Grammatical gender as the basis to create gender metaphors in Indian political discourse

Suneeta Mishra

University of Delhi (


This paper is based on a study that explores the role of grammatical gender in the personification of abstract concepts in contemporary Indian political discourse where Hindi is the predominantly used language. Hindi has a two-gender system and the mapping of bio-logical sex and grammatical gender is strengthened by highly inflected sentence-structure which reinforces gender-marking all through the sentence and discourse. The present paper analyses the construction of three particular concepts (in Hindi) from contemporary Indian socio-political discourse – mehengaai (‘inflation‘; fem.), vikaas (‘development‘; masc.) and bhaasha (‘language‘; fem.) – in 10 texts, to study the role played by grammatical gender in the metaphorical construction of these concepts. The analysis shows how the cultural frame of patriarchy and ‘grammatical gender-biological sex’ mapping interact to create these gender metaphors. The larger cultural frame provides access to culture-specific mental models of man-woman relations, which is mapped on to masculine and feminine nouns to produce gender-based personification metaphors.

Dieser Artikel basiert auf einer Studie, welche die Bedeutung des grammatikalischen Geschlechts bei der Personifizierung von abstrakten Konzepten im gegenwärtigen indischen politischen Diskurs untersucht, in welchem vorwiegend die Sprache Hindi gebraucht wird.
Hindi verfügt über ein Zweigeschlechtersystem und die Zuordnung des biologischen und grammatikalischen Geschlechts wird durch eine hochgradig gebeugte Satzstruktur verstärkt.
Die Geschlechtskennzeichnung wird durch Satz und Diskurs bekräftigt. Der vorliegende Artikel analysiert die Konstruktion dreier spezifischer Konzepte (der Sprache Hindi) im gegenwärtigen indischen gesellschaftspolitischen Diskurs – mehengaai (Inflation; fem.), vikaas (Entwicklung; mask.) und bhaasha (Sprache; fem.) – in zehn Texten, um die Bedeutung des grammatikalischen Geschlechts in der metaphorischen Konstruktion dieser Konzepte zu untersuchen. Die Analyse zeigt, wie der kulturelle Rahmen des Patriarchats und die Verknüpfung des biologischen mit dem grammatikalischen Geschlecht bei der Erschaffung dieser Geschlechtermetaphern zusammenspielen.
Der größere kulturelle Rahmen bietet Zugang zu kulturspezifischen mentalen Modellen eines Mann-Frau-Vergleichs, welcher maskulinen und femininen Substantiven zugeordnet ist, um geschlechtsbasierte personifizierte Metaphern zu bilden.


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Grammatical gender as the basis to create gender metaphors in
Indian political discourse
Suneeta Mishra, University of Delhi (
This paper is based on a study that explores the role of grammatical gender in the personification
of abstract concepts in contemporary Indian political discourse where Hindi is the
predominantly used language. Hindi has a two-gender system and the mapping of bio-logical
sex and grammatical gender is strengthened by highly inflected sentence-structure which
reinforces gender-marking all through the sentence and discourse. The present paper analyses
the construction of three particular concepts (in Hindi) from contemporary Indian socio-political
discourse – mehengaai (‘inflation‘; fem.), vikaas (‘development‘; masc.) and bhaasha (‘language‘;
fem.) – in 10 texts, to study the role played by grammatical gender in the metaphorical
construction of these concepts. The analysis shows how the cultural frame of patriarchy and
‘grammatical gender-biological sex’ mapping interact to create these gender metaphors. The
larger cultural frame provides access to culture-specific mental models of man-woman relations,
which is mapped on to masculine and feminine nouns to produce gender-based personification
Dieser Artikel basiert auf einer Studie, welche die Bedeutung des grammatikalischen Geschlechts
bei der Personifizierung von abstrakten Konzepten im gegenwärtigen indischen
politischen Diskurs untersucht, in welchem vorwiegend die Sprache Hindi gebraucht wird.
Hindi verfügt über ein Zweigeschlechtersystem und die Zuordnung des biologischen und
grammatikalischen Geschlechts wird durch eine hochgradig gebeugte Satzstruktur verstärkt.
Die Geschlechtskennzeichnung wird durch Satz und Diskurs bekräftigt. Der vorliegende Artikel
analysiert die Konstruktion dreier spezifischer Konzepte (der Sprache Hindi) im gegenwärtigen
indischen gesellschaftspolitischen Diskurs – mehengaai (Inflation; fem.), vikaas (Entwicklung;
mask.) und bhaasha (Sprache; fem.) – in zehn Texten, um die Bedeutung des grammatikalischen
Geschlechts in der metaphorischen Konstruktion dieser Konzepte zu untersuchen. Die Analyse
zeigt, wie der kulturelle Rahmen des Patriarchats und die Verknüpfung des biologischen mit
dem grammatikalischen Geschlecht bei der Erschaffung dieser Geschlechtermetaphern zusammenspielen.
Der größere kulturelle Rahmen bietet Zugang zu kulturspezifischen mentalen
Modellen eines Mann-Frau-Vergleichs, welcher maskulinen und femininen Substantiven zugeordnet
ist, um geschlechtsbasierte personifizierte Metaphern zu bilden.
Metaphorical language and thought have been explored in the domain of gender
from various dimensions. Text and discourse analysis in literary criticism has
brought out substantial discussion on gender-based metaphorisation while
feminist literature has also focused on this aspect from several perspectives (e.g.
Garcia-Fernandez 2017; Charteris-Black 2012). Furthermore, the interaction of
grammatical gender with cognition has been studied across many languages (e.g.
Sera and others 2002; Boroditsky/Philips/Schmidt 2003; Pavlidou/Alvanoudi
2013). However, metaphor grounded in grammatical gender-based categorisation
of nouns has so far not been explored except in some studies as an offshoot of the
discussion on other concepts like categorisation. One of the seminal works that
addressed this linkage was Lakoff’s discussion of Dyirbal noun classification
(studied originally by Dixon in 1967 and published in 1972) in Women, Fire and
Dangerous things (1987), where most of the dangerous or harmful things are
located in the same category of nominals as women. A more nuanced discussion
of the grammatical gender of nouns playing a role in their metaphorical
conception as male or female, was carried out by Romaine (1998). Romaine shows
how cities and countries, often found to be grammatically feminine in Indo-
European languages, are portrayed as females, even in a language like English
which supposedly has a ‘natural gender’ system in its modern form. In a
somewhat different vein Drzazga/Stroinska (2012) show how the grammatical
gender of ‘death’ in different languages affects the way it is personified in
translations. Sarangi (2009) brings out the feminization of languages in India’s postindependence
discourse by Hindi and Urdu literary writers in comparing the
social status of the two languages. Some studies delve into the interaction of
lexical choices with gender metaphors. Moreover, Montashery (2013) shows how
common processes of using nicknames and sexual evaluation of women are
based on metaphors grounded in the conception of women as weak, vulnerable
‘objects’. Rezanova/Nekrasova/Shilyaev’s (2014) study demonstrates the effect
of grammatical gender of objects on the referential choice of metaphorical names
to male and female humans. On the other hand, there have also been numerous
studies analyzing metaphor in political discourse. Musolff (2014, 2017) and
Perrez/Reuchamp (2014) among others have discussed at length the nature and
strands of metaphors in political discourse. This ranges from the role of ‘bodypolitic’
in political metaphors to other cultural dimensions in interpreting
political metaphors. Nevertheless, none of these works so far has tapped on the
process of metaphorisation of nouns based on their grammatical gender in
political discourse. Hence, this paper attempts to do so by analyzing the
construction of three nouns that are commonly used in the contemporary Indian
political discourse- mehengaai (‘inflation’; fem.), bhaasha (‘language’; fem.) and
vikaas (‘development’; masc.).
The paper is generally divided into four sections. The first section sets up the
cultural-historical and political context of the Indian society in which the sociological
dimensions of gender interact with specific aspects of the contemporary
Indian political discourse. The second section gives a theoretical background
comprising the role of grammatical gender in cognition, manifestation of
grammatical gender in Hindi and in the literature on personification metaphor.
The third section discusses the method applied and data studied while the last
section puts forth the analysis and discussion of the chosen texts, linking them
back to theoretical constructs developed, followed by a conclusion.
1. The Context of the study
1.1 Rising symbolism, Hindi domination and its implications
In the last few decades and very rapidly in the last few years, the political
discourse in India has increasingly turned to symbolism and metaphors. The
symbols employed in the political discourse range in their historicity from
ancient to contemporary times. Ancient mythological texts provide reference to
various deities and demons like Ram, Siita, Taadka, Raavan etc. Though India is
known to be a country of great diversity ranging from languages to food or
ethnicities, the center of political power has been the Northern region which
happens to be the Hindi1 belt of the country as also containing the region with
some of the most populated states. Consequently, the political discourse is
usually dominated by Hindi, even if a number of contemporary political leaders
belong to other regions. Additionally, India is a predominantly Hindu society,
with 80.5% Hindu population (India census 2011). Thus, most mythological
1 ‘Hindi’ here refers to the ‘standard’ variety which is spoken in Delhi, and parts of the
Northern states of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. The Hindi belt though is constituted
by numerous languages that are syntactically similar to and mutually comprehensible with
Hindi but have their own speech communities.
characters extracted from Hindu mythological texts present a natural choice
according to this dispersion in creating a metaphorical discourse. Some such
instances include equating a political leader to a deity or opposition leaders to
demons or invoking a Hindu identity using the virtuous images of female
characters. Another class of symbols has arisen from the time of independence of
the country from colonial rule. These are related to metaphors conceptualising
ideas of nation or country, patriotism, national language etc. which gave rise to
metaphors like Bhaarat-mata (‘mother‘ India), maatri-bhaasha (literally ‘mother
language‘) and soldiers as ‘sons’ of the ‘mother-land’. The third category includes
the relatively recent symbols arising from more recent socio-political contexts like
development, economy and foreign policies. Of late, the taglines and
predominant agendas in political parties’ manifestos too have become standalone
symbols. Contemporary political discourse thus uses symbolic resources
from various eras of the country’s cultural-historical past, and this time-frame is
fluid. Any political metaphor can invoke cultural-historical frames and
symbolisms from different eras. For instance, Sarangi (2009) discusses the
metaphorical conceptualisation of languages as ‘women’ in the texts of Hindi and
Urdu writers between 1880 and 1940. The personification of these languages
(referred to as ‘language women’ by Sarangi) is rooted in the culture of (female)
courtesans from 16th–18th century Mughal rule over India. The texts that Sarangi
analyses treat the two languages – Hindi (representing Hindus) and Urdu
(representing Muslims) – as courtesans who are trying to woo clients (Hindu and
Muslim populations). In such contexts, it is understandable that Hindi lexicon
and grammatical structure shape the form taken by Indian political discourse in a
considerable way.
1.2 Gender as one of the foundational concepts in the Indian society
Given the hierarchical structure of the Indian society in terms of caste, class and
gender, most discourse genres reflect these categories. Indian society and politics
thrive on caste but gender figures in the discourse more subtly, particularly when
used metaphorically. Gender forms a much deeper division among humans than
any other parameter (like caste, class, ethnicity) in all societies, resulting in an
expansive network of cultural frames based on gender in the Indian society. This
network is historically and socially rooted in religion and mythology and
permeates – in complex ways – creating caste, class and gender hierarchies.
Across India, but more rigidly in the northern states though (Dyson/Moore
1983), female sex is considered secondary, inferior and fit to be dictated and
governed by male sex. The manifestation of this larger frame comes in various
forms including the unwanted status of the girl-child, justifying the abuse and
violence against women based on the subservient and relativized status of
women in family structures. Man is considered as the default human and therefore
the default agent of the actions and events taking place in the human world.
Women become the ‘other’, the ‘object’ or the ‘dehumanized’ being.
Dehumanization of women occurs via a range of means and processes. One such
example is presented by Tipler and Ruscher (2017). They describe how women
are perceived in sexual terms using a metaphorical ‘predator/prey’ framework:
the strong, independent and aggressive women who are conceived as
‘uncontrollable’ are located on the ‘predator’ end of the scale while those who are
seen as gullible and controllable are located on the ‘prey’ end. However, both are
dehumanized. In this paper, I propose a similar approach to look at the
construction of gendered bodies of women (and men by contrast) via moralethical
codes of conduct arising from of the cultural-historical context of the
Indian society. On this scale, women are sacrificing, subservient, tradition-bound
and powerless on one end and free-spirited, independent, dominant, uncontrollable
on the other end. An important dimension here, as in Tipler and
Ruscher’s (2017) analysis, is the physicality and sexuality of the female. A woman
is constantly assessed by her looks and physical dimensions. Assuming this scale
to have a ‘positive’ (desirable in society) and a ‘negative’ (not desirable in society)
end, women who conform to the expected values are framed as belonging to the
positive end of the scale and those who falter on any assessment criteria, on the
negative end. Thus, in this assessment scale, there is hardly any scope for intermediary
positions. Males, however, are not subjected to moral-ethical scales in
terms of sexuality, physicality and relativized identities. Dusche (2014: 233)
discusses how this hierarchical code of moral conduct can be traced back to the
religious discourse of Ancient India which more often than not treats women as
properties of men with whom they are related by blood or marriage. Although
the construction of ‘masculinity’ has its own scale in terms of power and control,
it is not as pervasive as that applicable to women in everyday and cultural
Against this background of the Indian politics and the place of gender in Indian
society, it is interesting to see how the linguistic structure of Hindi plays out in
this complex interplay. Linguistic structure reflects socio-cultural norms in the
marking of gender (but usually not caste or class) in some way or the other in all
languages. In languages with grammatical gender, the gender-based categorysation
of humans is extended to animals and inanimate entities. Personification of
inanimate nouns in most literary genres of Hindi including political discourse
shows a substantial correspondence with the grammatical gender of these nouns
(Mishra 2018a). Thus, the underlying norms and principles of human gender
politics may well be mapped on to this extended categorisation (of non-humans)
based on gender, and the construction of nouns based on grammatical gender is
expected to follow this rationale. In brief, the paper investigates the way this
metaphorical mapping works linguistically.
2. Theoretical background
2.1 Grammatical gender across world’s languages and in Hindi
Nouns form the most versatile grammatical category since it denotes living
beings/things/objects/ideas in the world. Grammatical gender is one of the
three main features (phi features) of nouns. Languages can have ‘natural’ gender
systems where nouns carry the same gender corresponding to the biological sex.
Inanimate objects carry neuter gender by default. The other major type of gender
system is grammatical, wherein all nouns are assigned a gender category but the
assignment is not based on the natural gender of the noun, even though humans
are mostly assigned the grammatical gender corresponding to their biological
sex. According to Corbett, “gender systems may have sex as a component, as in
languages with masculine and feminine genders; but, equally, sex may be
irrelevant” (1991: 749). There are languages with more than 20 gender types but
most languages with grammatical gender manifest either two (masculine and
feminine) or three (masculine, feminine and neuter) genders.
When a language has only masculine and feminine grammatical gender,
inanimate objects are also attributed one of these genders. Hindi is such a
language. All nouns in Hindi are either masculine or feminine, and other
sentential components like adjective, verb, intensifier, possessive etc. are marked
for gender in agreement with the gender of the subject noun. However, if there is
a postposition with the subject, the next noun in the sentence commands the
agreement on a syntactic level. If all nouns in a sentence are followed by
postpositions, the verb manifests default masculine singular form.
2.1.1 General phonological pattern in masculine and feminine nouns in Hindi
Although gender is arbitrarily assigned to nouns in Hindi, some typical phonological
patterns are found. These basic patterns in the grammatical gender-based
categorisation of nouns are as follows (Agnihotri 2007 and Kachru 2006):
a. Most ‘ii’-ending nouns are grammatically feminine,
b. Most consonant-ending and ‘u/uu’-ending nouns are masculine,
c. ‘aa’-ending nouns are more often masculine than feminine.
There are exceptions in all these patterns. For instance, paanii (water) is a
masculine noun with ‘ii’-ending, bahu (daughter-in-law) is a feminine noun with
‘u’-ending, bhaasha (language) is a feminine noun with ‘aa’-ending. Noun pairs
with feminine and masculine counterpart can be either lexical, as in bhaai
(brother) and behen (sister) or they can exist in phonologically-marked pairs
where consonantal or ‘aa’ ending marks the masculine form while ‘ii’ or ‘nii’-
ending marks the feminine form (examples discussed in section 2.1.2).
2.1.2 Sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic manifestations of grammatical
gender in Hindi
Besides general phonological patterns, the gender-based nominal categorisation
in Hindi has socio and psycho-linguistic dimensions such as indicated in the
following examples:
a. In pairs of masculine and feminine form, the ‘aa’-ending or consonant-ending
form is mostly masculine while the ‘ii’-ending form is feminine. In such cases, the
feminine form coincides with the diminutive form. Examples of such noun pairs
(Kellogg 1876 and Guru 1920) are depicted in the following table:
Masc. form Fem. and Diminutive
1. Drain naal-aa (‘big drain’) naal-ii (‘small drain’)
2. Pile dher (‘big pile’) dher-ii (‘small pile’)
3. Stick dand-aa (‘thick stick’) dand-ii (‘thin stick’)
4. Rope rass-aa (‘thick rope’) rass-ii (‘thin rope’)
Table 1: Examples of Hindi nouns with masculine and feminine forms
As seen in table 1, the masculine counterpart is bigger or stronger than the
feminine counterpart. None of such pairs manifests the opposite semantic
associations. This observation has been made by several scholars of Hindi. For
instance, Kelogg (1969: 82) observes that one of the classes of nouns that are
considered masculine in Hindi is “[n]ames of large, or coarse and roughly made
objects, as contrasted with small, or more finely made objects of the same kind”.
He then goes on to give examples of the kind shown in the above table. Guru
(1920: 255) makes a similar observation with regard to size/strength related
properties of objects giving rise to feminine or masculine endings. Jurafsky (1996:
536) describes how denoting the female gender is one of the many semantic
functions that diminutives serve in many languages including Hindi. He also
elaborates (ibid.: 546) how the use of diminutives for female gender leads to the
formation of the conceptual metaphor WOMEN ARE CHILDREN/SMALL
THINGS which leads to the concept SMALL THINGS ARE WOMEN in some
b. Proper names of male and female humans are often borrowed from
grammatically masculine and feminine nouns for certain semantic classes of
nouns like natural elements, some emotions and sweets. Some such examples are:
Tulsii (‘holy basil’; fem.)
Shaurya (‘courage’; masc.)
Imartii (‘an Indian sweet’; fem.)
Suuraj (‘sun’; masc.)
These socio and psycho-linguistic patterns associated with the occurrence of
masculine and feminine nouns show that there is an underlying mapping of the
grammatical gender and biological sex that, moreover, guide native speakers
regarding the associations they form with nouns across domains of language use.
2.2 Experimental studies showing grammatical gender effects on
Most studies exploring grammatical gender effects on cognition have reported
positive results. This includes tasks like voice attribution, adjective assignment,
triad matching etc. One of the first detailed studies in this domain was conducted
by Sera, Berge and del Castillo (1994) in which they found that speakers of
languages with grammatical gender rated objects as masculine or feminine in
correspondence with their grammatical gender. Another study by Sera et al.
(2002) found this effect with voice attribution too. Konishi (1993) found gender
effects by way of association of masculine nouns with higher potency. Borodisky,
Schmidt and Philips (2003) conducted a test with bilingual Spanish, German and
English speakers. The task involved remembering proper names, half of which
were assigned in accordance with grammatical gender of the objects and the
other half opposite to the grammatical gender. They found a higher performance
on names consistent with grammatical gender. Saalbach, Imai and Schalk (2012)
conducted a study with very young German and Japanese children. German is a
language with grammatical gender while Japanese does not have grammatical
gender. They found that German children made inferences about features of
animals (using toy animal) based on the grammatical gender while Japanese
children based their inferences on general properties of animal (species). For
example, the experimenters told the children that all ‘Daddy’ animals had a
BROMA (imagined substance) inside. Then they showed them the (toy) animals
and asked which of them had a BROMA inside. German children tended to
generalize this property to all animals (toys) that had grammatically masculine
names in German but not to those with grammatically feminine names. Japanese
children did not show any such bias.
These studies show that grammatical gender is not a naïve morphological feature
of nouns that manifests itself only by way of agreement-markers on other sentential
components. Rather, for the speakers of languages that have grammatical
gender, it seems that the categorisation of nouns and hence of the corresponding
objects bear an impact on the conception of animate and inanimate objects.
2.3 Studies showing grammatical gender effects in Hindi
The only published study exploring grammatical gender effects in Hindi is by
Mukherjee (2018). The study explores the effect of grammatical gender in first/
second language on the other language learnt. Hindi as first language is seen to
influence a second language without grammatical gender. As observed in the
introduction, there have not been many studies exploring grammatical gender
effects at discourse level, much less so in Hindi. Sarangi (2009) brings out a
detailed diachronic analysis of the feminization of languages (Hindi and Urdu)
but without engaging with the dimension of grammatical gender-based categorisation
in this personification. Mishra (2018b) observes that personified
characters of animals in Hindi texts from various genres including children’s
literature in school texts (NCERT 2005) are constructed based on their
grammatical gender. This is executed via the use of constructional frames
grounded in stereotypical roles assigned to men and women in different sociopolitical
domains like division of labor, decision-making, power and control. The
grammatical gender-biological sex mapping is so deeply entrenched that in one
of these texts (grade III, pg. 62–68) with personified characters of a monkey
(grammatically masculine in Hindi) and cats (grammatically feminine),
instructions for teachers clearly state assigning the role of monkey to a boy and
that of the cats to the girls, for role-play. In another text (grade II, pg. 19–22), cat
and lion are personified as sister and brother living together. The brother (lion)
just orders, eats and sleeps while the sister (cat) does all household work and is
often hungry as nothing is left for her. Mishra (2018a) brings out how cultural
frames that ground the man-woman discourse and relation are employed to
create humor based on pairs of grammatically masculine and feminine objects
and animals (species). For instance, one of the jokes is based on the ‘marriage’ of
a potato (grammatically masculine in Hindi) and a cabbage (grammatically
feminine in Hindi). The cultural frame used is ‘first night’.
From these studies, it seems that the ‘culture-specific frames’ used to map
grammatical gender and biological sex without explicitly stating so, it becomes
easy to use them metaphorically. Thus, these studies hint to the need to identify
the culture-specific frames which ground this mapping in different discourse
genres and grammatical gender-based metaphors which this paper explores.
2.4 Personification metaphor, culture and politics
Hamilton (2002) traces back the first documented discussion of the term
“personification” in rhetorical tradition by Erasmus of Rotterdam who used the
terms “prosopopoeia” and “prosopographia” – the latter for attributing human
qualities to understand abstract concepts like justice. Most allegories found in the
literary works of 16th–18th century can be seen as instances of personification. In
cognitive linguistic tradition, personification has been treated as one of the basic
ontological metaphors by Lakoff and Johnson (1980). Lakoff and Turner (1989)
discuss at length the personification of ‘Death’ as the reaper, devourer, coachman
etc. using what they call a ‘single unified general process’. Lakoff and Johnson,
for example, use the example of “Inflation has robbed me of my savings” (1980:
33) to emphasise that in this case, “inflation” is not just a person but a specific
kind of person – a devourer, a thief. Although it is one of the most widely used
metaphorical tools across discourse genres, it has not been treated at par with the
other conceptual metaphors. Commonplace concepts like ‘Life’, ‘Death’ and
‘Time’ are frequently personified in everyday and literary discourse but not
really treated as such. MacKay (1986) emphasised that personification may be
seen as the ‘prototypical’ metaphor which, in addition to its usually recognized
instances, can also occur as disguised in the form of metonymy and spatial
metaphors. Of particular relevance to this study is MacKay’s observation about
personification based on nominal gender categorisation: “In short, if nominal
gender-marking is another instance of personification in disguise, it may help to
pass on a set of culture-specific sex-role attitudes” (MacKay 1986: 102).
The cultural dimension of metaphor is a subject taken up seriously only in recent
research. Since Conceptual Metaphor Theory (CMT) is conceived to be grounded
in universal processes of cognition, it relegates cultural context to a peripheral
position in the discourse on metaphor. But Kövecses (2005) and Musolff (2017),
among others, have emphasized the culture-specific interpretation of conceptual
metaphor. Musolff (2014) conducted an elaborate cross-linguistic (also crossnational)
study exploring the body-politic metaphor as applied by participants to
define their own countries. The study showed clearly different conceptual
structures used by participants from different regions of the world (hence
different cultures).
In the Indian culture, particularly the North-Indian Hindi-speaking culture, both
genders have been employed for personifications, for instance, the Earth as the
‘mother’, most of the heavenly bodies as ‘male Gods’, ‘death’ as both male (in the
form of ‘Death God’) and female (the actual event of death). A vast majority of
these personifications are in accordance with grammatical gender, as is also the
case for animal characters and inanimate objects. A specific case is the
anthropomorphised animal characters acquiring male/female sex in accordance
with the default species gender, in children’s literature among other literary
genres (Mishra 2018b).
In the contemporary use of metaphor, social media appear to play a major role.
The use of social media including internet memes, improvisation of film songs
and dialogues is now commonplace in creating sarcasm and satire which are the
predominant literary genres in the political discourse in India (Kulkarni 2017). It
is common for one political party or leader to take on the other party or leader
mostly targeting the negative aspects. This often involves invoking metaphors
grounded in the cultural-historical context, to strike a chord with the masses and
sway them in their favor. In this process, often a range of metaphors including
personifications are employed by both political leaders, the press and the
common masses.
3. Method and data
3.1 Choosing personified nouns
For the present study, a 3-step procedure was followed, as discussed below. The
third step had three sub-steps of filtration.
I. A list of issues and themes highlighted in the manifestos of the two major
political parties – Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and Indian National Congress (INC,
popularly known as Congress) – taken from the last parliamentary election (held
in 2014) were listed after consulting the official websites of the political parties
and some of the leading news sources that follow socio-political news: The Indian
Express, Times of India and The Economic Times. While The Indian Express and
Times of India are popular Indian newspapers with the latter available in both
Hindi and English, The Economic Times is an Indian newspaper with a focus on
economic news also reporting inter alia political news. Additionally, main events
of each year from 2014-2018 were followed from the same websites and The Wire,
which is an online news source. This time-period was taken because the use of
social media in generating and fueling political discourse has grown multifold
during this time, one plausible reason being the impetus on digitization by the
present regime that came in power in 2014. According to a study by Wani and
Alone (2015) on the impact of social media on elections, there was an increase of
28% in the number of internet users in India from June 2013 to June 2014.
Four broad areas along with major sub-themes were deduced from the party
manifestos and the major political news of each year.
A. Constitutional values including secularism, social justice (in terms of caste,
class and gender), minority rights.
B. Growth and development. This includes both social and economic development.
Social development covers basic services for the masses like health,
education, electricity and water supply in rural areas, construction of roads, dams
etc. Economic development includes employment generation, inflation control,
foreign policy, GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth.
C. National security and patriotism. This includes all matters related to defense
(with a special focus on foreign policy towards Pakistan). The second part
‘patriotism’ is an explicit agenda of one of the parties (BJP) which also comprises
the creation of a Hindu state and advancing the Hindutva ideology with all its
paraphernalia like Ram temple, cow-protection, Hindi as national language etc.
D. Some miscellaneous themes that cropped up intermittently raised by any of
the political parties and caught up on social media to gain the status of a
metaphor overnight. For instance, one implicit agenda for both the parties is a
counterattack on the policies of the other and presenting itself as ‘clean’. The
topmost sub-theme in this category is corruption, thus highlighting the fraud that
each of the two parties has been associated with.
II. From these four areas, a list of nouns was prepared representing themes and
issues that became the catchwords. For instance, social equity gave rise to
aarakshan (‘reservation’) for the socially backward castes. RTI (Right to
Information) became the buzzword under the agenda to fight corruption in
offices. The final list consisted of 20 nouns (see appendix 1).
III. This list of 22 nouns was subjected to a three-step filtration process. First, only
those nouns were considered that were native to Hindi (‘Hindustani’ to be more
precise). This was done because the grammatical gender of the nouns borrowed
from English does not manifest consistently in Hindi. This step filtered out 5
nouns. In the second step, those nouns were considered that were explicitly
personified i.e. attributed human properties in any kind of text on the internet
including memes, jokes and cartoons. This was done by typing each word from
the list in the search bar and looking for web results including images. This
reduced the number of items to 9. In the third step, it was checked whether the
personification was gendered and if it was, whether there were at least three
instances of gendered personification for each item. This last step ensured that
the attribution of gender was not random.
Finally, only three nouns were found which were personified and gendered in
more than two instances each, one grammatically masculine and two grammatically
feminine. As the internet is a very dynamic and vast space where material is
added every day, the texts were chosen in order of their appearance in the search
results, subject to the basic requirement of gendered personification. For vikaas
and bhaasha, more personifications were obtained than mehengaai, so 4 texts each
were taken for these two nouns. But on closer examination, one of the texts for
bhaasha was found to have a very feeble case of personification and was therefore
dropped. So, 4 texts with the personification of vikaas and 3 each with the
personification of bhaasha and mehengaai were obtained. Texts in this study refer
to both visuals and the written language. The texts were analysed to explore the
interplay between grammatical gender of the nouns and their construction as
gendered entities via personification on one hand and the role of culturalhistorical
frames providing the textual construction on the other. This gave a total
of 10 texts containing these three nouns. Although this corpus may not be enough
to infer substantial generalisations about the pattern of gendered cognition based
on the grammatical gender of nouns, it nevertheless serves well to explore some
relevant dimensions of the interplay between social and grammatical gender in
specific cultural-historical and political contexts of a speech community.
3.2 A morphological sketch of the nouns under study and socio-political
context of the concepts they represent
All three nouns (bhaasha, mehengaai and vikaas) have their origin in Pali-Prakrit
languages (Turner 1969) that were predominant among the general masses from
3rd century BC–10th century AD in large parts of North India.
a. bhaasha (‘language’; fem.): bhaasha means ‘speech’ or ‘language’ (Turner 1969:
540). The root-word bhaasha is seldom used alone in the Indian socio-political
discourse. It is mostly used in the context of rashtra-bhaasha (‘national language’)
or maatri-bhaasha (‘mother tongue’). As India is home to more than 1369 mother
tongues according to the latest census (2011) conducted by the Indian government,
language as a marker of social and political identity has been the bone of
contention since the conception of independent India. The division of the Indian
territory into states after India’s independence was carried out on a linguistic
basis in 1956 (Sengupta 2014). But the major conflict was grounded in the two
major religious communities – Hindus and Muslims. Languages symbolizing the
two religions (Hindi and Urdu respectively) played a semiotic mediation in this
divide, particularly in North India. Alongside, the adoption of English as the
language of social advancement also began during this time. This situation gave
rise to metaphorical comparisons between languages. In the decades following
independence, the comparison was intensified between Hindi (symbolizing
Hindu identity) and Urdu (symbolizing Muslim identity). Comparison of Hindi
and English has gained prominence in the last three-four decades, with the rise of
English as the medium of instruction and official work. The texts chosen focus on
the latter comparison but use bhaasha as an abstraction from its various forms.
b. mehengaai (‘inflation’/‘dearness’; fem.): The noun mehengai has been derived
from the adjective mahanga i.e. ‘expensive’ which in turn has evolved from
mahargha in Sharyaseni Prakrit variety. Mahargha is formed from maha
(‘big/high’) + argha (‘value/cost’) (Turner 1969: 572). For the last two decades,
inflation has been a major factor for the downfall of governments led by any
political party. Whether it is a hike in prices of everyday consumption products
like milk, vegetables etc. or that of petrol and diesel, ‘inflation’ has become a topic
of everyday discourse of the masses, resulting in an opportunity for the opposition
(political) party to attack the ruling regime. Thus, for both politicians and
the common people, mehengaai is something to be scared of.
c. vikaas (‘development’; masc.): vikaas was originally used to mean expanding,
flowering or growth (Turner: 578). The word is used in many contexts like
physical and mental growth of human beings and of the development of spaces
in more economic and infrastructural terms. Although development of the
country as a whole and of the various sectors like education, health and infrastructure
has always been an implicit agenda of all the political parties, it was
adopted as one of the most popular catchwords of the present political leadership
in their 2014 election campaign and a major parameter of the constant evaluation
of governance thereafter. This resulted in vikaas becoming a popular topic of
political satire.
3.3 Details of the texts analysed
The analysed texts are mostly visual along with written text. All the texts present
political satire, where the gendered personification of the noun represents a basic
ingredient in the satire.
The details of these texts are provided in the following table:
Noun Grammatical
Mode (Visual/
Description of the texts
1. bhaasha
Feminine a. Both 1. Hindi as the ‘typical
Indian woman’ (wife or
girlfriend) and English
as an ‘enchanting
young girl’ the man is
attracted to.
b. Both, but
2. Hindi as an ‘oldfashioned,
loyal Indian
wife/fiancée’ and English
as the ‘smart,
modern girlfriend’ the
man is flirting with.
c. Both 3. Hindi as the ‘neglectted,
poor mother’ and
English as the ‘modern
2. mehengaai
Feminine a. Both 4. Inflation as the ‘flirtatious
woman’ running
after the present head of
the state (male) while
the previous head of the
state (male) enjoys
b. Both 5. Inflation as the ‘indecently
voluptuous woman’
flaunting her power.
c. Textual 6. Inflation referred to
as a ‘witch’.
3. vikaas
Masculine a. Textual 7. Development referred
to as the ‘desired
son’, in whose waiting
two undesired daughters
(GST- Goods and
Services Tax, and demonetization)
were born.
b. Both 8. A woman asking a
political leader when
‘development’, the
‘long-awaited desired
son’ will be born, in
whose wait a daughter
has taken birth.
c. Both 9. US president Obama
consoling India’s Prime
Minister and calling out
his ‘lost son’ (development)
to return.
d. Both 10. Development as the
‘lost son’, being
requested to return
home by all family
members (members of
the ruling party).
Table 2: Overview of the texts based on personifications of the three nouns popularly
used in contemporary Indian political discourse.
4. Analysis and Discussion
This section first presents a detailed analysis of the personification of each noun
and then a summary. The texts have been analysed in terms of the culturalcognitive
frames and they are grounded in the specific gender-associated features
mapped on to the personifications by way of grammatical gender-biological sex
mapping. For all the three nouns, each text is separately discussed followed by a
discussion of the pattern of personification of the specific noun in all the texts.
4.1 Texts personifying the noun bhaasha (‘language’; fem.)
Text 1
Text 1 consists of the visual (fig. 1) along with the written text which is the first
line of a song from a Hindi film.
Fig. 1: Hindi personified as a helpless, traditional Indian woman and English as the confident,
modern woman (see Corpus for source).
In text 1, the image (fig. 1) shows Hindi personified as the poor woman who
looks on helplessly as her husband/fiancé (personifying the ‘system’ that uses
language for its functioning) goes after ‘English’ personified by the other woman
who looks younger, more modern and confident. The text shows Hindi expressing
her sorrow using words borrowed from a Bollywood song.
(1) gairon pe karam, apnon pe sitam, ae jaan-e-wafa ye
zulm na
strangers on bliss own on torture O darling, this
injustice not
“Blissful with strangers and torturing your own, O darling don’t
do this injustice.”
The song in the movie depicts the hero cozying up to a beautiful girl whom he
has just met while his fiancée, whom he is ignoring, looks on helplessly and sings
this song where she implores him to not do such injustice that is torturing his
‘own’ (by ignoring publicly) while pampering and indulging ‘others’. The text
uses the cultural frame of the helplessness of a typical Indian woman when her
husband/fiancé ignores her in favor of another woman whom he finds more
attractive. This frame is then mapped on to the language situation of India where
Hindi, the one that is supposedly ‘own’ is ignored by the system/speakers while
English, the ‘other’, is valued more as ‘she’ is more attractive (due to its international
status and value in job market). The central metaphor is the
personifycation of LANGUAGES ARE WOMEN which is grounded in the grammatical
gender of bhaasha (‘language’) being feminine. It creates a culture-specific
metaphor which maps the construction of woman in these two roles (a neglected
wife without agency and a pampered girlfriend with agency) to grammatically
feminine languages.
Text 2
Text 2 (see fig. 2) does not contain much text except labelling the two women as
Hindi and English and the poster with Hindi Diwas (Hindi ‘day’) written on it.
Fig. 2: Hindi personified as a traditional Indian woman and English as the ‘modern’ woman of
‘foreign’ origin (see Corpus for source).
Text 2 is similar to text 1 in its overall framing with the man (personifying the
‘system’ or the ‘speakers’) getting attracted to the more ‘modern’ woman even
when betrothed/married to the ‘traditional’ woman.
Text 3
In text 3 (see fig. 3), Hindi is depicted as an old, sick mother in torn clothes who is
being brought on to the stage, to be crowned and garlanded on Hindi day. The
‘son’ (representing the native Hindi speakers) requests ‘aunt’ English who is
crowned and sitting on a throne, to get off the throne for just that one day.
Fig. 3: Hindi personified as the poor, neglected mother and English as the royal, powerful aunt
(see Corpus for source).
The visual here once again shows Hindi (personified as the mother) in a tattered,
neglected state while English (personified as the ‘aunt’) is the royal woman, the
one holding the (socio-political) power.
The text in the picture is as follows:
(2) Aunty ! pleez utariye ! sirf aaj mummy ko sinhasan
par baithana
Aunt please get down only today mother Dat. throne
on make sit
hai… mala pehnana hai
be garland make wear be
“Aunty ! Please get down. Only for today, have to seat mother on
the throne and garland her.”
This text, which is again based on the contrast between Hindi and English, differs
from text 1 and text 2 in terms of the roles assigned to the languages. However,
the overall frame remains same, in terms of the scale of comparison as well as the
gender of the personifications, including the ‘agent’ (the ‘speakers’ or the ‘state’
who sanction the use of language and hence its worth).
As discussed in section 3.2, the socio-political context in which these personifications
of language are situated works on the hierarchical status of the two
languages. All the three texts personifying the two languages draw from the fact
that English, although still seen as the language of ‘foreigners’, is valued and
preferred over Hindi because of its demand in the domain of employment,
technology and higher education. It hence ‘wins’ over the speakers whose native
language is Hindi but it is not able to get them a good job, education and money.
This results in the neglect of the ‘own’ (Hindi) and favor to the ‘other’ (English).
All the three texts use the cultural frame that typifies women in dualities of
character, assigned by the male ‘agent’ (the one who has agency). Here the
duality is in terms of the status and power of the two languages, via the status
and power the ‘male’ can achieve through their use. The one that is old-fashioned
and traditional is powerless in procuring success, even though it is the one to
whom the speakers are expected to be loyal because it is their ‘own’. On the other
hand we find the ‘other’, the ‘stranger’, the ‘outsider’ who can be used to gain
power in the society. Thus, the mapping of the ‘traditional, dependent,
powerless’ woman and the ‘modern, confident, powerful’ woman on to grammatically
feminine languages gives us the metaphor of ‘language women’ as Sarangi
(2009) calls them.
4.2 Texts personifying the noun mehengaai (‘inflation’; fem.)
Text 4
Mehengaai is personified as a very negative yet a powerful agent. In text 4 (see fig.
4), ‘inflation’ is personified as a flirtatious woman who is running after the
present head of state (a man) with a rose in her hand. The previous head of the
state (also a man) who too had been pestered by her during his tenure is enjoying
the scene, expressing how she had been after him too for 10 years.
Fig. 4: mehengaai (‘inflation’) personified as a flirtatious woman (see Corpus for source).
The picture personifies ‘inflation’ as a ‘voluptuous, flirtatious’ woman trying to
woo men. The exact phrase used by the previous PM (the written text) is as
(3) das saal tak mere piichhe padi thii, ab…..
ten years till me being after was, now….
“She was after me for 10 years, now ……”
Text 5
In text 5 (see fig. 5), mehengaai is shown complementing the onion for its greatness
because it has contributed to her (inflation’s) grandeur (due to sudden inflation in
the price of onion at that time). Here again, mehengaai is shown dressed up in
somewhat revealing clothes and voluptuous figure.
Fig. 5: ’Inflation’ personified as the ‘evil’ woman (see Corpus for source)
The text used in the figure is as follows:
(4) badha dii hai meri shaan, pyaaz tum ho bahut mahaan
increased my grandeur, onion you are very great
“(You) have increased my grandeur, Onion ! you are great.”
The text personifies mehengaai as a powerful woman with evil intentions. The
facial expression is especially conspicuous in communicating the ‘evilness’ of the
character. The evil look exudes the power that she has on people’s lives, as is also
feebly visible in the expression of the man peeping out of the window.
Text 6
Text 6 is a folk song where mehengaai is termed as daayan (‘witch’; fem.) who
devours resources, savings and lives. The first sentence goes like:
(5) sakhi, saiyaan to khoob kamaat hai, mehengaai daayan
khae jaat hai….
Friend (fem.), husband a lot earns (Sing.), inflation witch
keeps eating
“Friend (female)!, my husband earns a lot but the witch inflation
keeps eating up all he earns.”
Here a woman is expressing her woes to her female friend, insisting that her
husband earns a lot but the witch (i.e. the inflation) keeps eating up all (here,
This provides a different negative shade of the ‘womanly’ persona attributed to
inflation. A witch is by default considered to be a female and is known to scare or
even kill people, sometimes taking away children. In all these texts, mehengaai is
personified as a ‘negative but powerful’ woman who instills fear in people’s
minds. ‘She’ even holds the power and control to topple governments. Even
heads of the state (supposedly powerful people) are scared of her. The
construction frames used are located on the negative end of the moral-ethical
scale applied to female characters. Thus, mehengaai is an immoral woman, she is a
witch, she is openly flirtatious who runs after powerful men (heads of the state)
and she dresses and acts indecently.
4.3 Texts personifying the noun vikaas (‘development’; masc.)
Text 7
Text 7 is a single satirical statement (source – see Appendix 2) with no visual text,
presented below:
(6) ladka paida hone ke intzaar me do ladkiyaan paida ho
gain, notbandi
boy be born of wait in two girls have taken birth,
aur GST, par vikaas paida na hua
and GST, but development not born
“In waiting for a boy to be born, two girls have taken birth –
‘demonetisation’ and ‘GST’, but vikaas is not born yet.”
The statement refers to the policies of the present regime in which development
was a key promise that people later felt had not been fulfilled. Instead, the
government brought in demonetization and GST bill both of which were seen to
have made a negative impact on the country. In this text, both of these nouns
have been treated as feminine, thus personified as girls.
Text 8
In Text 8 (see fig. 6), a political leader is shown making a promise regarding
development, to which a common woman is replying.
Fig. 6: ‘Development’ personified as the ‘desired son’ in a dialogue between a politician and a
common citizen (see Corpus for source).
(7) Politician: hamaari sarkar aaegi to vikaas
Our government will come then development will
“When our government comes, development will take place.”
To the above statement, the woman in the picture (referring to her
female child), replies:
Woman: pichhlii baar bhi tumne yahi kaha tha magar
Pinki hui thii
Last time also you same had said but Pinki was
“Last time also you had said the same thing (that Vikas will be
born) but Pinki had taken birth.”
The dialogue in text 8 is based on the fact that ‘Vikaas’ is a proper name for boys
and ‘Pinki’ is a proper name for girls in Hindi. The politician means ‘development’
when he says ‘Vikaas’ but it is interpreted as a boy’s name in the woman’s
response, when she says that last time also same promise was made (of the birth
of a boy) but a girl was born.
Text 9
Text 9 (see fig. 7) shows US president ‘requesting’ Vikaas, “the lost son” to return
back to father (Indian PM).
Fig. 7: The term Vikaas (‘development’) ambiguously used in the context to refer to a male
named Vikaas (see Corpus for source).
The verbal text is as follows:
(8) Vikas beta kaha ho, Modi papa ro rahe hai.., ghar waapis
aa jao
Vikas son where be Modi father crying home return
“Son Vikas, where are you? Father (Modi) is crying, please return
The interpretation in text 9 again stems from the double meaning generated by
the use of the word Vikaas as a common noun (meaning ‘development’) and as a
proper noun referring to a boy.
Text 10
Text 10 has no visuals and the text is very similar to text 9. All the party members
(of the political party which had ‘development’ as its agenda) are searching for
Vikaas (invoking of the double meaning of the word as in text 9) and saying:
(9) Vikaas beta ek baar ghar aa jao, tumhe koi kuchh nahi
Vikaas son one time home come, you anybody anything
not say
“Son (Vikaas), please return once, nobody will say anything to
In all the texts personifying vikaas, it is the ‘son’, either lost or desired, in effect
absent. In texts 7 and 8, vikaas is personified as the ‘desired son’. This
interpretation is rooted in the Indian cultural context where a son is considered as
a boon (contrary to a daughter who is considered a burden) in most households.
Thus, these two texts in order to personify vikaas as the ‘desired son’, make use of
two linguistic ambiguities – first is the use of the verb ho-na which usually means
‘to happen/take place’ but it also means ‘to be born’. The other is the term vikaas
itself, which can either have a nominal meaning (development) or a proper name
for a male.
The ‘lost son’ interpretation is rooted in the political context where the ruling
regime had made tall claims and loud promises of development in all domains in
its election manifesto. Thus, vikaas was much talked-about and eagerly awaited
but when the masses could not find it in any of the domains, he was assigned the
status of a lost son. Metaphorically, everybody began searching for ‘him’.
5. Summary and Conclusion
The analysis of the texts personifying the three concepts mehengaai, vikaas and
bhaasha gives us some interesting patterns of interaction between the culturalhistorical
context of language use and the grammatical structure, to provide new
grammatical gender-based metaphors.
What is common to the three personifications is that all of these have been
personified according to their grammatical gender in all the chosen texts.
However, as discussed in section 1.2, the masculine and feminine personifications
are shaped by different parameters. Gender construction of grammatically masculine
nouns usually employs more abstract means of personification, as opposed
to the more visual means used for personification of feminine nouns.
Interestingly, all the texts containing the masculine noun vikaas are based on the
‘absence’ of the object referred. As discussed in section 1.2, the physicality aspect
dominates the personification of the feminine nouns. Except in one instance (text
6), all other texts containing the feminine nouns bhaasha and mehengaai present a
visually rich and detailed physical profile of the personified noun.
Both mehengaai and bhaasha have been visualized as females but vikaas is only
linguistically conceptualized as a male.
The personified feminine nouns can also be placed on the moral-ethical scale
(discussed in section 1.2) in terms of the agency, control, sexuality and relativized
identity. But the picture that emerges cannot be explained through a onedimensional
moral-ethical scale. Rather, several dualities of the personality traits
of ‘woman’ emerge from the analysis. In the bhaasha texts, the ‘traditional,
powerless, ignored’ woman is located on one end and the ‘modern, powerful,
attractive’ woman is located on the other end of the dual scale. The morality
dimension is overshadowed by agency in this contrast, although visually it can
be seen in the attire of the contrasting feminine characters, especially in text 1 and
2. In the mehengaai texts, however, the negative polarity of the female character
can be clearly seen in the attire, facial expression and the setting of the visuals.
The non-visual text (text 6) locates the female character on the negative end of
moral-ethical scale by the very use of the term daayan (‘witch’).
The role of the masculine personification in all the texts personifying feminine
nouns (text 1 to text 6) is especially interesting even though it is not central to the
interpretation of the texts. Firstly, in the bhaasha texts, whether it is the ‘system’ or
the ‘speech community’ of the language, the agent who assigns value to the
female (by preferring one over the other) is personified as a male, even though
the speakers of a language and people in the administrative system consist of
both male and female humans. The cultural-historical frame that assigns the male
the ultimate agency of assessing and evaluating the female (on the moral scale or
her worth and use for him) can be clearly seen working in the bhaasha texts. Thus,
the agency that seems to lie with the ‘powerful’ female i.e. English, is actually
with the ‘male’ who decides which of the two females is of more use to him in the
present condition.
In the mehengaai texts however, the ‘female’ is not under control of the men,
rather ‘she’ controls them. In text 4 for instance, the men (state heads) are seen
running away from her. In text 5, a scared man is peeping out of the window
while in text 6, the ‘female’ (mehengaai daayan) is what everybody is scared of.
Hence, mehengaai is the ‘bad, scary, ominous woman’ who is at the extreme end
of the moral-ethical scale, a woman who is not under the control of men. This
observation is in accordance with Tipler and Ruscher’s (2017) ‘predator/prey’
scale where women who cannot be controlled by men are perceived as ‘predators’
and therefore bad for the society.
Furthermore, the analysis reveals some important processes underlying
grammatical gender-based personification. In Indian political discourse, culturalhistorical
motivation of the discourses plays a major role in deciding the nature of
these personifications. The following proposed model depicts how the interplay
of linguistic structure, gender-sex mapping and cultural-historical frame of
patriarchy shapes up the personifications:
Fig. 8: A working model of the interaction between the culture-specific frames of social gender
and the grammatical gender-based categorisation of nouns.
This model (see fig. 8) functions as follows: with the evolution of human society,
certain cultural frames have taken shape that semantically ground everyday
discourses in human communication. These frames govern comprehensively
almost every aspect of the way human males and females are framed and act in
society. This general framework can be further broken down into sub-frames like
‘sons are more desirable than daughters’ or ‘men exist independently, women
exist relatively’. In a language that categorises all nouns as masculine and feminine,
features of the prototypical members of gender classes (human males and
females) get mapped on to other members that is animals and inanimate objects.
Thus, the cultural frames and, as a result, the cultural-cognitive models applicable
to human males and females then also govern masculine and feminine
nouns in the process of personification giving us the following personification
social position),
The study thus concludes that grammatical gender in a language may have a
deep impact on how the speakers of that language conceptualise animals and
inanimate objects. This conclusion supports the linguistic relativity hypothesis
according to which the structure of a language shapes the world-view of its
speakers. The effect manifests deeply at higher cognitive levels like metaphorical
conceptualisation and particularly personification because it can easily accommodate
physical attributes which are commonly exploited in sex/gender-based
division. But at the same time, it is not merely a one to one correspondence
between grammatical gender and biological sex that results in gender-based
personification metaphor. Rather, this relationship is mediated by the larger
cultural frame pertaining to male-female equation that decides which personification
metaphor is used in the final text and discourse. Although a study
based on the personification of three nouns in 10 texts represents a very limited
dataset, it refers to a deep interaction between grammatical gender and social
construction of gender and the role of the cultural context that grounds this
setting. The analysis corroborates the findings of studies in this area as reported
in the Introduction. For instance, the findings are very similar to Romaine’s (1998)
analysis of the feminisation of physical spaces like cities and countries in
discourse and Sarangi’s (2009) analysis of the feminization of languages in postindependence
India. Patterns of metaphorisation similar to the predator/prey
metaphor observed in Tipler and Rusche’s (2017) study was also found in this
study. The fact that a profound gender-based metaphorisation is found in
political discourse refers to the possibility of such metaphors in other discourse
genres too. Though this framework helps to understand the interaction of
linguistic structure and cultural-cognitive processes, it does not imply that all
gendered personifications will agree with the grammatical gender of the
personified nouns. There may be numerous other factors at play, prototype-like
class membership being one of those. In a nutshell, the present study hints at the
need for more elaborate research on this topic.
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7. Corpus
Fig. 1: (26.03.2020).
Fig. 2:
cartoon.jpg (26.03.2020).
Fig. 3:
html (26.03.2020).
Fig. 4: (26.03.2020).
Fig. 5:
115081900059_1.html (26.03.2020).
Fig. 6:
UKEwjs3#imgrc=Bgve01aEIk2tEM (Jokes on vikaas) (26.03.2020).
Fig. 7:
155088_1895604294479944122_n.jpg (26.03.2020).
Text 6:
Mehngai%20Dayain%20Khaye%20Jaat%20Hai.html (26.03.2020).
Text 7:
UKEwjs3#imgrc=onv-sO3FK3ubdM (Jokes on vikaas) (28.03.2020). (27.11.2018).
uploads/2014/04/Manifesto2014highlights.pdf (07.04.18).
2014/ (06.04.18).
for-election-2014/ (06.04.18).
healthcare/articleshow/31501299.cms (06.04.18).
2014-peoples-manifesto/articleshow/32717181.cms (06.04.18).
Highlights/articleshow/33386835.cms (06.04.18).
Vikaas-from-caste (09.04.2018). (06.05.19)
* Links to these texts/ figures do not direct to a single image but these images/
texts can be separately seen in the side pane. These texts/images have been used
by several sites and blogs, where these are embedded in larger contexts. Thus, the
link that shows in the main key term search has been provided.
7. Appendices
Appendix 1: List of nouns (representing popular themes/issues) extracted from
party manifestos and news sources for political news in India from 2014-2018
1. aarakshan (reservation; masculine)
2. acchhe din (good days; masculine plural)- This is one of the rare catchword in
plural form
3. beef ban (mostly used as masculine but gender not consistent)
4. bhaasha (language; feminine)- This is abstracted from usages like rashtrabhaasha
(national language and matri-bhaasha (mother tongue)
5. bhrashtachaar (corruption; masculine)
6. deshbhakti (patriotism; feminine)
7. digital India (gender not clear, mostly found as a standalone slogan)
8. GST (Goods and Services Tax; borrowed from English, mostly used as
masculine but gender not consistent)
9. gaay (cow; semantically and morphologically feminine)
10. Hindutva (Hinduism; masculine)
11. jumlaa (originally ‘a sentence/phrase describing a state-of-affairs’ but of late
being used to satirically mean ‘false promises’; masculine)
12. Kashmiir (the state of Kashmir; masculine)
13. mehengaai (inflation; feminine)
14. naukrii (job; feminine)
15. notbandii (demonetization; feminine)
16. Rafale (Rafale planes; inconsistent gender)- This refers to the scam related to
buying of Rafale planes by India
17. Ram mandir (Temple in the name of Lord Ram; masculine)
18. RTI (Right to Information Act; inconsistent gender)
19. sena (army; feminine)
20. swatchhta abhiyaan (cleanliness drive; masculine)
21. vikaas (development; masculine)