Language and Gender

  • Created by: Ellie
  • Created on: 28-05-14 13:36

Trudgill's Norwich study

  • Women speak consistently more correctly than men in every social class.
  • When interviewed, men thought they used standard forms less than they actually did and women thought they used standard forms more than they actually did.
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Nichol's South Carolina study

  • Studied two black communites in South Carolina whose speach ranged from the least prestigious Gullah creole, to black English dialect, to the most prestigious standard regional form.
  • Putting the speakers on a scale of least prestigious to most prestigious the pattern went like this: old women, men, young women.
  • This can be explained by employement patterns. Old women tended to do farm labour of domestic jobs, men of all ages tended to hold manula jobs such as brick laying and young women had increasingly white collar jobs in sales, teaching, and nursing. These young women have been required to spend longer in education (which enforces standard English as the correct way to speak and write), not to mention that employers may prefer (or require) someone who speaks in a more standard form.
  • Here, the most influential factor on whether the speaker used standard or non-standard forms was their job, although their job was influenced by their gender and age.
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Jenny Cheshire's Reading study

  • Did not find that girls spoke more correctly than boys.
  • Found that when people want to become part of a group they pick up certain non-standard forms which the group commonly used.
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Newbrook's West Wirral study

  • Old women spoke most correctly followed by middle-aged women, followed by old and middle-aged men, then young women with young men at the bottom.
  • This suggests that non-standard/standard usage is a marker of age as well as gender.
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Milroy's Belfast study

  • Open networks are where a person's contacts don't tend to know each other, closed networks are where they do tend to know each other. Closed networks tend to be high density and can work as norm enforcement mechanisms and can enforce linguistic norms on the group.
  • Milroy found that dense closed networks were correlated with the use of vernacular or non-standard forms. These forms were less evident in the speech of women because they tended to belong to less dense social groups.
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Observed a group of boys and a group of girls playing

  • Boys gave explicit commands using imperitives e.g. 'gimmie the pliers'. Goodwin called these aggravated directives.
  • Girls used mitigated directives by using the form 'let's' e.g. 'let's go'. They also used modal auxiliaries e.g. 'we could go'.
  • Goodwin says girls are not incapable of using stronger directives such as in cross-sex arguments. The gender differences observed reflect the way the groups were organised, the boys' group was hierarchally organised whereas the girls' group participated in decision making on an equal basis.
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Studied the language of parents playing with their children

  • Fathers tended to give directions e.g. 'take it off' and were more direct with their sons than with their daughters.
  • Mothers were more likely to consult the child's wishes and encourage them to make their own decisions e.g. 'what else shall we put on the truck?'.
  • This suggests children learn gender differences in speech by modelling the speech of the parent of the same gender.
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Looked at directives given by female and male doctors to patients

  • Male doctors tended to use aggravated directives such as imperatives e.g. 'lie down'.
  • Female doctors tended to use mitigated directives, phrasing their directives as proposals for joint action. E.g. 'okay? Let's make that our plan.' They typically used first person plural pronouns and when they did use first person singular pronouns they tended to use them with modal auxiliaries or the adverbial 'maybe' e.g. 'maybe you could stay away from the puddings'.
  • The success rate of the male doctors commands was 50% compared to 67% for the female doctors. This suggests that women's softer approach is more successful.   
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Robin Lakoff

Proposed a list of Women's Language features which referenced how women's subordinate role in society affected their language use:

  • Affective/Empty adjectives
  • Rising intonation
  • Emphatic stress
  • The intensifier 'so'
  • Hedges
  • Super polite forms
  • Hypercorrect grammar
  • Precise colour terms
  • Tag questions
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O'Barr + Atikins + Nicola Woods

O'Barr + Atkins ooked at Lakoff's Women's Language features in court:

  • Usage did not correspond with gender but with social status and previous courtroom experience: those with low social status and little/no courtroom experience used the most Women's Language features.
  • They decided to rename these features Powerless Language. They said they had been confused with women because in our society women often hold positions that are less powerful than men's. Their language is a result of their position in society and not directly a result of their gender.

However a problem with the relabelling of Women's Language as Powerless Language perpetuates the myth that women's language is intrinsically weak when actually it can be powerful in terms of rapport building, persuasion, and avoiding offense. 

Nicola Woods studied conversations between work colleagues

  • While occupational status had some influence on who had th most power in the situation, it was mostly men who dominated and the woman being the boss did not always lead to her holding the floor. Low status men did not use Powerless Language but used powerful forms such as interruptions to try and dominate.
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Do women talk more than men?

In a review of 56 studies, the trend of findings from most common to least common: men spoke more than women (34 studies), men and women spoke the same amount (16 studies), no clear pattern (4 studies), women spoke more than men (2 studies). 

Franken found that male talk show guests always took up more than half the time when only allocated a third. Female guests did not take up more than their allocated time. 

Deborah Cameron says the more direct link with amount spoken is status, with the higher status speaker talking more. The trend of men speaking more can be explained by the fact that men tend to hold higher positions in society than women. Even if all is equal between a man and a woman gender itself is a hierarchal system where men are perceived as higher status. 

Pamela Fishman says that women may talk more in some conversations because they do the 'interactional shitwork'. She found that women used three times the amount of questions as men, used minimal supportive noises and attention grabbing phrases such as 'you know what?' (that men rarely used). Topics initiated by men were always sucessful and supported by women but topics inititated by women were not always sucesfful or supported. 

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Do women use more tag questions?

Janet Holmes found that men and women used tags equally but use them differently. Women use facilitating tags e.g. 'the weather's lovely isn't it?' and men used checking tags e.g. 'you take sugar don't you?'.

Deborah Cameron found a far smaller difference in tag usage between men and women. She also argues it is hard to distinguish between checking and facilitating tags. 

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Zimmerman + West

Do men interrupt more?

In same sex conversation pairs there were no interruptions. In mixed sex conversation pairs there were and they were more likely to come from men than women. 

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Deborah Tannen

Came up with the difference model and definied six contrasts of male and female language (male vs female):

  • advice vs understanding
  • status vs support
  • independence vs intimacy
  • information vs feelings
  • orders vs proposals
  • conflict vs compromise
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