Language and Gender
Differences between male and female
speech noticed some time ago
Not studied systematically until recently
Some are very obvious – pronouns
Other differences are discovered by
sociolinguistic research
Some gender differences
Reports of different male and female
languages usually exaggerated
differences in language shift
different dialects or accents
marrying out
different phonology, morphology and
supposedly reflect the role of women as
polite, gentle, passive
Women’s form -- men’s form (traditional
Otoosan oyaji (father)
Onaka hara (stomach)
Taberu kuu
Xhosa-speaking women must avoid
syllables in their in-laws’ names
replaced with deletions, paraphrase,
loan words
Respect for husband’s family
inferior status of women
Result – a lot words used only by
Language and gender in
English – differences less obvious -phonological
Linked to social class
studies of language and social class
also showed gender differences
Applies in many places in UK, US,
Australia, new Zealand
In NYC women used post-vocalic /r/
more often
Norwich – women used –ing, men used
–in more often
Tyneside men used glottalised –p more
Verbal duelling – typically masculine
Yo momma – white chicks
Rap battles – Eight Mile
Turkish rhymed insults
English football chants
Gender and Language change
Studies of linguistic change in Norwich,
Engliand and Belfast, N Ireland
Men lead change from below
vernacular forms spread upwards –
glottalisation in British English
Women lead change from above
Introduce standard forms
Mrs Hall rather than Mizall in Leeds
Language and networks
Belfast – women worked outside
community – introduced new forms
from outside
Similar pattern among African
Americans in South Carolina islands
Language and Identity
Language used to express identity but
gender variation
“Jocks” and “Burnouts” in Detroit
suburban high schools
identified with suburbs and city
Gender differences
Burnout girls adopted urban rather than
suburban forms but less than boys
Occasionally used taboo words in single
sex groups
Boys frequently
Jock boys used taboo words in SSGs
but not in front of women
Explanations of gender difference
Attempt to acquire social status by
using standard forms – probably true of
Women forced to use distinctive forms
as a sign of inferiority –Xhosa
Women as guardians of cultural values
–unlikely to explain interaction with
Standard forms are considered polite –
politeness is not required of superior
Expression of machismo
Gender sorting at a young age –
differences appear at 6 in some cases
Probably all true in different degrees in
different places
Language and discourse
Men talk more than women, especially
in public
Men interrupt women more than viceversa
Women are more supportive of other
Women more likely to use hedges
Men more likely to use boosters
Women more likely to use compliments
But problems of method and bias
Language and Discourse
Why is there no ‘K’ in J.K.
Rowling’s birth certificate
Sexist language
Masculine gender to include women
Negative connotations of feminine words
Master -- mistress
Working girl
Sir – madam
Wizard – witch
Many words for sexually promiscuous women
But rent boy, toy boy
Non-sexist language
Movement especially in US
He becomes he or she
Fireman – firefighter
Policeman – police officer
Mrs/miss becomes ms
Physical – may explain intonation
but not much else
Genetic – unpopular until recently -but research by Baron-Cohen –
differences in male and female
brains – systems vs relationships
Social/ cultural
Will explain many cases – group
identity, social mobility,
but why so widespread?