Thursday, 13 February 2014

English Language AS - Language and Gender (Part 3: Male and Female Speech)

The last part of the Language and Gender section is how men and women speak differently. There have been many theorists who have argued different things, and it’s totally fine to challenge these assumptions in your essay questions! 

As usual, early research suggested that women’s language was deviant from the male norm, strengthening the stereotype that women speak too much, gossip, etc - This is called folklinguistics, when there are certain attitudes to language which have no factual basis. 

Use of Slang 

Peter Trudgill did research into non-standard pronunciation and found that men tended to use more non-standard forms. They also under-reported their use of standard pronunciation, suggesting that they attach covert prestige to non-standard forms. 
Women, on the other hand, did the opposite. Trudgill found that women used more standard pronunciation, but also over-reported their use of standard forms, suggesting that women attach an overt prestige to standard forms. 

Jenny Cheshire also supported this, finding that in nearly all cases boys used a more non-standard form than girls. She suggested it was due to their denser social networks that caused slang to be more prevalent. 

Models of Language 

There are 4 main models of language, each of which has strengths and weaknesses, and some which have alternate theories! 

The Dominance Approach

According to this approach, men use their language as a way of asserting their dominance and control over women in mixed sex conversations

Zimmerman and West found that 96% of all interruptions in mixed sex conversations were made by men. They also found this was approximately equal with the interruptions made by parents and children. 
Gender or Power?

O’Barr and Atkins did lots of research into language in the courtroom, and found that women did indeed use Lakoff’s features of speech deficit, however they also found that many men from lower class backgrounds also used Lakoff’s features. 
This suggests that it is not gender, per se, which is the cause of language deficit, but how much power an individual has. 
The Difference Approach 

The Difference Approach assumes that language is different between genders due to women and men belonging to different sub-cultures and talk differently as a result of different social pressures and expectations. 

This approach avoids blaming either sex, instead focusing on difference rather than dominance and submissiveness. 

Jennifer Coats suggested that all-female talk is cooperative and female speakers help to support each other linguistically. 

Jane Pilkington also found women were more collaborative than men, and used more positive politeness strategies. 

Kuiper found that all-male “locker-room” talk included insults as a way of showing solidarity amongst men.  

The Deficit Approach

The Deficit Approach, led by Robin Lakoff, was a theory which suggests that women’s language is deficient from the established male norm. She theorised that female language lacked in real authority in comparison to men and proposed a set of features typical to female speech. Some of these include: 
- Domestic chore vocabulary
- Precise colour terms 
- Weak expletives (oh dear, heck, etc)
- ‘Empty’ adjectives (charming, sweet, darling)
- Tag questions, showing uncertainty (e.g. “isn’t it?)
- Polite forms (e.g. euphemisms) 
- Hedges (e.g. sort of, you know) 
- Intensifiers (so, really, etc) 

Janet Holmes refuted Lakoff’s interpretation of tag question, instead theorising that they are not a sign of uncertainty, but as a way of maintaining discussion and a politeness strategy. 

And with that simple section, we've done all 3 section of Language and Gender - Well done! 

Good Luck!