Gender Performativity and Identity Construction

Discourse analysis of beggars’ linguistic choices while begging


  • Kaleem Raza Khan Registrar, Salim Habib University, Karachi
  • Shumaila Shafket Ali Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Karachi


gender; gender performativity; gender identity; beggars; speech acts


Linguistic choices often reveal gender identity which reinforces the notion of gender performativity introduced by Butler (1990; 1999). This qualitative study using discourse analysis as its framework, was undertaken with the aim to explore how the linguistic choices made by beggars who have the same intention --- the intention of extracting money or food --- synchronize with the notion of gender performativity. The data for the study are based on the discourse of beggars in some of the major cities and hill stations in Pakistan. Since the study focused on gender differences in the employment of language used for begging, the data were collected by employing both convenience and stratified sampling techniques based on the discourse of 50 beggars: 25 male and 25 female beggars of different age groups. The speech acts of beggars were analyzed with reference to five major categories: number of utterances produced within a single speech act, the syntactic features of beggars’ discourse, the nature of the request for help, the kind of prayers offered in exchange of help and the nature of their verbal responses in case of the denial of help from their potential benefactors. The results of the study show significant gender differences in the use of beggars’ discourse. The study is a significant contribution in the field of research on gender differences in discourse style in general and differences in the discourse of beggars, in particular. The study’s significance also lies in its attempt to explore the manipulative function of discourse, and seen from this perspective, beggars’ discourse is not much different from political discourse and the discourse of advertising, as in both the cases the aim is to appeal to the psychology of the target audience.