Notes on language and gender

Gender and Language (Cont.)
No, not that kind of sex. The term is increasingly restricted in sociolinguistics to refer
to a biologically or physiologically based distinction between males and females, as
opposed to the more social notion of gender.
Not grammatical gender (i.e., different classes of noun that may be called ‘masculine’,
‘feminine’). Not sex of speaker which (largely) reflects biological or physiological
differences between people. Used increasingly in sociolinguistics to indicate a social
identity that emerges or is constructed through social actions. (See also Constitutive;
Sexist language (JH, p. 336)
Language conveys attitudes. Sexist attitudes stereotype a person according to gender
rather than judging on individual merits. Sexist language encodes stereotyped
attitudes to women and men. In principle, then, the study of sexist language is
convened with the way language expresses both negative and positive stereotypes of
both women and men. In practice, research in this area has concentrated on the way in
which language conveys negative attitudes to women.
Example (animal and food imageries for men and women)
The chicken metaphor tells the whole story of a girl’s life. In her youth she is a chick,
and then she marries and begins feeling cooped up, so she goes to hen parties where
she cackles with her friends. Then she has her brood and begins to hen-peck her
husband. Finally she turns into an old biddy.
Comments and examples from Chinese contexts?
Differences in the gendered language:
Pronunciation: [in] vs. [i ]
Morphology: past tense forms
Syntactic constructions: multiple negatives
(From An Introduction to Sociolinguistics by Janet Holmes London and New York:
Longman. 1992)
pp. 313-14
Exercise 1
Consider the following sentences. Put F beside those you think were said by a woman,
M beside those you think were said by a man and F/M beside those you think could
have been said by either.
(a) Close the door.
(b) That’s an adorable dog.
(c) Oh dear, the TV set’s broken.
(d) I’ll be damned; there is a friend of mine.
(e) I was very tired.
(f) Won’t you please get me that pencil?
(g) They did the right thing didn’t they?
(h) You’re damn right.
(i) I was just exhausted.
(j) My goodness, there’s the Prime Minister.
(k) I was so mad.
(l) Damn it, I’ve lost my keys.
Features of ‘women’s language’ (JH, p. 314)
Lakoff suggested that women’s speech was characterized by linguistic features such
as the following:
Lexical hedges or fillers, e.g. you know, sort of, well, you see.
Tag questions, e.g. she is very nice, isn’t she?
Rising intonation on declarative, e.g. it’s really good.
‘Empty’ adjectives, e.g. divine, charming, cute.
Precise color terms, e.g. magenta, aquamarine.
Intensifiers such as just and so, e.g. I like him so much.
‘Hypercorrect’ grammar, e.g. consistent use of standard verb forms.
‘Super-polite’ forms, e.g. indirect requests, euphemisms.
Avoidance of strong swear words, e.g. fudge, my goodness.
(j) Emphatic stress, e.g. it was a BRILLIANT performance.
An Example of “women’s language’ (JH, p. 317)
One pair of researchers recorded the speech of witnesses in a law court and found that
male witnesses used more ‘women’s language’ feature than women witnesses with
more expertise in court or higher occupational status.
And you saw, you observed what?
Well, after I heard—I can’t really, I can’t definitely state whether the
brakes or the lights came first, but I rotated my head slightly to the
right, ad looked directly behind Mr. Z, and I saw reflections of lights,
and uh, very, very instantaneously after that I heard a very, very loud
explosion—from my standpoint of view it would have been an
implosion because everything was forced outward like this, like a
grenade thrown into the room. And, uh, it was, it was terrifically loud.
p. 322
Exercise 2
A study of the language used by prospective jurors in law courts in Tucson, Arizona,
identified interesting grammatical differences between women’s and men’s utterances.
It was found that men deleted ‘non-essential’ words more often than
women—especially in monologues.
Below, (a) is an utterance with an example of what was regarded as
‘non-essential’ elements deleted.
(a) I’m employed with the city of Tucson. Aah been there over nine months.
In this utterance I have has been deleted before been.
Compare (a) with utterances (b) and (c). Identify places where ‘non-essential’
elements may have been deleted.
(b) My name is Sophia K. Jacobs. I’m employed by Krable, Parsons and Dooley. I’ve
been employed there fro ten years as a bookkeeper an’ junior accountant. My
husband is employed by [Amphitheater] school district. He’s a teacher. And he’s
worked there for ten years. I have never been on a trial jury before. I don’t have
any formal legal training.
(c) Herb R. Reasley, senior. President of Beasley Refrigeration Incorporated. Do
commercial refrigeration. And my wife’s name is Lillian an’ she works in the
office. I’ve never been on a trial jury and no legal training.
Utterance (b) illustrates the kind of utterances that women jurors produced. Utterance
(c) illustrates the kind that male jurors typically produced. Overall in this study men
deleted ‘non-essential’ words more often than women.
Notes on language and gender
body language
sex/gender socialization!v=awYZgt-9kV8&feature=related
Different topics:
Women: personal, domestic, relationship, family, health, reproductive matters, men
and other women
Men: sports, current events, other women
Reasons for communication
W: maintain relationship with others; talk is the essence of relationship, empathy.
M: argument, to get things done.
Women’s speech:
Use social needs to start and maintain conversations: “I’ve felt just like that myself.”
Or, “The same thing happened to me.”
Men’s Speech: use language to get things done then make sure that relationship is
established. “There is noting to worry about.” Or, “Here is what we need to do.”
Use conversation to exert control or to preserve independence and to maintain their
Men are most likely to use…
Judgmental language: “Writing can be a drag.” Or, directives: “Think of some more.”
Or, “I” references: “I need to get this project done.”
Women tend to use intensify adverbs: “He is very rude.” Or, emotional references: “If
she was really concerned about him…” or, contradictions “The dress looks nice, but I
don’t like it.”
Differences like this show that women’s conversational styles is typically indirect,
elaborate, and focused on relationship, whereas men’s conversational styles is
typically direct, brief and task-oriented.
Women accommodate to the topics men raise. The complimentary differences
between men and women actually help communication.
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