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Wesleyan University | Center for the Humanities



Girly Words: Notes on Minds, Bodies and Language in the Enlightenment

Courtney Weiss Smith • Wesleyan University 

October 10th @ 6pm at Daniel Family Commons

 Is language like a woman’s body? This talk explores several eighteenth-century ways of making such a connection: the vernacular was the “mother tongue,” and rhymes ending with a “sweeter,” “weaker” unstressed syllable were “feminine.” For poet Jonathan Swift, words themselves were irreducibly material and degraded bodies, rather like the body of a diseased sex worker. These understandings of language fit awkwardly with our usual ways of depicting the Enlightenment subject or “modern” individual—our broad-stroke stories about attentive and signifying minds that try to break free of the limits of (gendered, racialized) bodies. By contrast, Enlightenment talk about girly words came from writers who knew themselves to be embodied subjects, whose knowledge required tongues, ears, eyes, hands, and the corporeal stuff of language’s shapes and sounds. 

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