Ása Bryndís Gunnarsdóttir, Jóhannes Gísli Jónsson og Þórhallur Eyþórsson: Language and gender uncertainty: The mystery of Marion Briem
The Great Match (2012) is a crime novel by Arnaldur Indriðason where the gender of the main character, Marion Briem, is never revealed. In this way, the author creates an interesting but ultimately insoluble riddle for the reader to work on while the police gradually solve the actual murder mystery. To hide the gender of Marion Briem, the author avoids gender-specific pronouns like hann ‘he’ and hún ‘she’ referring to Marion. The author does this (a) by referring to Marion Briem by various kinds of noun phrases describing the character, (b) by talking about the character’s body or body parts rather than the character him/herself, and (c) by repeating the name Marion. These strategies are known from other literary traditions, and it has also been shown that the reader’s empathy with a person is reduced if he/she is never referred to with a gender-specific pronoun (Livia 2001). In the present article, we argue for two additional points relating to the gender avoidance in The Great Match. First, although the repetition of a given name is a traditional method to hide the gender of fictional characters, in the case of Marion Briem it obeys a constraint called the Repeated Name Penalty (Gordon, Grosz & Gilliom 1993), which prohibits the repetition of a subject as the subject of the following clause. We show that this constraint is always observed in The Great Match, even in passages where the name Marion occurs with only short intervals. Secondly, we illustrate that the author sometimes avoids referring to Marion by focusing on the character’s surroundings and circumstances. This, in effect, is yet another way in which Marion’s gender is concealed, as can be seen e.g. in the chapter where the character is first introduced. We hope to have shown in this article that a close linguistic analysis of a clearlydefined problem in a particular literary work can reveal various characteristics of the text which would otherwise have gone unnoticed and illuminate the literary techniques of Arnaldur Indriðason. However, a more extensive combination of a linguistic and a literary analysis of The Great Match is a task for future research.
Keywords: language, gender, gender uncertainty, Repeated Name Penalty, crime fiction