Language and Gender
What evidence is there to show that men and women behave very differently in conversation? How do linguists account for these differences?
Language is a tool that is believed to be unique to the human species. It is believed that on earth we are the only species to have developed the capacity to utilise language as a tool. It is considered to be the most powerful tool that we as modern humans have in our arsenal as it allows us to pass on our knowledge from one generation to the next, in a variety of methods be it verbal or written. It is what allowed us to not only survive but to thrive. During the last ice age it gave us a distinct advantage over other species that became extinct. Neanderthal man while being evolved from the same source species did not have the same capacity for language that we did because of this they became extinct. We were able to survive because we had a strong sense of community and because of language we were able to adapt and develop the skills necessary for survival. In modern society this tool has evolved into thousands of languages, accents and dialects. Differences in the way men and women use speech has appeared and they occur regardless of our social background, or our level of education. There are several factors that influence how people use language. Gender has been identified as a major influence. The study of language led to a set of conventions being put forward by Paul Grice known as Grice’s Maxim’s. These facilitate effective conversation. These maxims are the maxim of quality, where you say just what is needed to respond. The maxim of relevance ensures that what is said is relevant within the content of the conversation. The maxim of manner requires that you are courteous, well mannered and polite. The maxim of quality requires responding truthfully and able to support what you are saying with clear evidence. Also developed was the structure of conversation which said that all conversations have; an opening, which is the initial greeting. Turn taking ensuring that you wait for the person to finish speaking before you talk. Features of this are the actual content and topic. Feedback, the response to what was said. A closing, the conclusion of a conversation. However it was found that there are differences in the way that men and women talk in different situations as they perceive their roles differently. This difference in our use of language has been investigated by many sociolinguists. These studies were prompted by the rise of feminism in the USA in the late 1960s and 1970s. This movement was the catalyst for many language studies. One of the prominent pioneers of these studies was Robin Lakoff (1975) who published a set of basic assumptions about women’s language. She proposed that women's speech can be distinguished from that of men in a number of ways as they tend to consider themselves as inferior to men, they tend to use hedges, using phrases such as ‘sort of,’ ‘kind of,’ ‘it seems like’. They use empty adjectives such as divine, adorable, gorgeous. They tend to speak in super-polite forms by starting their sentences with ‘Would you mind…’ ‘…if it’s not too much to ask’ ‘Is it ok if…?’, they apologize more ‘I'm sorry, but I think that…’. They speak less frequently and avoid coarse language or expletives. They convert their comment into a request by using Tag questions ‘You don't mind eating this, do you?’ Their sentences have more hyper-correct grammar and pronunciation with their use of prestige grammar and clear articulation. Their requests are more indirect ‘Wow, I'm so thirsty.’ when really asking for a drink. Women speak in italics use tone to emphasis certain words, e.g., ‘so’, ‘very’, ‘quite’. She also developed the 'Politeness Principle', which devised three maxims that are usually followed in interaction. These are: Don't impose, give the receiver options and make the receiver feel good. She stated that these are paramount in good...
Bibliography: Ask.com Encyclopaedia (2010)[Online] available from: http://www.ask.com/wiki/Robin_Lakoff [accessed 15/12/2010]
Class handout (2010) More, A (2002/3) Language and Gender [Online] available from: http://www.teachit.co.uk/armoore/lang/gender.htm
Class handout (2010) ‘Can’t We Talk?’ available from: http://raysweb.net/poems/articles/tannen.html
Class handout (2010) Theories on language and gender. October 2010
Class handout (2010) University of Leicester - Genderlects available from http://www.rishabh.com/letics.htm
Lakoff, R (1975) Language and women’s place. New York: Harper and Row
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