Male and Female English: Adjective Use in Descriptions

Topics: Adjective, Pronoun, Gender Pages: 17 (5601 words) Published: July 13, 2013

Male and female English:
adjective use in descriptions

Marie De PeuterProf. A. Housen
Canigia MestdaghEnglish Linguistics III

Table of contents

0. Introduction

1. Theoretical background
1.1 Previous studies
1.2 Explaining language differences between the sexes
1.3 Gender differences in vocabulary use
1.4 Types of adjectives

2. Research
2.1 Data
2.2 Method
2.3 Results

3. Conclusion

4. References

5. Appendix

0. Introduction
A few years ago, my father went to a wedding. When he came home my mother asked him what the bride, and more specifically her dress, looked like. “It was white.” he said. When telling this story my mother always gets annoyed at dad’s inability to provide a detailed description of the dress whereas my father feels he got the most important detail right. After all “It was white, wasn’t it?”. Even though they disagree on many subjects when talking about the language of the opposite sex, men and women tend to agree that they do not always understand each other. The frequent occurrence of clichés such as ‘women say no when they mean yes’ seems to support this, e.g. the cartoon in the following picture.

Consequently, a lot of studies have been conducted regarding the differences in language use between men and women. From Jespersen’s (1928) unfunded observations through Lakoff’s (1973) deficit approach, Spencer’s (1980) dominance approach to Tannen’s (1996) difference approach. This paper will try to investigate how men and women use adjectives in descriptions. Intuitively, one could say that women will describe colours more precisely and pay more attention to details whilst men use more basic colours, such as: yellow, blue, red etc. This paper hypothesises that men will be less precise whilst women will be as precise as possible by using a lot of different colour terms. Men are also expected to use more basic colour terms. Firstly, a theoretical background on earlier research regarding the differences between male and female language use will be provided. Secondly, possible explanations for the differences between the sexes will be given. The gender differences in vocabulary use will be discussed next. Subsequently, the research conducted for the purpose of this paper will be discussed. How the corpus data was collected and analysed, will be elaborated upon in this chapter. Consequently, the results will be given and discussed. Finally, a general conclusion will be provided.


1. Theoretical background
1.1 Previous studies
Research concerning male/female language differences dates from the 1920s, even though it was originally limited to unfunded observations that reflected the researcher’s opinion on women rather than accurate scientific findings. Otto Jespersen (1928) for example likens the difference in sentence structure between men and women to the difference between a Chinese box and a string of pearls. A man’s language is like a Chinese box (a box, within a box within a box, etc.); he uses subjunctions to depict the logical relation between sentences whereas women tend to simply use coordinating conjunctions, like a string of pearls. Jespersen explains that female sentence structure is simpler because the limitation of the female mind prevents them from forming more elaborate sentence structures. The second wave of feminism in the 1960s renewed interest in male/female language differences. One of the most prominent linguists in this area is Robin Lakoff, who pioneered the deficit approach, referring to the so-called ‘inadequacy’ of one sex versus the other. This hypothesis claims that women...

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Spenser, D. (1980). Man made language. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Tannen, D. (1992). You just don’t understand. Amsterdam: Prometheus.
Tannen, D. (1996). Gender and Discourse. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Tannen, D. (2006). "Language and culture". In: Ralph W. Fasold and Jeff Connor-Linton. An Introduction to Language and Linguistics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
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Lakoff, R. (1973). “Language and woman’s place”. In Language in Society. Vol. 2, No. 1 (Apr., 1973), pp. 45-80. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Retrieved from (2 May 2013).
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