Language and Gender


Many linguists in the process of their study on language and gender differences have concluded that men and women both have differences in phonology, vocabulary, grammar, and syntax according to the different contexts. Language and gender investigate varieties of speech associated with a particular gender. In sociolinguistics, applied linguistics, and other such related fields this ‘language and gender’ is an area of study within them.

Gender differences in language are not only a linguistic phenomenon but also regarded as a social phenomenon. This becomes a popular subject in linguistics and sociolinguistics.

Social Roots of Language and Gender

Gender differences in language phenomenon have a social root; they are not accidental. Society makes different effects on boys and children. When a child is born, society will give him a gender-specific name to satisfy their physiological factors and social roles and so they will develop in the expected direction. Society wants that boy to become a true man and build a more positive, independent and adventurous character who can overcome dependence, fear and passivity. On the other hand for girls have to be clean, tidy, quiet, gentle, virtuous, and kind-hearted ones who can talk like elegant ladies with good grammar and pronunciation.

Traits in Male Language

Men’s language has the following traits:

  • Toughness
  • Competitiveness
  • Control
  • Independency
  • Hierarchy

Men are to the point when they ask something. They are mostly non-self-disclosure. Men most common topics are

  • Sports
  • Women
  • Politics
  • Cars
  • Gadgets

Traits in Female Language

Women use questions more frequently in their conversations. They used tag questions very often to:

  • Avoid making strong statements
  • Show their consciousness
  • Express emotionally
  • Show connection and sensitivity to others

Women are usually not to the point when they ask something. They have mostly a self-disclosure nature. Women most common topics are

  • Gossip
  • Shopping
  • Men
  • Personal relationship
  • Child-rearing

Language and Gender Theories/Models

There are 4 models or theories of language and gender which are following:

1. Deficit Model

The deficit model says that women cannot do certain things because there is a lack of some form in their language. In short, men are superior and women are subordinate.

Lakoff (1975) supported this theory. He mentioned that men’s speech was stronger, prestigious and desirable whereas women’s speech was seen as a sign of subordination that should be rejected.

2. Dominance Model

As the name suggests this model says that men’s language is more dominant in society and holds more power than women.

Dale Spender stated that Women’s language is not up to the mark and so language is inherently patriarchal.

Zimmerman and West after their study concluded that men interrupt more in their conversations and so they must be dominating gender.

3. Difference Model

This model says that men and women have a different styles of speech and no one is superior to each other. Theorist Ann Weatherhall stated that women speak less; interrupt less; use more tag questions and use more hedges (for example “I think” or “perhaps”) to be cooperative in conversations.

4. Diversity Model

This model suggests that one’s biological sex has no influence on language; rather it is society and socialization that affect our language. There is a diverse range of factors that contribute to language use like for example; social groups, regions, etc.

Christine Howe suggests that genders are fundamentally the same. She proposes that socialization begins at the ages of 3/4 which brings some differences.

Women are:

  • Active listeners
  • Don’t use offensive language
  • Not competitive
  • Use minor interjections

Men are:

  • Eager to gain conversation power.
  • More likely to respond more to what is being said.
  • They make it harder for other participants especially women to join in the conversation.

Gender-Exclusive Speech Differences

There are some forms that are used only by women and others are used only by Men. These forms are called gender-exclusive speech forms. They reflect the gender-exclusive social roles. In society, a man or a woman cannot speak each other’s language and their responsibilities are also different. There are no arguments over who prepares the dinner and who puts the children to bed.

Baron (1986) took the example of Carib Indians for gender differences. He reported that when Carib-speaking Men have children with Arawak-speaking women then their children have different languages. Boys learn language from their father and girls from their mother.

In some communities and different languages, men and women have pronunciation, morphology and vocabulary differences in their language.

Gender-Preference Speech Differences

Both women and men use particular forms, one gender shows a greater preference for them than the other Or we can say that in many countries, different genders show some preferences for using certain linguistic features more than others. Men and women do not use completely different forms rather they use different quantities or frequencies of the same forms. For instance, in all the English-speaking cities, women use more –ing [iŋ] pronunciation and few –in’ [in] pronunciation than Men in words like swimming and typing. It is actually an interesting survey which was carried out by Fischer. In Sydney, men pronounce the initial sound in thing as [f]. Social and linguistic patterns both in these communities are gender preferential.

In the above examples, women use more standard forms and men use vernacular forms.

Lakoff (1975) adds up to this phenomenon that women use more tag questions than men. Holmes (1988) reports that among women, giving compliments is more frequent than men.

Language Development and Expression

There are some prominent differences in how people tend to express themselves based on gender and how language develops. Let’s have look:

Women have a habit of using language more relationally especially in the context of close relationships. They are likely to have a wide range of emotional vocabulary to describe their emotional states and feelings.

On the other hand, men have a habit of using language more assertively. They are likely to suppress and hold back their emotions. Men do not express their emotions through language.

Language and Gender: Utterance Choosing Gender Difference

Women use dialogues in their conversations which directly show one’s inner life. On the other side, men are inclined to hide their feelings. Mainly, it is related to the mentalities of both Men and women. Men prefer to show their leading roles and authority while women just think to harmonize and soften their interpersonal relationships.

Language and Gender: Syntactic Differences

After some researches, Lakoff linguist concluded that women are more likely to use tag questions than men. For example, “Bella is a very beautiful girl, isn’t she?” or “Harry is a very brave boy, isn’t he? Tag questions make the speaker’s tone more modest and avoid making mistakes. Tag questions usually reflect the speaker’s uncertain views, avoid conflicts between speakers, and get others’ affirmation. Men do not use this in their daily expression rather they are inclined to speak bluntly and will not give many speaking rights to others. For example, “Bella is a very beautiful girl” or “Harry is a very brave boy”.

Language and Gender: Conclusion

Language differences in males and females are not just because of their gender rather they are also influenced by many factors like age, education, occupation, status and according to the social development.

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