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"You Two and We Two are Life-long Mates": Gender Images and Pairing Ideals in Miao Songs from Southeastern Guizhou

Mei-ling CHIEN (National Chaio Tung University)
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Through an ethnography of the linguistic performance of a love song duet popular among the Miao in southeastern Guizhou, China, this paper explores how gender images are presented through linguistic signs. First, the duet and round performed by four singers, two male and two female, reveals the iconic relationship between the song and ideals of gender equality. Second, the combination, distinguishing and substitution of different pronouns express the simultaneous stability and fluidity of sexual identity. The substitution of terms used by courtly lovers by prescriptive kinship terms used by affines of the other sex, and the opposition created by the use of terms for the individual that are marked by gender and terms for the couple that are not, thus illustrate the indexical relationship between linguistic signs and gender ideas. Third, through use of multiple and reduplicated synonymous personal pronouns, the Miao songs are a form of diagrammatic iconicity that show how linguistic signs can reveal images of gender embedded in the Miao sense of the person. Thus gender differences can be constructed and destabilized on the same performance stage. Gender difference (“oppositions”) and gender pairing (“decomposing differences”) can be constituted and situated together within a single micro-system of linguistic signs, and thus distinctive gender images can be inclusive or complementary of one other.

Journal of History and Anthropology