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Language and Gender Research

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Along with various social, cultural, and political factors, it is not surprising that language and gender and their relationship have become a significant attraction in the recent years. Many of the studies in this field focus on the social context where the speaker within same language use different ways of speech in terms of gender, age, and social role. These studies are all related to sociolinguistic. According to Holmes (2006), sociolinguistic is the study of the way people speak differently and gives the reasons for why and how people speak different.

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Language and Gender. Gender gains its presence in the relation with language because it is considered a fruitful source for gender indicator. The theory that gender affects discourse has been explored extensively by many scholars (Holmes, 1986 Lakoff, 2004 Tannen, 1990).

Coates (1998) states that it is common in all societies to have different speech styles between men and women. These differences are all influenced by cultural beliefs, education, and many others. Coates (1993) believes that males and females adopt different language behaviors according to speech situation.

These different ways of speaking explain the difference between males and females while talking. Language helps us to project on other’s attitude, or to change the flow of talk. Hence any other feature of language as tone, pitch of voice, vocabulary, intonation, repetition, or even interruptions can indicate gendered aspects of the speaker’s self-presentation.

Theories of Language and Gender

Several famous linguists such as Lakoff, Cameron, and Tannen investigate the effect of gender differences in intonation, vocabulary, pronunciation, interruptions, amount of talk, hedges, overlap, and speech style and analyzed the reasons of these differences (Masaitienė, 2012 Xia, 2013 Shazu, 2014 Li, 2014). Other theories explain that there are some common forms of female and male speech styles that are the same in most of the cultures however, there are also some elements that appear to be culture-specific (Coates, 1998). Cameron (1998, p.271) said, “gender is socially constructed rather than natural.” This means that males and females are members of culture and their different ways of speech are produced by social and cultural context. For example, in some Lebanese southern villages, women should not use men’s speech style because it is socially unacceptable however, they should speak in a way that reflects both their femininity and politeness.

One of the theoretical approaches of this paper is Lakoff’s dominance approach, which states, among others, that women tend to use more tag questions because they need approval about their information and tag questions and make the tone less tense. Another theoretical approach on which this paper will focus is Tannen’s work on female conversational style. She described it as a “cooperative” and “high involvement style”. Tannen used these attributes to show that women are more supportive in their conversations, while men are more focused on the competitive aspect of their conversations.

Deficit Approach

This approach was established by Lakoff (1975). It describes male language as stronger, more impressive, and more desirable. Han and Shazu (2014) argues that women are socialized into behaving like “ladies‟ and that this in turn keeps them in their place because “ladylike‟ prevents being “powerful‟ in our culture. This approach also sees women as underprivileged users of language. The overall idea is that women’s speech is usually inferior to men’s and reflect their sense of personal ad social inferiority. Lakoff (1975) claims that women’s speech style includes features which are expressive of hesitation, lack of confidence, over use qualifiers and hedges (I think, it seems like,), extra politeness (would you please, I’d appreciate if…), apologize more, and use tag questions (she’s nice, isn’t she?), ‘hypercorrect’ grammar (use of standard verb forms), and rising intonation (It’s really good). Based on different studies, many linguists agreed that women use more standard language forms than men do. According to Holmes (2008), women use more standard form due to many reasons. First, women’s behavior has to be directed by social norms, this affects the language they use. Next, women are limited by stereotypes expectation when they speak to keep on their feminineness and politeness. Last, women lack the status in society, so that they use standard language to fulfill their own face-protection needs and to those they talk to. However, men can use more slang and non-standard terms to show their masculinity and hardiness. Women also tend to hypercorrect more than men, especially in the lower middle class. They try to use prestigious variety of language for the reason of having been felt deprived from privileged social status. In this logic, the use of the standard and prestigious terms might be seen as another reflection of women’s powerlessness in the public sphere.

Dominance Approach

It is presented by Lakoff in Language and Woman’s Place (1975). This approach sees the female sex as the subordinate group whose difference in style of speech results from male authority within society. Lakoff provides the same defined idea that men’s speech is perfect as opposed to that of women which is considered as incomplete due to their low position in society. She claims that women need confirmation in order to feel confident. According to Mohindra and Azhar (2012), the inequality of power between men and women is considered as the main difference between them. In this view, women are a suppressed minority group. Samar and Alibakhshi (2007) found that social power, traditions, and religious still speculate women’s language style especially in non-Western countries.

Difference Approach

It is developed by Tannen in her famous book: You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (1990). This approach differentiates men and women as belonging to different “sub-cultures’ since childhood. It explains that men and women speak differently because they live in different cultural worlds where different rules govern the behavior of two groups. This social and physical separation from childhood leads to different languages and beliefs between males and females (Han, 2014). In this regard, Mohindra and Azhar (2012) and Newman, Groom, Handelman, and Pennebaker (2008) argue that women spend most of their time talking about home, families and interpersonal issues, whereas men are more attracted towards sports, political issues, business and general topic. In fact, this approach does not label women as insufficient or incapable, but regards men and women as equal but different.

Politeness Theory

Brown and Levinson (1987) conducted the key ideas of politeness based on the work of the American sociologist Erving Goffman. This theory explains that the speakers use specific strategies in conversation to achieve positive communication. These strategies enable us to create a comfortable atmosphere for communication. Brown and Levinson (1987) chose the concept of “face” as the root of their theory. It reflects two opposite needs of a human: “positive face” and a “negative face”. A “positive face” is a desire to be accepted of and appreciated by the speaker. However, the “negative face “is to have a self-governing point of view and freedom of opinion. So, politeness is understood as the ability of people to use interactive strategies depending on communicative situation. By their means, the communicator is capable of making a good impression on the speaker and creating a positive self-image or, on the contrary, expanding his/her personal space (Holmes, 2006).

This theory suggests that choices in employing a particular politeness strategy depend upon the social circumstances in which the speech act occurs. That is, to whom are you speaking, what is your social relationship with that person, and what is the topic? (Onem, 2016 Mills, 2005).

Male versus Female Conversation Style: Deborah Tannen (1993) labeled the female conversational style as “high involvement style”. This means that women prefer to discuss interpersonal topics, and introduce new topics abruptly. Other features of the high-involvement style are cooperative overlap and participatory listenership. According to Tannen, women use cooperative overlaps to state to the speaker that she is listening and to show her support. Such overlaps often start with pre-starters as “hmm” and “yes”. Similarly, sharing listenership also shows the support for the speaker and that the listener listens to her. Good listenership is usually a female feature.Moreover, Mohindra and Azhar (2012) state that Women talk and chat to build rapport and make connections. They discuss personal topics like relationships, feelings, and past experiences. They tend to be indirect, tactful, and use more politeness words.

In contrast to women, Tanner argues, men do not tend to be cooperative, but rather competitive. Their conversational style is described as assertive (Shazu, 2014 Samar & Alibakhshi, 2007). Men’s speech is more an interruption in which their goal is to grab the attention of the other speakers. They use the overlaps “hmm” and “yes” as a response to the question. Their goal in the interaction is to keep the attention of the listeners as a valid member of the group.

As for Lakoff (1975), men may be more talkative and directive they use more nonstandard forms, talk more about sports, money and business, and politics. In contrast, women are often more supportive, polite, and expressive, talk more about home and family, use more words implying feeling, evaluation, and interpretation. Masaitienė (2012) argues that women also are inclined to interrupt less than men do because of their apparent lower status to men and due to community norms that impose this gender status hierarchy.

In regard of these differences, Coates and Pichler (2011) in their book “Language and gender. A reader” examined the differences in single-sex female conversations to see how far and which circumstances do women use “women’s language”. They claim that men will often reject a topic of conversation introduced by women while women will accept the topics introduced by men. Women are more likely to initiate conversation than men, but less likely to make the conversation succeed. Moreover, Coates (1998) argues that women’s conversation style described as supportive and cooperative. They tend to construct solidarity in through collaborative conversational floors, collaborative speech and positive politeness in single-sex interaction. Eckert (1993) and Holmes (2008) claim that women’s language is more conservative than men because the social norms restrict the way men and women speak. For men, their speech should reflect their masculinity otherwise they will be accused that they are womanish.

In fact, ‘gender practices differ considerably from culture to culture, from place to place, from group to group, living at the intersection or all other aspects of social identity’ (Eckert, 1998, p.66). This is close to be much true especially in the Arab world because relationships between men and women in certain societies depend on the organized norms and beliefs. For example, people in many Lebanese rural cities and villages still expect a specific and appropriate conversation style from a woman in terms of intonation, pronunciation, and vocabulary. Many women in such areas are sometimes blamed because of their unusual use of vocabulary, terms, or topic because it is considered

Cite this Language and Gender Research

Language and Gender Research. (2020, Aug 05). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/language-and-gender-research/

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