English - Variation

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  • Created on: 02-04-15 14:40

Gender - Deficit Model (PRE 1965)

The Deficit Model - defines adult male language as the standard and women's language as deficient. Women's language was considered to have something inherently 'wrong' with it.

George Keith and John Shuttleworth (Living Language) record that...

  • Women talk more than men, talk too much, are indecisive/hesitant, complain and nag, ask more questions, support each other and are more co-operatiive, whereas...
  • Men swear more, don't talk about emotions, talk about sport more, talk about women and machines in the same way, are competetive in conversation, speak with more authority and interrupt more.
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Gender - Deficit Model (PRE 1965) (2)

Otto Jespersen (1922) published a set of ideas about women's language:

  • Women talk a lot and use half-finished sentences because they speak before they have thought what they will say
  • Women link sentences with 'and' because they are emotional rather than grammatical.
  • Women have a smaller vocabulary than men - the words they use are the 'indispensible small change of a language', ie. you cannot get rid of them.
  • Women know their smaller vocabulary so well that they are more fluent in speaking it and are less hesitant than men who search for precise words in their larger vocabularies.
  • Novels written by ladies are much easier to read and use fewer difficult words.
  • Men are responsible for introducing new words into the language.
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Gender - Dominance Model (1965-1980's)

The Dominance Model - an approach which suggests that the female gender is seen as the subordinate group whose difference in style of speech results from the influence of patriarchy.

Robin Lakoff - at the forefront of gender and language research. She believed that women's language reflected their subordinate role to men in society. Her work was done at the birth of the radical feminist (women's liberation) movement - 1970/75. She believed that as women were trying to position themselves in society as well-behaved, emotional, naive and approval-seeking that they were keeping themselves in a subordinate position, reflected through language. To change this, women need to identify these features. In Language and a Woman's Place (1975) Lakoff put forwards specific features which characterised the ways in which women spoke. These are...


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Gender - Dominance Model (1965-1980's) (2)

AFFECTIVE ADJECTIVES - Convey emotion, eg. a CHARMING house

EMPHATIC STRESS - Exaggerated pitch or volume, eg. I've REALLY had enough of it.

HEDGES - Makes utterances more tentative, eg. YOU KNOW, SORT OF

HYPERCORRECT GRAMMAR - Stick to Standard English forms more closely than men.

PRECISE COLOUR TERMS - (Hyponyms reflecting colour),eg.SCARLET and BURGANDY = RED

RISING INTONATION - Like a question

SUPERPOLITE TERMS - Euphemism and lack of taboo language, eg. WOULD YOU MIND VERY MUCH IF...


THE INTENSIFIER 'SO' - Adds strength to meaning, eg. She's SO lucky!

VOCABULARY OF WOMEN'S WORK - eg. DART (a dressmaking term)

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Gender - Dominance Model (1965-1980's) (3)


Janet Holmes - referential/affective tag questions - a New Zealand linguist who looked in more detail at the tag questions used by men and women (early 1980's). She divided tag questions into three specific types;

1. Referential tag questions - signal uncertainty or lack of information, eg. The film is on channel 4, isn't it?

2. Affective (facilitative) tag questions - expressing solidarity or intimacy, eg. We've never liked musicals, have we?

3. Affective (softening) tag questions - weakening the tone of a criticism or command, eg. Give me that hairbrush, would you?

Findings supported Lakoff's assertion that women used more tag questions than men, but provided insight into the way they were used. Eg, men used more referential tq's to convey knowledge rather than gain reassurance about it like women, 3 times more women used facilitative tq's to express solidarity whereas men were more competitive. Men used more softening tags, suggesting that they percieve themselves to have authority to make commands.

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Gender - Dominance Model (1965-1980's) (4)


O'Barr and Atkins - Powerless Language Features

They investigated Lakoff's hypothesis that women used 'weaker' language features than men in the context of a courtroom. They took Lakoff's 10 features and looked at the language used by male and female witnesses to see if Lakoff's hypothesis could be proved. Each witness was given a score arrived at by dividing the total number of women's language (WL) features used by the number of utterances. O'Barr and Atkins found that Lakoff's description of women's language features is inaccurate. They show that the frequency of WL features in the speech of the witnesses in their study correlates not with sex but two other factors - the speakers social status and the speakers previous courtroom experience. O'Barr and Atkins rename the linguistic features normally associated with women's speech as 'powerless language features'. They argue that powerless language has been confused with women's language because, in societies like ours, women are usually less powerful than men. Many women therefore typically use powerless language, according to O'Barr and Atkins but that is a result of their position in society rather than their gender.

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Gender - Dominance Model (1965-1980's) (5)

Zimmerman and West (1975): identified the theory that in mixed sex conversations men are more likely to interrupt than women. They used a small sample of white, middle class under 35 year olds (not representative!) and produced 31 segments of conversation. They report that in 11 conversations between men and women, men used 46 interruptions and women used 2. They conclude that as men interrupt more often, they are dominating or attempting to do so.

Esther Grief adds that, 1. both parents interrupt daughters more than sons and 2. fathers interrupt more than mothers.

Geoffrey Beattie criticised Zimmerman and West claiming that from his 10 hours of tutorial discussion that women and men interrupt with equal frequency. He said that in Zimmerman and West's research there may have been one very 'voluble' man in the study which had an effect on the total. He also questions if interruptions always signify dominance instead of interest and involvement.

Dale Spender advocates a radical view of language as embodying structures which sustain male power. She refers to the work of Zimmerman and West,to the view of male as norm and to her own idea of patriarchal order. She claims that it is especially difficult to challenge this power system since the way we think of the world is part of, and reinforces this male power.

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Gender - Dominance Model (1965-1980's) (6)

Pamela Fishman and the 'division of labour' in conversation: Pamela Fishman looked specifically at the way in which men and women interacted, in research stretching across the 1970's into the 1990's. Her conclusion was that the way in which men and women contributed to conversation varied, and that women tended to 'work hardest' to enable a conversation to take place. She analysed several hours of conversation of 3 white, American, middle-class heterosexual couples and characterised the variation between men and women across four main features of interaction: 1. Questions - women asked three times the number of questions asked by men, 2. Minimal responses - women used supportive minimal noises to show interest whereas men delayed giving or didn't give minimal responses, 3. Attention-getters - women used phrases like 'D'ya know what?' to gain husbands attention. Men made little or no use of attention-getters, 4. Topic initiation - topics initiated by women were not always taken up in the conversation. Topics initiated by men were always successful and supported by the women. She drew the conclusions that women because drawn into low-status work in the conversation, sustaining and encouraging the men's utterances and topics. Women's topics were not always taken up and were not always encouraged by men. Fishman saw her findings in these husband-wife interactions as reflective of patterns of difference in wider society.

Criticisms: Narrow demographic (not very representative), questions may have other functions, only a few hours of conversation!

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Gender - Dominance Model (1965-1980's) (7)

Jennifer Coates - in her book Women, Men and Language summarises some of the distinctive characteristics of women's language as identified by researchers. She labelled women's speech as 'co-operative' and men's as 'competitive'. These features are:

1. Minimal responses - women used these to show support, men do not use these if they don't agree. 2. The meaning of questions - women use questions so that the conversation continues and use questions rhetorically. Men interpret questions as requests for information so respond by giving lengthy information. 3. Links between speaker turns - women make links, then do not focus on what they themselves are showing. 4. Topic shifts - men shift, women build on each others contributions 5. Self- disclosure - women use this to discuss problems, share experience and offer reassurance and support. Men do not use this but respond to womens as if it is a request for advice. 6. Verbal aggressiveness - men use threats, insults etc whereas women do not - they are too personal. 7. Listening - women value listening and encourage others to speak, men aim to be the speaker - are competitive. 8. Simultaneous speech - males try and grab the floor and interrupt, women do not use as many. It is said that men learn to do this in same-sex peer groups during childhood and adolescence.

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Gender - Dominance Model (1965-1980's) (8)

Goodwin - looked at directives (commands). Goodwin observed the group play of girls and boys in a Philadelphia street and noticed that boys used different sorts of directives from the girls. The boys used explicit commands, ie. 'Get off my steps!' The boys preferred directives explicitly to establish status differences between participants. Goodwin called these 'aggrivated directives'. The grils contrastingly typically used more miligated directives such as, 'Let's go around Sub's and Sud's'. The form 'let's' is hardly ever used by the boys and explicitly includes the speaker in the proposed action. The girls also used 'gonna' for future action, also the modal auxiliaries 'can' and 'could'. While Goodwin demonstrates that the girls and boys use different linguistic means to express directives, she says this does not mean that the girls are incapable of using more forceful directives in other contexts, ie. in cross-sex arguments. She says the linguistic forms used reflect the social organisation of the group, eg. the boys group is hierarchically organised with leaders using very strong directive forms to demonstrate control while the girls group is non-hierarchal with all girls participating in decision making on an equal basis. 

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Gender - Dominance Model (1965-1980's) (9)

Engle (1980's) studied the langauge of the parents when they play with their children and revealed that fathers tend to give directions whereas mothers were more likely to consult the childs wishes, ie. 'What else shall we put in the truck?' Not only were the fathers more directive than the mothers, they were also more directive with their sons than with their daughters. These linguistic differences again reflect a difference in organisation - mothers view interaction as an occassion to help their children choose whereas fathers were less concerned with their childrens desires and introduced new ideas.

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Gender - Dominance Model (1965-1980's) (10)

West (1990) looked at the directives used by male and female doctors to their patients. Male doctors tended to use imperatives, ie. 'lie down' and statements in which they told patients what they 'needed' to do or what they 'had' to do. Contrastingly, female doctors preferred more mitigated forms, phrasing their directives as proposals for joint action, ie. 'Let's make that our plan!' When female doctors used the pronoun 'you', the directive was typically softened by the addition of modal forms such as 'can' or 'could', eg. 'and then maybe you can...'. West's discovery that male and female doctors used directives differently was followed by the discovery that patients reacted differently to these different directves. In terms of getting someone to do something, the female doctors directives were far more successful than male doctors directives. Male doctors bare imperatives encouraged complaint responses in 47% of cases while their statements of patients needs encouraged a 38% complaint rate. West says, the more aggravated the directive, the less likely it was to elicit (evoke) a complaint response. West said female doctors proposal for joint action 'let's' had complaints in 67% of cases, whilst suggestions for action had a 75% success rate. Overall, the women doctors used far fewer aggravated directives than the male doctors and their overall rate of complaint responses was 67% compared with the male doctors 50%.

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Gender - Difference Model (1980's)

The Difference Model - an approach of equality, differentiating men and women as belonging to different sub-cultures as they have been socialised to do so since childhood. This then results in the varying communicative styles of men and women.

Deborah Tannen - represents male and female language use in a series of 6 contrasts - 

  • Status v support - men seek to achieve the upper hand (learnt from childhood) whereas women talk to gain confirmation and support for their ideas.
  • Independence v intimacy - women show intimacy, closeness and support whereas men are more focused on status and focus more on independence.
  • Advice v understanding - women want sympathy and understanding whereas men want to give advice. For men, a complaint is a challenge to find a solution.
  • Information v feelings - women share emotions through coversation whereas men share information.
  • Order v proposals - men use direct imperatives, women do things in direct ways, 'why don't we?'
  • Conflict v compromise - women compromise and complain later, men complain directly.
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Gender - Difference Model (1980's) (2)

Tannen (continued)... Claims that women use rapport talk whereas men use report talk. Women talk too much, speak in private contexts, build relations and overlap whereas men get more air time, speak in public, negotiate status/avoid failure and speak one at a time. She also marks the difference between interruptions and overlapping and high involvement (showing enthusiastic support) and high considerateness (to be considerate) speakers.

Deborah Jones (1990) studies women's oral culture (which she calls 'gossip') and categorises it in these ways;

  • House talk - the exchange of information and resources connected with the female role as an occupation
  • Scandal - a judging of the behaviour of others (women in particular). It is usually made in terms of the demoestic moralty of which women have been appointed guardians.
  • Bitching - the overt expression of women's anger at their restricted role and inferior status. The women who ***** are not expecting change; they want only to make their complaints in an environment where their anger will be understood and expected.
  • Chatting - the most intimate form of gossip, a mutual self-disclosure, a transaction where women use to their own advantage the skills they have learning as part of their job of nurturing others.
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Gender - Difference Model (1980's) (3)

Jennifer Coates examined all-female conversations and came up with features, labelling them as 'women's co-operative discourse'. They are:

1. Topic and topic development - women choose to talk about people and feelings rather than things. Topics are developed slowly, building on others contributions and arriving at consensus.

2. Minimal responses - active listenership and support are subtle rather than overt

3. Hedges - used to encourage discussion and to avoid appearing challenging or threatening

4. Questions - interrogative forms are used to encourage participation rather than to seek information

5. Turn-taking - overlapping conversation aids co-operation and topic development. Overall, women pursue different interactive styles to men who seek to dominate and control.

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Gender - Diversity Model (1990's ->)

The Diversity Model - the idea that women and men are more conversationally similar than different.

Deborah Cameron - The Myth of Mars and Venus - 2007 - she questions the idea of there being absolute and provable differences between the way that men and women use language. She identified two schools of popular thought;

  • The different ways in which boys and girls grow up and are nurtured leads them to develop different linguistic strategies. This forms the basis of 'differences'. 
  • The 'evolutionary psychology' approach which claims that men's and women's brains have developed differently through natural selection and that different styles of language behaviour are therefore 'hard-wired' into the brain of each gender from birth.

Cameron says that both sets of claims are refuted by the evidence. For eg, if linguistic behaviour was a consequence of evolution, it would need to be universal in the human species. But research has shown that 'masculine' styles of language are common amongst women in other cultures and classes and 'female' behaviour is often recorded among men. This type of research is often based upon educated middle-class subjects in Western countries. In other societies and among different social groups, linguistic behaviour is different.

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Gender - Diversity Model (1990's ->) (2)

Cameron draws attention to Janet Hyde who has brought together evidence from many research projects on gender differences who, through a system of 'meta-analysis' has arrived at an assessment of the scale of the differences between the language of men and the language of women. The results are relatively trivial or even insignificant, showing that mens and women's language is more similar.

Jack Chambers says that difference models attract more public interest and sell more books as people prefer to think that there are differences between men and women linguistically.

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Occupation (1)

Occupation = hobbies and interests as well as jobs and employment, eg. golfer. Occupational variation = a type of sociolect.

Jargon = technical language in any field, ie. Doctors -> MRI, BMI, Teachers -> PLP, Targets

The Royal Navy - the sociolect of the Royal Navy is known as 'jackspeak'. It has had it's own slang dictionaries for years. It's main non-standard features are lexical. Examples of the vocabulary used within the Royal Navy are 'abeam' meaning 'opposite to', 'to ring off' meaning 'to finish a task' and 'Fod-plod'

Medical Jargon/Slang - medical jargon and slang has two registers - one is formal showing scientific technical lexis you would expect. The second is a slang register to be used by the medical profession. Register 1 - Formal - includes words such as 'autosome' and 'biparenthal' which are latinate forms which dominate the technical register of medicine. There is now a plain translation of these terms for patients as they are inaccessible. Register 2 - Slang - examples from the British Medical Journal (2002) are 'code brown' - dihorrea, 'ash cash' - when a patient dies doctors fill out a form getting £45, 'FTF (failure to fly)' - attempted suicide and 'house red' - the blood bank. This list was compiled by Dr Adam Fox in London.

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Occupation (2)

Top medical abbreviations include 'CTD' (circling the drain) meaning the patient is about to die, 'GLM' (good looking mum on children's ward), 'UBI' (unexplained beer incident). Dr Adam Fox said that these were used in doctors conversations together, in their notes and reports. This shows how sociolects arise to help occupations deal with the most taboo areas of life; suicide, ageing, excretion and death. This grim humour provides solidarity between professionals and helps them handle difficult circumstances.

Sometimes this slang register is used to identify subgroups for status or efficiency, eg. rheumatology is called 'rheumaholiday' as it is said to be an easy career, 'psychiatrists' are known as 'the frued squad' and aneathatists are known as 'gasers' and 'slashers'.

Negative and positive uses of jargon:

Jargon is appropriate when used among the members of a specialist group but becomes problematic when used to address a wider, non-specialist audience who may be excluded by it. It is argued that jargon can be used to express membership of an exclusive group - the user feels more important and believes he/she is demonstrating a superiority over those who don't share this specialist knowledge.

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Sexuality (1)

Sexuality; (sexual identity) - relates to everyones identity and not only about LGBTQ people. Therefore it also examines how straight people use language to support their sexual identity. If we only looked at the identity through language of LGBTQ people this would be taking a 'heteronormative' view - we must look at all variations!

Sexuality is a highly controversial area of sociolinguists - it is considered dangerous to try and group people according to their sexuality, just like with gender debates.

Intersectionism (theory) - the idea that not only one thing influences peoples language, ie. sexuality. Instead lots of things influence it. For example, someone may be performing an identity relating to their age, ethnicity, social class etc. We should try not to use sexual identity to explain all of someones choices.

Anti-language - language used by subclutres which are aiming to hide and maintain a covert identity. These occur historically where deviant behaviour happens. People had to create a new language to communicate. An example of this is the Molly Lexicon - the language that homosexual people used to address one another covertly. Homosexual people transormed negative language and associations with positive associations. This happened in the 1700's. People went to 'molly houses' to perform their identity.

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Sexuality (2)

the Molly Lexicon (continued) -> It was created to evade punishment, for unity, to communicate/recognise each other and to mock and reject mainstream norms and values. They labelled each other distinctively. They used sobriquets - nicknames used as a familiarity.

1930-1970 Historical context - in the 1930's being gay was seen as taboo but was openly exhibited in the 1970's. In 1967 homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK.

Polari - a lexicon between 1930-1970. It was broadcast over radio and became popular. It was also the language used in theatre. It was considered a form of slang but can also be classified as an anti-language. It had 3 functions - to support gay subculture, to bond them and to prevent them from being found out. Examples of their lexis include - Dolly (beautiful), ***** (complain), NAFF (not available for f*cking) [ugly], fantabulousa (wonderful). Paul Baker said that Polari came from 3 origins - French, Italian and Spanish. Polari latterly 'died' due to the process of obsoletion which happened because of discriminalisation - there was no longer a need for a secret code. We still have the legacy of some of the language today, even if we are unaware of its origins.

Researchers had to find out the sexuality of people before analysing and identifying features.

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Sexuality (3)

Contemporary Gay Language Research - Rusty Barett - researched the variety used by gay men in Texas bars in the 1990's. He called this 'bar queen speech' and identified features such as - hypercorrect pronounciation, hyper-extended vowels, ie. fAAAbulous, high and low intonational contours, wide pitch range, hedges and boosters, ie. 'like' - used as an ellipsis and as a dramatic device, empty adjectives - ie. adorable, divine - have no meaning. Barett also recorded 'in-group- lexical items like 'work it' and 'girlfriend' (as a term of address). Many were also African-American lexical items, evidence of a 'linguistics of contract' between the 2 varieties. Barett concluded that 'bar queen speech' is both a way for gay men to 'index' their sexual identity and a variety that is open to the influence of other linguistic communities.  

Lesbian Language - Dorothy Painter (1981) - lesbians can identify each other in a variety of settings but cannot always explain how the identification takes place. Queen says that lesbians identify one another through the decidedly marked combination of a number of linguistic styles. Therefore, it is not membership but lesbian language is unique because the fluid contact between a number of styles to which lesbians have access to one another (identification) and carry various 'conventionalised' meanings that can be exploited in uniquely 'lesbian' ways. Stereotypes suggests that lesbians construct a 'butch' linguistic identity and use a narrow pitch range, taboo lexis and w/class non-standard language (ie. terminal deletion of 'g' in 'ing') or rising intonation and hypercorrect grammar ('femine culture';';lipstick lesbianism') or an identity consisting of both varieties

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