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Theories of Language and Gender


Theories of Language and Gender How do men and women speak differently? AIMS To revise some of the theories about men and women s use of language – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Theories of Language and Gender

Theories of Language and Gender
  • How do men and women speak differently?
  • AIMS
  • To revise some of the theories about men and
    womens use of language

Broadly speaking
  • Language and gender theories, over time, have
    moved through several stages
  • The deficit model
  • The dominance theory
  • The difference theory

The Deficit Model
  • This is the idea that there may be something
    intrinsically wrong with the language of a
    disadvantaged group.
  • Theories which fall into the deficit model
    analyse language by seeing mens language as the
    norm and womens language as deviating from that
    norm in various ways.
  • Otto Jesperson wrote in these terms

Otto Jesperson (1922)
  • One of the first linguists to write about male
    and female language. He had a chapter in his
    book entitled The Woman
  • He believed that
  • women had limited vocabularies
  • women are delicate and easily offended, so prefer
    to avoid coarse and gross expressions and use
    more veiled and indirect expressions.
  • Men invent new terms, while women are naturally
  • there is a danger of the language becoming
    languid and insipid if wecontent ourselves with
    womens expression while male language adds
    vigour and vividness to the English language!

The Dominance Theory
  • Men dominate and control both interactions with
    women and the language system itself.
  • Women use language in a way which reflects their
    subordinate position in society, and men in a way
    which reflects their power.
  • Differences in men and women's speech is due to
    men's dominance and women's subordination.
  • Therefore the language we use is more about power
    and status than gender

Dominance Approach
  • 1. Lakoff (1975) claimed that the differential
    use of language needed to be explained in large
    part on the basis of women's subordinate social
    status and the resulting social insecurity.
  • 2. Dale Spender (1980) "It is the men, not
    women, who control knowledge, and I believe that
    this is an understanding we should never lose
    sight of(from "Man Made Language")
  • 3. Zimmerman and West (1983) 99 of interruptions
    are made my males. They concluded that men's
    dominance in conversation via interruption
    mirrors their dominance in contemporary western
    culture. Interruption is "a device for exercising
    power and control in conversation" (West
    Zimmerman, 1983, p. 103). Men typically enjoy
    greater status and power than women in most
    societies, and they are more likely than women to
    assume they are entitled to take over the

Robin Lakoff (1975)
  • Lakoff published a series of basic assumptions
    about what she believed to be typical of womens
  • Hedge using phrases like sort of, kind of,
    it seems like, etc
  • Use (super)polite forms Would you mind...,I'd
    appreciate it if..., ...if you don't mind.
  • Use tag questions You're going to dinner,
    aren't you?
  • Speak in italics intonational emphasis equal to
    underlining words - so, very, quite.
  • Use empty adjectives divine, lovely, adorable,

Robin Lakoff (1975)
  • Use hypercorrect grammar and pronunciation
    English prestige grammar and clear enunciation.
  • Use direct quotation men paraphrase more often.
  • Have a special lexicon women use more words for
    things like colours, men for sports.
  • Use question intonation in declarative
    statements women make declarative statements
    into questions by raising the pitch of their
    voice at the end of a statement, expressing
    uncertainty. For example, What school do you
    attend? Eton College?
  • Avoid coarse language or expletives

Lakoff contd
  • Lakoffs theories still have much support,
    although some are more difficult to assess, such
    as women lack a sense of humour because they do
    not tell jokes well and often don't understand
    the punch line of jokes.
  • Another central idea of Lakoffs was that women
    were socialised into sounding like ladies,
    which then kept them in their place because being
    ladylike is a bar to being powerful in our
    culture. If women talked like ladies they were
    seen as powerless and trivial, but if they talked
    like men, they were considered unfeminine.

Zimmerman and West (1975)
  • Men interrupt more often than women
  • Men seek to dominate talk
  • In 1975, Don Zimmerman and Candace West analysed
    conversations in a college community, focusing on
  • An important point about this very famous
    research is that it is a fairly old study of a
    small sample of conversations. All subjects were
    white, middle class and under 35 years of age.

Peter Trudgill (1970s)
  • Women use high prestige pronunciation as they aim
    for overt prestige (social class)
  • Men use low prestige pronunciation seeking covert
    prestige by appearing tough or down to earth
  • There is a tendency for men to use more
    vernacular forms (common language / dialect of a
    specific area)
  • An example would be verbs ending in -ing, where
    Trudgill wanted to see whether the speaker
    dropped the final g and pronounced this as -in'.

Dale Spender (1980)
  • Language itself sustains male power
  • Men seek to dominate women through talk
  • Men tend to speak in non-standard forms with
    covert prestige as a means of social bonding
    (carries on from Trudgills research)
  • Dale Spender agrees with and develops Zimmerman
    and Wests dominance theory.
  • Her radical view is that it is difficult to
    challenge male-dominated society because our very
    language reinforces male power.

Dominance approach
  • LAWYER And you saw, you observed what?
  • WITNESS Well, after I heard- I cant really, I
    cant definitely state whether the brakes or the
    lights came first, but I rotated my head slightly
    to the right, and looked directly behind Mr. Z,
    and I saw reflections of lights, and uh, very,
    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 outwards, like this, like a
    grenade thrown into a room. And, uh, it was, it
    was terrifically loud.
  • TASK Which is male, which is female why?

  • From Mullaray (2003). Steve manager running
    a meeting. He is trying to get his subordinates
    to run their own induction day.)
  • Steve Do you feel that (-) we need to do
    perhaps something like (-) the sales department
  • Mike Set a date to sort it out
  • Steve Cos as Sues quite rightly pointed out,
    all its all been done for us and the things etc.
    why dont we just take advantage of that? (.)
    Sues offered her support with perhaps John? (-)
    Err you know perhaps to run that (-) why dont we
    just set a date now?
  • Matt Yeah
  • Steve And say right okay lets do it
  • Sue Just get everybody in
  • Matt Yeah
  • TASK
  • What aspects of Steves language are
    stereotypically female?
  • Why is he using these features?

Difference Approach
  • Difference sees men and women belonging to
    different sub-cultures, who because they are
    socialised differently from childhood, have
    different ways of communicating with each other.
  • e.g. women are more supportive in conversation,
    because theyre brought up to be facilitators
    (Fishman, 1983)

Language and Gender Language in use
  • Difference approach

Gimme the ball! Now!!
Lets go downstairs and get some pizza..?
Deborah Tannen (1992) Difference Approach six
  • Status vs. support
  • Independence vs. intimacy
  • Advice vs. understanding
  • Information vs. feelings
  • Orders vs. proposals
  • Conflict vs. compromise
  • In each case, the male characteristic (that is,
    the one that is judged to be more typically male)
    comes first.

Status versus support
  • Men grow up in a world in which conversation is
    competitive - they seek to achieve the upper hand
    or to prevent others from dominating them.
  • For women, talking is often a way to gain
    confirmation and support for their ideas.
  • Men see the world as a place where people try to
    gain status and keep it.
  • Women see the world as a network of connections
    seeking support and consensus.

Independence versus intimacy
  • Women often think in terms of closeness and
    support, and struggle to preserve intimacy.
  • Men, concerned with status, tend to focus more on
    independence. These traits can lead women and men
    to starkly different views of the same situation.
  • Professor Tannen gives the example of a woman who
    would check with her husband before inviting a
    guest to stay - because she likes telling friends
    that she has to check with him.
  • The man, meanwhile, invites a friend without
    asking his wife first, because to tell the friend
    he must check amounts to a loss of status.
  • (Often, of course, the relationship is such that
    an annoyed wife will rebuke him later).

Advice versus understanding
  • Deborah Tannen claims that, to many men a
    complaint is a challenge to find a solution
  • When my mother tells my father she doesn't feel
    well, he invariably offers to take her to the
    doctor. Invariably, she is disappointed with his
    reaction. Like many men, he is focused on what he
    can do, whereas she wants sympathy.

Information versus feelings
  • A young man makes a brief phone call. His mother
    overhears it as a series of grunts. Later she
    asks him about it - it emerges that he has
    arranged to go to a specific place, where he will
    play football with various people and he has to
    take the ball.
  • Men focus on conveying information as quickly as
  • A young woman makes a phone call - it lasts half
    an hour or more. The mother asks about it - it
    emerges that she has been talking you know
    about stuff. The conversation has been mostly
    grooming-talk and comment on feelings.
  • Women focus on sharing emotions and elaborating
    on details
  • Historically, men's concerns were seen as more
    important than those of women, but today this
    situation may be reversed so that the giving of
    information and brevity of speech are considered
    of less value than sharing of emotions and

Orders versus proposals
  • Women often suggest that people do things in
    indirect ways - let's, why don't we? or
    wouldn't it be good, if we...?
  • Men may use, and prefer to hear, a direct
    imperative Well go to the Red Lion first then
    get last orders in the Railway

Conflict versus compromise
  • In trying to prevent fights, writes Professor
    Tannen some women refuse to oppose the will of
    others openly. But sometimes it's far more
    effective for a woman to assert herself, even at
    the risk of conflict.
  • This situation is easily observed in
    work-situations where a management decision seems
    unattractive - men will often resist it vocally,
    while women may appear to agree, but go off and
    complain subsequently.
  • Of course, this is a broad generalization - and
    for every one of Deborah Tannen's oppositions, we
    will know of men and women who are exceptions to
    the norm.

(No Transcript)
Jennifer Coates (1998)
  • Sees womens simultaneous talk as supportive and
  • Women use tag questions to interact sensitively
    in conversations
  • Coates sees many features of womens talk, such
    as tag questions, as a means of communicating
    sensitively and appropriately, respecting the
    face needs of the listener.

Language and Gender Language in use
  • Critiquing the difference and dominance
  • Are all men and women ultimately the same?
    Theyre presented by the research as homogenous
    categories is this really true?
  • Do men always have power in society? Dont some
    women have power too?
  • Do boys and girls always socialise in single-sex
    groups only? What happens when they interact?
  • The research seems to find evidence for popular
    stereotypes of men and women is there anything
    wrong with this? What other stereotypes might be
    proved or disproved?