Saturday, October 25, 2008

Language and Gender


We know that one of the crucial factors in our construction of the world is language. We agree that this language is human creation. But in case of the sociolinguistics’ problems is about the language and gender. People generally, have assumed that sex and gender are about in the same circumstance. But I have a reason why I choose ‘language and gender’ rather than ‘language and sex as a title in my essay. It is to say or indicate that there is a slight different available between sex and gender. In this case sex is refers to biological determinant, whereas the word gender refers to social cultural dimension, namely male and female persons.

In this occasion, I will attempt to shed some issue in sociolinguistics that has been close affinity between language and gender. More specifically, a question germane to our discussion is, “why does women’s speech differ from men’s speech?” in other words, I will be concerned with some factors that induce women to use standard language more often than man do, thus appearing more linguistically polite.

In order to attempt an answer to this question, we should know the characteristic of human speech first. There are some characteristics of human speech. Let us have a look at some examples:
Characteristics Man Woman
Culturally Superior/high status Inferior/low status
Biologically/genetic Stronger Weak
Way of thinking Logic Un-logic/emotional
In speech Low pitch speaking voice High pitch speaking voice
Socially Use tag questions
Use more standard language/polite

Women’s Language and Men’s Language
Though men and women technically speak the same language, some scholars have concluded that men and women use language and converse differently. There are socialized conceptions of how women and men speak differently as well as how person of different cultures express themselves.

According to Lakoff (1975), women and men speak English in several different ways. She suggests that women’s language more frequent use emotionally intensive adverbs such as, “so”, “terribly”, “awfully”, and “quite”. Similarly, Eakins and Eakins (1978) observed that men and women use different vocabulary. They suggest that women’s language is more punctuated with adjectives and adverbs that “connote triviality or un important such as, ‘sweet’, ‘dreadful’, ‘precious’, and ‘darling’. Soskin and John (1963), after observing the talks between a couple over a certain period time, found that wives produce significantly more expressive statement such as ‘ouch’ or ‘darn’, whereas husbands use more directive and informative statements.

According to Stordtbeek and Mann’s investigations (1965) about male and female communication behavior in mock jury deliberations, female were found to give significantly more positive reaction than males. Males used more aggressive language than females. Above all, men were found to originate significantly more speech acts than women. Furthermore, men “proact” by directing speeches at solving problem while women “react” to the contribution of others, agreeing, understanding, and supporting. In a similar vein, Kaplan and Ferrel (1994) observe that women’s message are quite short and their participation is driven by their desire to keep the conversation going than the desire to achieve consensus on some issue. These findings are also supported by the work of Aries (1976) and Leet Peregrini (1980) as cited in Tannen (1990). Tannen categorizes women’s talk as ‘interpendent’ and ‘cooperative’, whereas male conversational patterns express ‘interpendence’ and assertion of vertically hierarchical power.

Hearing (1993), in her discourse analysis of a CMC bulletin board, distinguishes the different characteristics of woman’s language and men’s language. Features of woman’s language include “attenuated assertions, apologies, questions, personal orientation and support”, whereas some features of men’s language are “strong assertions, self-promotions, rhetorical questions, authoritative orientation, challenges and humor’. Similar results have been found in other cross-gender studies. Investigators find that females ask more questions, and make more apologies.

According to Penelope’s descriptions, women’s sentences tend to be longer than men’s. For example, a woman might say, “if it’s okay with you, I think I’ll stop by the bowling alley later tonight.” However, a man would probably just say, “ I’m going bowling”. Similarly, women often attach tag-questions to the statements on order to lessen the forece of assertion and to ask the listener for approval. Thus a woman might say, “That was a good dinner, wasn’t it?” whereas a man would say, “That was a good dinner”. Similarly Lakoff believes is more widely used by women is the tag-questions. As Fasold (1990) in Dimitros (1998) comments, “greater use of this form by women could mean that women, more often than men, are presenting themselves as unsure of their opinion and thereby as not really having opinions that count very much.” In connection with word choice, women use more modals, (such as could, might, and would) than men do; these modals convey a degree of uncertainty.

Women also seem to use more hedges ( for instance, ‘sort of,’ kind of,’ and ‘you know’), which suggest that the speaker is unsure about her statement. And with regard to sound, women hesitate or pause frequently than men. In addition, women use rising intonation (the rising pitch usually used in asking a question) when making statements. All of the characteristics show a lack of assertiveness in women’s speech; moreover, these tendencies also allow men to control the conversation

Women Use More Standard Language
There are some factors that induce women to use standard language more often than men do, thus appearing more linguistically polite. How society treats women induce women to use standard language more often than men do. People are more tolerant of boy’s behavior than girl. For example, people are tolerant of boy’s behavior, while little girls’ misconduct is very often frowned upon and punished on the spot.

According to Holmes (1992) cited in Dimitrios (1998), “women are designated the role of modeling correct behavior in the community”. In view of this, women are expected to speak more correctly or women tend to hypercorrect than men. However this agreement is not always true, for instance; an interaction between mother and her child or husband and wife usually use informal form or colloquial, word or style suitable for normal or daily conversation.

By using standard or polite forms, a women is trying to protect her face (a term often used in sociolinguistics to denote a person’s needs and wants in relation to others). In other words, a women claims more status in society. Her greater use standard forms may also imply that she does not attend to solely to her face needs but also to those of people she is interacting with, thus avoiding disagreement and seeking agreement and rapport.

An American study revealed that women in paid employment use more standard language than those working in the home. This stands to reason as the first group (employed women) spent most of their time talking to people they were unfamiliar with, while the second group (unemployed women) interacted with members of their own families. Obviously, this evidence throws some doubt on the contention that women are more formal with a view to achieving high social status or appearing smart and polite.

We know that the world-view women are seen as deviant and imperfect. All of the words which have relation to women were noticed as something that has negative connotations. For example is the pair of spinster-bachelor. Both designated unmarried adults, but the females term has negative overtones to it. And another example, the bias or negative connotations to our associations of man versus woman. No insult is implied if you call a woman and old man. It will be insult if you call a man and an old woman. But in another situation, it can be happened because of the word woman does not share equal status with man, so the terms referring to woman have undergone pejoration.

We may well wonder why men and women should have divergent forms of speech that are strikingly different in some languages. A reasonable explanation is that women enter into and maintain social networks that are different from men’s probably because they are also apt to create more stable and less competitive environments. This may provide women with the sense of security that makes innovation possible.

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