Is German Gayspeak Dead?

A Language of Male Homosexuals in Germany

Essay 2010 9 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics



1. Introduction

2. Research on Homosexuals´ Language

3. The Sound of Gayspeak

4. Identity in Discourse

5. How Gay are Words?

6. Conclusion

7. References


Last week, the German newspaper “Die Zeit” published the opinion of five homosexual

theologians who advocated for the right of gay parsons to choose the partner they want to live with[1]. Concerning the author´s language, the appeal did contain some expressions

belonging to the field of theology, and was formulated in a fairly neutral style. At first glance, this is not very remarkable: It would be extremely bizarre if gays were to show their identity when writing or speaking in public. But one can read the lack of sexual identity as a metaphor for the new lifestyle to which homosexual Germans are adapting: For decades, homosexual men demonstrated their sexuality flamboyantly when fighting for equality and tolerance. But during the last years, lots of them took over conservative values and a rather inconspicuous behavior. This thesis is easily proven by prominent homosexuals like Ole von Beust, Patrick Lindner, or even Hape Kerkeling. Provided that gay Germans adopt a “straight” lifestyle, will they speak a “straight” language, too?

2. Research on Homosexuals´ Language

One could suppose that there is a “Gayspeak[2] ” or “lavender language[3] ” like Black English or languages of other social groups. In fact, since the early 20th century there has been plenty of research on this topic. During the 1920´s to the 1940´s, homosexuals where still considered criminals[4]. In this era, “scientists” like Gershon Legman or Magnus Hirschfeld[5] thought of homosexuals´ language as a part “of a package deal” linked to the label “homosexuality”, together with other features like perverse desire or female behavior[6]. Due to the Homophile and Gay Liberation Movements, investigation on gay language started to be taken over by homosexual linguists[7]. To be taken seriously by heterosexuals, some of them already pleaded for a language without gay slang or innuendo[8]. Anyway, there has been a change in the analysis of this language during the last 20 years: The identity of homosexuals is no longer contemplated as the “source”, but as the “effect of specific semiotic practices”[9]. Thus, most investigators on Gayspeak share the idea that homosexuals use different aspects of language to create the identity of a social group or of an individual[10].

A slang that significantly mirrors homosexuality is Polari.[11]. Although it has been declared an extinct language, Polari contains some expressions like trade (sex) or fantabulosa (wonderful) that are still utilized by English speaking gays[12]. Compared to Polari, the language of gay Germans seems to be either dangerously reduced or silently fading away. Evidently, German lavender language does not contain many code words with a homosexual connotation. But it embeds phonological and pragmatic features which can be combined with at least some gay words or signs to create a homosexual identity.

3. The Sound of Gayspeak

In private, many people, regardless of his or her sexuality, have wondered if gay men´s sexuality can be observed at first glance. Some might even claim that homosexuality is recognizable by the way of speaking[13]. Being asked how gay men “sound”, many will probably answer “They talk high”, “They stress things”[14] or would assume that they talk like women[15]. Though these notions sound like clichés, Rudi Gaudio could prove some of them by an empirical-based study on the “sound” of homosexuals[16]. According to his survey, they contain “wide pitch range, breathiness, lengthening of fricative sounds like /s/ and /z/ and affrication of plosives /t/ and /d/”, and make “The Voice”[17] recognizable as a feature of gay identity[18].

The idea of recognizing homosexuals by physical characteristics evokes an almost sizeable feeling of reluctance: From the 1920´s to the 1940´s there were masses of research on homosexuals, each trying to proof that their sexual anomalies were “written immodestly on face and body”[19]. Fortunately, a development in linguistic investigation on this field has taken place. Research on gay language is not attempting to prove prejudices against homosexuals anymore, but works on an empirical basis. Yet one still could doubt that these sound characteristics signal a gay identity, because they can also be found in heterosexual men´s utterances. This is an undeniable fact, but it is questionable if a straight man uses these phonological traits consciously to construct a gay identity[20]. Following the idea that gay men use language to create a sexual identity, some of them use The Voice to “differentiate themselves from hegemonic, heterosexual masculinity”[21]. Thus, these sound features are used to create a gay identity and to show it during speech.


[1] Obersdorfer 2011

[2] Cameron/ Kulick 2003: 92

[3] Zwicky 1998: 32

[4] Cameron/ Kulick 2003:75

[5] Cameron/ Kulick 2003: 79

[6] Cameron/ Kulick 2003: 76

[7] Cameron/ Kulick 2003: 76, 83

[8] Cameron/ Kulick 2003: 84

[9] Cameron/ Kulick 2003: 76

[10] Minning 2004: 65; Cameron/ Kulick 2003: 78; Cameron /Kulick 2003: 102

[11] Hörmann 2010

[12] Mayers 2008: 3

[13] Cameron/ Kulick 2003: 90

[14] Mayers 2008: 6

[15] Cameron/ Kulick 2003: 74

[16] Zwicky 1998: 29

[17] Zwicky 1998: 26

[18] Cameron/ Kulick 2003: 90

[19] Foucault 1981: 43

[20] Cameron/ Kulick 2003: 96

[21] Cameron/ Kulick 2003: 96


ISBN (eBook)
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461 KB
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Institution / College
Free University of Berlin – Zentraleinrichtung Sprachenzentrum
german gayspeak dead language male homosexuals germany



Title: Is German Gayspeak Dead?