Two cultures, one room: investigating language and gender in Kuwait
Kuwait is a gender-segregated country. Its conservative cultural ideology is evident in all areas of social life, including the way people communicate. Men and women have to make conscious language choices during everyday interaction. Certain aspects of Kuwaiti conversational registers are exclusive to either men or women, which reflects not only men’s and women’s separate socialization as children but also separate lifestyles as adults. Kuwait’s gendered context is therefore bound to be unique and of particular sociolinguistic interest, especially since mainstream language and gender literature has more often focused on English-speaking cultures. Thus, there is little knowledge of Arab gender-segregated cultures and this could possibly be due to complications that the researcher inevitably encounters when examining a sensitive issue such as gender within these constraints. The present research study investigates mixed interaction between Kuwaiti men and women in online chat rooms. In this particular online context, chat room users employ interactional strategies to negotiate the norms of heterosexual interaction which are often non-existent in offline Kuwaiti society. A combined framework of sociolinguistic, ethnographic methods is adopted to examine chat room interactional choices that enable men and women to construct gendered chat room identities as well as create a virtual online community of practice without undermining offline gender norms.
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