There is a paper in that.

There is an in-joke in academia that researchers often say “There is a paper in that“. In fact, this very category is an example of that. And today I said it to myself again.

In the afternoon, I was invited to speak to a class of MA and MPhil students in the Department of Linguistics about qualitative interviewing. As a fun exercise, I showed the students the following interview transcript, originally posted on the LSE Methodology Help and Advice blog, and asked them to list things that they would have done differently and how. As it is such an obvious example of how not to do an interview, students were giggling along and we had a good group discussion out of it afterwards.


But that’s not it. At one point during the discussion, I suddenly realised that I was speaking under the assumption that the interviewer was a woman, although the name can go either way. It just never struck me. Then some students said they’d never doubted that it was a man. One student added she got that from the interviewer’s “[…] who do you think is the hottest: Kate or Pippa Middleton?” remark – the same remark that in fact I pictured a woman making.

By a quick online search, I can already see a body of really interesting-looking studies on genderless narrators in literary work and how they are understood by readers as well as translators. Aww, I wish I could start reading all of them right away!

Speaking of gender indeterminacy also makes me fondly remember my time in Angers, France, many years back. I was attending a French Language and Culture programme before my DEA. During my latter term, there was a trainee teacher, who was sitting in lectures with us and at the same time writing a thesis on how foreign students determine the gender of the narrator of Anne Garréta’s SphinxHe actually collected data from us too. My answer was, I still recall, that the protagonist in the given excerpt was a man because ‘he’ was wearing une chemise, not un chemisier. Yes, I was an exceptionally serious student. I wonder how his thesis has ended.

+ added in October 2022.

Chen, P. J. & Lee, S.-J. (2022). ‘그녀’라는 역어: 식민지 시기 대만과 조선에서의 여성 3인칭대명사 발명. 한국문학연구 69: 541-581 (via @chiclix).

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