Language and Gender

These cards are about the theories that surround gender in relation to language use by males and females. The cards should highlight the main theories such as that of Lakoff, Zimmerman and West, Holmes, Tannen, Coates and Cheshire.

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Main observations of women:

  • Hedging
  • Tag questions
  • Empty adjectives
  • Hypercorrect grammar and pronounciation
  • Speak less frequently
  • Avoid coarse language
  • Indirect demands/requests
  • Use more intensifiers
  • Lack sense of humour 
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Reasons for females use of Tag Questions:

  • To aid conversation and as a positive politeness strategy
  • As softeners to show support and concern for another speaker
  • As coercive devices demonstrating security and forcefulness / to avoid ambiguity
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Zimmerman and West

Dominance Theory:

In mixed sex conversations, men are more likely to interrupt than women

Recorded small conversations from University of California 1975

In 11 conversations between men and women - MALE: 46 interruptions          FEMALE: 2 interruptions


Conclude that; Since men interrupt more often, then they are dominating or attemopting to do so.

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Prestige within male and female speech:

In stable sociolinguistic stratification, men use a higher frequency of non-standard forms than girls

Men are more likely to use covert prestige - e.g. non-standard forms / swearing

Women favour the incoming prestige forms more than men

Women are more often the innovators

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* Status vs Support - male conversation is competitive / females talk to gain confirmation and support

* Independance vs Intimacy - men focus on independance / women think in terms of closeness and supprt

* Advice vs Understanding - complaint for men = find a solution (no sympathy)

* Information vs Feeling - men = brief phone call (tells arrangements)    women = 30 min call (discuss "stuff")

* Order vs Proposal - men = direct imperative / women = indirect methods

* Conflict vs Compromise - "some women refuse to oppose the will of others openly". 

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Key differences:

  • Topic choice - men talk about impersonal topics (cars, drink, sport, tech) / women talk about more sensitive aspects of life (child abuse, funerals)
  • Dominance - males will sometimes hold the floor for a long time; "Playing the Expert". E.g. McDonalds v Burger King or Nokia v Samsung
  • Rapid-fire - males sometimes exchange comments in a short, snappy form. This is friendly sparring and not a quarrel (exchange of insults)
  • No overlapping - males scarcely overlap during conversation because men prefer to talk one at a time.
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Matthew Noonan


Very helpful thank you

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