Language and Sexual Orientation: The Lavender Lexicon

Laura Ahearn writes in Living Language, “when we encounter someone who does not fit a particular stereotype…we tend either not to notice or to explain the case away as an aberration” (2012:213). As Tom Boellstorff mentions in his Annual Review of Anthropology article, “this diachronic sensibility has proven to be of particular importance given the relative novelty of subjectivities using transformed notions of ‘lesbian’ or ‘gay’ in many parts of the world: [a] historical understanding has helped clarify how such apparently unprecedented categories of selfhood are in fact shaped by specific historical contexts” (2007:23). These more recent notions of ‘lesbian’ and ‘gay’ that Boellstorff speaks of are the beginnings of a speech community. John Gumperz describes a speech community as “any human aggregate characterized by regular and frequent interaction by means of a shared body of verbal signs and set off from similar aggregates by significant differences in language usage…[which] show linguistic peculiarities that warrant special study” (qtd. in Ahearn 2012:105).

According to Asif Agha, this speech community is using a register, “a linguistic ‘repertoire’ that is associated, culture-internally, with particular social practices and with persons who engage in such practices” (qtd. in Ahearn 2012:123-24). On the contrary, Don Kulick’s “Gay and Lesbian Language” states that these lexicons may only be locally famous, and the speech communities of the gay and lesbian community may only stretch through out one single state or country (2000). The register in the American gay community is known as the “lavender lexicon” in both Boellstorff’s and Kulick’s articles, in addition to other academic pieces. In a chapter of Language and Sexuality written by Deborah Cameron and Kulick assert that “language-using, whatever else it accomplishes, is an ‘act of identity’, a mean whereby people convey to one another what kinds of people they are…language-using can fulfill this function in relation to sexual identity as it can in relation to other kinds of identity” (2003:11).


Works Cited

Ahearn, L.M. (2012) Communities of language users. In Living Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 101-118.

Ahearn, L.M. (2012) Multilingualism and globalization. In Living Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 119-139.

Ahearn, L.M. (2012) Language and gender. In Living Language: An Introduction to Linguistic Anthropology. Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 187-213.

Boellstorff, T. (2007) Queer studies in the house of anthropology. Annual Review of Anthropology 36:17-35. Accessed May 6, 2017. JSTOR.

Cameron, D. and Kulick, D. (2003). Making connections. In Language and Sexuality. Cambridge University Press, pp. 1-14. Accessed May 6, 2017. http://www.cambridge.org/9780521804332

Kulick, D. (2000) Gay and lesbian language. Annual Review of Anthropology 29:243-85. Accessed May 6, 2017. http://www.arjournals.annualreviews.org