Week 9: Wordsmithing and Gendered Language

Wordsmithing and the implicit framing of the digital humanities as masculine.

As someone who is excited by the delicate art of “word-smithing” and pondering word choice for hours on end, Natalia Cecire’s “Introduction: Theory and the Virtues of Digital Humanities” was most fascinating to me this week because it contextualized digital humanities in a frame that I am most familiar with. Arguing the Digital Humanities as an arm of the humanities that strangely embraces “doingness”, Cecire points out words like “ “hands-on,” “getting your hands dirty,” “digging,” “mining,” “building”—these terms offer quite a specific vision of what constitutes doing, conjuring up economic productivity (stimulus packages and infrastructure initiatives loom into view)”. The kind of activeness carefully implied by the digital humanities in its work based on the words it uses to describe its work are familiar – we as a class use these terms all the time when we discuss “data mining” or “web building”. And, as Cecire explains, these terms are very comfortable within the realm of digital humanities when other arms of the humanities are more so interested in a more general, intangible approach to negotiating the borders of their quandaries. This difference is made even more stark when Cecire points out that the terms used to describe the digital humanities “doing-ness” is obliquely male. Framed as a masculine form of productivity, rather than female, this difference seems to imply a feminization of the other arms of humanities studies when in reality “it is just as it is the subdiscipline of the humanities most closely implicated in the postindustrial “feminization of labor””.

This kind of gendered word-smithing used to describe the digital humanities that is explained and discussed in Natalia Cecire’s piece reminded me of a Gendered Language class I took in the Applied Linguistics department a few quarters ago. I never knew that language could be considered in this way and was surprised how much language was affected by gendered thinking. As someone who thought words just “meant” things, thinking about gendered language gave me an entirely new perspective on how to choose words and frame my own writing. A broad example of this can be observed in the Chinese characters “女“, generally meaning “girl”, and ”子“,generally meaning “boy”. By themselves, they simply gesture to the gender each refers to. However, when used together, they form the character “好“, generally meaning “good”. Implicit in the construction of this word is a cultural mindset in Chinese culture that in order for a family to be “good”, it must figuratively strive for the balance and order as represented in the character for good in its inclusion of both the feminine and the masculine, as well as literally have both female and male children for the health of their lineage. These kinds of distinctions and observations can also be observed in other languages like Spanish and Russian and indicate greater attention to gendered language is not only fascinating but incredibly telling, as seen in Cecire’s initial observation in her piece.

  1. Cicere: http://journalofdigitalhumanities.org/1-1/introduction-theory-and-the-virtues-of-digital-humanities-by-natalia-cecire/