for example well, y'know, kinda, and so forth; (e) the use of the intensive 'so'; (f) hyper-correct grammar; and (g) women don't tell jokes.

Lakoff talked about the dilemma that women face. On the one hand society expects a woman to act ladylike and on the other hand when women's speech is ladylike their language is said to have become weak. The Lakoff approach to women's language is popularly known as the deficit approach as it considers women language deficient. Lakoff's book was criticised for its non-scientific research methods as she relied heavily on 'introspection and linguistic intuition' and also for its dichotomising language groups on a sex basis. Despite this criticism Lakof's book remains a central reference book in research on language and gender. It is interesting to see that just after the publication of this book, a large number of short courses, articles and books were launched for women to train women on assertiveness. The intriguing part of it was that the model or standard to which all the training was geared was in the assertive style of men.

After Lakoff came Dale Spender who wrote an influential book, Man Made Language. Instead of talking about the deficiency of women, this book focused on the dominance of men. The book claimed that differences between the language of men and women in fact reflect their social differences in real life. The men play a dominant role in society and this dominance shows in language use as well. Spender claims that "English language has been literally man made [sic] and that it is still primarily under man's control "

Like Lakoff, Spender dealt with men and women as two distinct groups and did not take care to address the sub-groups within the two major groups. This model (based on Spender's book) is called the dominance model. Both of these models, deficit and dominance, are accusative in nature.

A third book that influenced discussion on language and gender was Deborah Tannen's, You Just Don't Understand. This book offered a new thesis regarding language differences. According to Tannen, men and women are brought up in two different cultures, i.e. men-specific and women-specific cultures. This two-cultures model is called the difference model. It is different from the deficit and dominance models in the sense that it does not blame either men or women. But it seems to be similar to these models as it also dichotomises men and women on the basis of sex.

Tannen's book became an instant bestseller as people could relate to their daily life communication experiences. At the same time the book came under a lot of criticism from feminist critics as, according to them, the "difference model" is not sensitive to the socio-political realities where men wield power because of their dominant social roles. As the book doesn't appreciate the socio-political context of language it is termed as a 'to do book' that does not try to problemitise the issue of language, gender, and power.

For a long period of time the focus of research on language and gender was on the difference of language (grammar, lexicon, pronunciation, etc) spoken by men and women. Gradually a more important question came into focus, i.e. language used about women. This question raised the issue of power and representation. We see some useful research in the discriminatory use of language, i.e. naming, titles, use of the masculine pronoun, collocation, etc. But to understand the problem at a deeper level we need to understand the politics of discourse and the hegemonic role of language. We see some enlightening research by Jane Sunderland and Ruth Wodak who approached the issue from a critical discourse analysis and tried to trace the dynamics of hegemonic representation with special emphasis on the construction of discourse.

The feminist critique on the question of language and gender came in the form of Deborah Cameron's edited book called Feminist Critique of Language. This book is structured around three themes, i.e. the theme of silence and exclusion from language, the theme of naming and representation and the theme of behavioural differences in language.

Deborah Cameron's critical introductions to each of these themes are quite insightful. Hall and Bucholtz in their book, Gender Articulated, suggest three directions of feminist research on language and gender: "the investigation of how cultural paradigms of gender relations are perpetuated through language; the study of women's innovative use of language to subvert this dominant belief system; and the examination of how women construct social identities and communities that are not determined in advance by gender ideologies."

The contemporary stance on language and gender is more interdisciplinary in nature as the question of power needs to be explored from various different angles. The other change is that instead of dividing men and women on the basis of sex into two distinct groups the researchers realise the significance of sub-groups formed not strictly on the basis of sex. A third change is that instead of focusing on the language used by women, the emphasis has shifted to the language spoken about women. The question of representation has come to the forefront.

The writer is director, Centre for Humanities and Social Sciences at Lahore School of Economics and author of Rethinking Education in Pakistan.

By Dr Shahid Siddiqui
shahidksiddiqui@yahoo.com (Dawn)

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