University of Debrecen
Gender Differences in the Use of Adjectives and Intensifiers
Supervisor: Koczogh Helga Vanda
The investigation of male and female speech differences is a major topic in sociolinguistics. The literature on this issue is vast; it has been one of the biggest within sociolinguistics in recent years. A number of linguists have investigated this field of study; among them Robin Lakoff (1975), Janet Holmes (2001), Deborah Tanen (1990), Jennifer Coates (1998), Susan U. Philips (1980) and others. 2. Theoretical background
Robin Lakoff (1975) is one of the first linguists to address gender directly the topic of language. Lakoff describes the features of language differentiating men’s and women's speech which she thinks makes women's speech less powerful than men's (Philips, 1980). These features are the following: 1. Women use vocabulary items that men do not use. Lakoff uses mauve as an example. 2. Female speakers use more "empty" adjectives, like divine, cute, and sweet. 3. Women use question forms in environments where men would use declaratives. 4. Women use more polite forms, like "please" and "thank you". 5. Women use more "hedges," or forms that convey uncertainty, like well, you know, I guess, I think, I wonder. 6. Female speakers tend to apply the intensive "so" more, as in "I'm so hungry," and later Lakoff added other intensifiers like very and really as more typical of women. 7. Women tend to use "hypercorrect" grammar, so they were less likely than men to say ain't and drop the ends of words as in doin' and goin' (Philips, 1980:532).
In another article Lakoff (1973) states that women use colour terms like mauve, beige, aquamarine, lavender and magenta. She maintains that adjectives such as adorable, charming, divine, lovely and sweet are commonly used by women but only very rarely by men. “Lakoff also pointed out that women have their own vocabulary for emphasizing certain effects on them, with such words and expressions like so good, such fun, exquisite, lovely, precious, divine, adorable, darling and fantastic” (Wardhaugh, 2002:318).
The studies mentioned above focus on the gender differences in the use of adjectives. Another field of research is the use of intensifiers in men’s and women’s speech.
„Intensifiers are adverbs (e.g. pretty, really, so, totally, incredibly, very, super, real, etc.) that boost or maximize meaning, they scale the quality of an adjective or adverb up.: I think it is pretty exciting. Oh, Janine, the really hot dancer girl. And this is so weird” (Roberts & Tagliamonte 2005: 280). As intensifiers change, rather quickly they provide a good place to observe linguistic change. They are subject to fashion. They reflect the speaker’s desire to be original or to enhance the novelty of his or her expressions (Roberts & Tagliamonte, 2005)
The notion of intensifiers was analyzed by many researchers; according to Olsson (2000), intensifiers act as a boosting device in language. However, Lakoff (1975) categorized intensifiers as part of hedging where it weakens the feelings of the speaker in language; these are: quite, rather, so, too, really, just, such (Amir et. al. 2012).
Number of researchers like Roberts & Tagliamonte (2005), Olsson (2000), Johnson and Roen (1992), Kuha (2005) Herbert (1990) have investigated intensifiers based on how differently they are used in male and female interactions. One of the studies in this field examined the differences in language use by 4 male and female Malaysian teenage bloggers who use blogs as a diary to express their daily issues about life. The findings show that there are differences between male and female bloggers in the frequencies of five language...
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