‘You need to know a little yes/no’: Crossing gender and linguistic boundaries in Pakistani cinema

Tuesday, January 29, 2019 - 5:00pm
A-2, Academic Block

In this paper, Dr. Kirk examines two films in detail, 1957’s Yakkey Wali and 1979’s Aurat Raj, to ask how vocal drag and translanguaging perform identity crossings in ways that complement or complicate other narrative dimensions of these films. Moreover, she seeks to develop a diachronic understanding of these practices through the concepts of citationality and enregisterment to think through how their development both resonated with their contemporary audiences but also may have impacted later films and later audiences. She argues that focusing on gender citational (Butler) or genderizing (Eckert and McConnell-Ginet) linguistic elements such as pitch/prosody, lexicon, morphosyntax, or multimodalities, allows us a more nuanced understanding of gender reversal performances in film. In the Pakistani context specifically, this has ramifications for understanding the ways other identity formations emerge in performance, such as social class, caste, ethnolinguistic identity, and alignment with national or moral hegemonies. It also offers insight into how indices of such identity formations develop and are enregistered over time. Thus in later cinematic performances, women’s use of stereotypically masculine prosodic and lexical elements opens up possibilities for them to enact violence and vengeance with and against men. Even though these characters are not pretending to be male or have not experienced a fantastical transformation, they rely on the citationality of their performances to invoke and make claims on particular kinds of gendered power. Her paper seeks to explore the gender-transgressive roots of such performances by asking the following questions: what role do vocal and linguistic elements play either in alignment or non-alignment with gender-crossing performances in film? What are the semiotic relationships between visual and vocal elements in film? And how do the meanings of these performances develop over time?


Dr. Kirk is a linguistic anthropologist whose research centers on Punjabi cinema, language ideologies, and popular culture in Pakistan. Her current book project addresses questions of language variety, aesthetics, film production, and performance as well as exploring the theoretical flows and exchanges between linguistic anthropology, sociolinguistics and cultural/cinematic/literary studies. She is also involved in initiatives to document and understand language shift and linguistic variation in West Punjab. Some of her other research projects have focused on semantics in performative genres of South Asian literature, on linkages between global politics and South Asian librarianship, and on cinema and television of Pakistan.