Sociolinguistics: Gender, Politeness, and Stereotypes

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Gender, Politeness and Stereotypes

a.Woman’s Language and Confidence

Some dialectologist argued that women were using language which reinforced their sub-ordinate status. Social dialect research focused on differences between women’s and men’s speech. Robin Lakoff identified a number of linguistic features used more often by women. He suggested that women’s speech was characterized by linguistics features like: o Lexical hedges or fillers (e.g. you know, sort of, well, you see) o Tag questions (e.g. she’s very nice, isn’t she?)

o Rising intonation on declaratives (e.g. it’s really good) o Adjectives (e.g. divine, charming, cute)
o Precise color terms (e.g. magenta, aquamarine)
o Intensifiers such as just and so (e.g. I like him so much)

Lakoff didn’t claim her list was comprehensive. But many researchers treated it as definite.

In some studies, women were reported as using more tag questions than men. But tags may also express affective meaning, such as:

• As facilitative or positive politeness devices; tag questions provide an addressee with an easy entrée into a conversation. • As the facilitative way; with tag question, the host provides the guests with a topic of conversation. • As confrontational and coercive devices; tag question is used to force feedback from an uncooperative addressee. • To strengthen the negative force of the utterance in which it occurs.

The explanation of the differences between women’s and men’s speech behavior which refer only to the status or power dimension are likely unsatisfactory. The social distance dimension is at least as influential. According to Lakoff, both hedges and boosters reflect women’s lack of confidence. Most researchers, but not all, claimed women used more boosters or intensifiers than men.

Lakoff said that tag question may express uncertainty. But actually not all tags are signal of their uncertainty. Tags may also express affective meaning, may function as facilitative or positive politeness devices, providing an addressee, etc. The difference between women and men in ways of interacting may be the result of different socialization. Women like to gossip. In gossip session women provide a sympathetic response, focusing almost exclusively on the affective message rather than its inferential content. Meanwhile man discussion tend to focus on thins and activities, rather than personal experiences and feelings. Men provided conflicting accounts of the same event, argued about a range of topics. Their talks contrasted completely with the cooperative, agreeing, supportive, and topically coherent talk of the women. It explains why women and men sometimes miscommunicate.


- Interuption

Some observations show that in the same-sex interactions, interaction were distributed evenly between the speakers; in cross-sex interactions almost all interruptions were from males.

- Feedback
Research on conversational interaction reveals women as cooperative as cooperative conversationalists, whereas men tend to be more competitive and less supportive of others. Women provide significantly more encouraging and positive feedback to their addresses than men do.


Gossip describes the kind of relaxed in-group talk that goes on between people in informal contexts. Women’s gossip focuses on personal experiences and personal relationships, on personal problems and feelings. It may include criticism of the behavior of others, but women tend to avoid criticizing people directly because this would cause discomfort. In gossip sessions women provide a sympathetic response to any experience recounted, focusing almost exclusively on the affective message rather than its referential content. In parallel situations the topics men discuss tend to focus on things and activities rather than personal experiences and feelings. In parallel situations, the topics men...
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