The Main Gender Differences in Language


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The Main Gender Differences in Language

Part of being successful in Unit 4 AOS 2 is knowing the differences in language between the two genders. In fact, in my opinion, Unit 4 AOS 2 is the shortest AOS and most students comment that the content studied in this AOS has already been learnt before. This leaves the topic of ‘gender differences’ as one of the key themes and areas that may present some difficulty in understanding.

Today, I’ll be summarising the key differences in language between the two genders. Before I delve into the nitty-gritty of this topic, please understand the following features between male and female language.

It must be noted, however, that these are GENERAL observations with intriguing claims, and at times this may not prove to be accurate. This is an area of study that still requires more research, and so I highly recommend that you devote time to researching these differences online. 

“There are many different approaches to the sociolinguistic investigation of discourse, and it would take a braver person than I am to assert with confidence that we have much solid information on gender, age, or social class differences. What we have are a number of intriguing claims that need to be tested again and again… (2008: 226).

Linguist Robin Lakoff, asserts that “gender is for all the bottom line of our sense of identity: from a very early age, the question of who we are and what we can and should do depends on whether we have learned in early childhood that we are a girl or a boy.”

Female language generally exhibits the following features:

– Rapport talk – show support, build community: “I’m glad everyone had a chance to participate”.
– Supportive – listen and respond to spoken and unspoken conversational clues about other people’s feelings. For example, “I understand” lets the speaker know they are understood and not alone.
– Tentative – create an impression of less authority and less self-assuredness: “The report is due today, isn’t it?”.
– Conversational initiation – ask questions to get the conversation going: “Did you hear about…..?” “Are you going to……?”.

Male language generally exhibits the following features:

– Report talk – focus less on feelings and more on information, facts, knowledge and competence.
– Instrumental – report to get things done, solve problems, define status: “Finish that proposal by Monday”.
– Advice – when dealing with personal problems they try to offer a solution while empathizing to show solidarity does not seem helpful or appropriate,
– Assertive, certain, direct and authoritative – they use statements of fact rather than opinion: “That report is due on Monday” rather than “I think that report is due on Monday”.
– Dominance or control of the conversation for gaining power.

Lexical and Semantic Differences

  • The different sexes have different interests and activities, therefore variation in lexicon and semantics would be different. For example, women may have an interest in makeup and so their lexicon will reflect this interest (e.g. bronzer etc.).
  • Many have observed that women’s language is characterised by an excessive use of hyperbole (exaggeration) especially in the form of intensifiers (e.g. Oh my god!).
  • Women have been traditionally described as the strongholds of etiquette and euphemism (e.g. ‘sugar’ as opposed to ‘shit’).
  • According to Timothy Jay, American English speaking males swear about three times more frequently than females and they use stronger obscenities.

Conversational Management

  • Women are more likely to hold their own in a more relaxed informal environment.
  • Women generally use more question forms in conversation and use more linguistic hedges such as ‘I think’ and ‘sort of’, more listening noises such as ‘hmm’, and more paralinguistic responses such as smiling and nodding.
  • Some studies indicate that women are more linguistically supportive of interaction -they work harder to maintain and hold the floor, while men generally introduce new topics.
    • Goodwin, Marjorie (1990) observes that girls and women link their utterances to previous speakers and develop each other’s topics, rather than introducing new topics (men). This can be observed in a study conducted by Koczogh Helga Vanda: “Topic shift is the second most common function used by both sexes, while men (36.84%) use ‘I mean’ with this function more frequently than women (25.92%).”
  • Linguist Pamela Fishman has stated that women do all of the “conversational shitwork”.

Phonological and Grammatical Variation

  • The social class: Holmes suggests that “women are more-status conscious than men” (Holmes, J, 1992, p.164) and that is because women have an inner belief that the way they speak reflects their social class in society and, thus, tend to speak more properly than men. So, women “use more standard speech forms as a way of claiming such status”(Holmes, 1992, p.165).
  • Women are supposed to use more HRT (high rise terminal) or uptalk. Reasons for this usage include a woman’s desire to maintain hold the floor (remember that woman work harder to maintain hold of the floor), and their desire to invite their interlocutor to participate in the conversation.
    • high-pitch voice because of physiological reason, but scientists point out that this also associates with women‟s “timidity”, “emotional instability” and “gentility”
  • Lakoff (1975) says that women usually answer a question with rising intonation pattern rather than falling intonation. In this way, they can show their gentleness, and sometimes this intonation shows a lack of confidence.
  • As a contrary, men like to use falling intonation to show that they are quite sure of what they are saying. Falling intonation also shows men‟s confidence and sometimes power.
  • Women are more likely to make use of discourse particles such as like, you know, sorta, kinda etc.

In fact, according to Deborah Cameron from The Guardian, women generally exhibit the following characteristics:

  1. Language and communication matter more to women than to men; women talk more than men.
  2. Women are more verbally skilled than men.
  3. Men’s goals in using language tend to be about getting things done, whereas women’s tend to be about making connections to other people. Men talk more about things and facts, whereas women talk more about people, relationships and feelings.
  4. Men’s way of using language is competitive, reflecting their general interest in acquiring and maintaining status; women’s use of language is cooperative, reflecting their preference for equality and harmony.
  5. These differences routinely lead to “miscommunication” between the sexes, with each sex misinterpreting the other’s intentions. This causes problems in contexts where men and women regularly interact, and especially in heterosexual relationships.

You can find the resource here: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/oct/01/gender.books

Well, there you have it! These are the main linguistic differences between the genders! I sincerely hope this helps you out!


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The Main Gender Differences in Language

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