The English language is continually changing in order to meet the needs of the people using it. The ever-changing culture we live in affects the way language develops and the way it is used by different people in society. The ideology of a society is reflected in it´s use of language, and because children learn their values, assumptions and expectations from their parents and the words that they have to learn, this ideology is passed down from generation to generation. For centuries we have lived in a male-dominated society where language has been biased towards men. Men are viewed as being the superior sex and this is reinforced by the use of biased generic terms such as ‘mankind´, which infact refers to the whole human race. Bias towards men is very often unconscious, thus demonstrating that sexist attitudes are fundamentally ingrained into our way of thinking.
Sex is the biological categorization of people whereas gender is the interpreted identity that males and females choose to take on. Because language teaches individuals to behave in a certain way and describe the behavior of others in such as way that is appropriate for their sex, over time society has created stereotypical male and female gender identities. For example men are seen to be logical, rational and objective whereas woman are emotional, intuitive and subjective. This stereotyping has enabled society as a whole to become male-dominated and this is evident in language.
These stereotypical attitudes and expectations are reinforced by sexist language, which is particularly used by men. Patronizing terms referring to women are ubiquitous in the English language, for example ‘love´ and ‘dear´. Female pronouns such as ‘she´ and ‘her´ are used to refer to inanimate objects and imply that men have some kind of ownership over women. In addition there are many insulting terms for women who are often compared to animals; ‘cow´ and ‘bitch´ are common, women are also portrayed as being promiscuous by use of terms such as ‘slag´. Words referring to women generally have negative connotations whereas those referring to men are much more positive. For example men discuss and women gossip and chat, also men are forceful and masterful but women are described as being bossy and domineering.
Gender difference is also demonstrated in the way that males and females interact with other during a conversational situation. It is a stereotyped belief that women talk a lot more than men, however in reality this is not the case as the trend is that in a mixed-sex conversation men talk twice as much as women. Women tend to take a much more co-operative approach during conversation, for example they make an effort to include others, use the first person plural more often and are much more willing to discuss issues raised by others. Whereas men are likely to interrupt more, ignore others and are reluctant to talk about topics introduced by other people, consequently taking a competitive approach to conversation.
It can be argued that the reason for females being less confident and assertive during conversation is due to the fact that they are seen to have a less powerful position in society than males. Another line of argument for the differences in conversational behavior is that men and women have different attitudes and values and this is reflected in their conversation skills. Studies show that the reason women are more supportive and sympathetic is down to more cooperative game play as children, men are dominant because as young children games are focused on competition and confrontation.
Research by Peter Trudgill in 1983 shows that differences in male and female language use are present from childhood. The principal difference is that women are much more likely to use Standard English and alter their speech according to who they are addressing. Women tend to drop their accents when they feel that they are in a position where they have to make a good impression or when they are on the telephone. This is because women are more status conscious and feel that they use language to show their respectability and social class.
Men are more likely to drop final ‘g´ sounds in words and initial ‘h´ sounds, for example ‘swimming´ and ‘hat´, they tend to use ‘ain´t´ whereas as women use ‘isn´t´, men also tend to use ‘seen´ and ‘done´ as past tense forms. There is an argument to say in general society expects that even from childhood females should be better behaved than males; as children boys´ behavior is more tolerated and as adults women are expected to act in a ladylike manner.
As society is male-dominated women are seen to have a subordinate role, this is what creates their speech patterns. Women are so used to deferring their speech to men that that they automatically use more polite and standard forms of speech. Research by Goldberg in 1974 shows that women don´t even show as much respect for other women as they do for men. Female students were given two booklets containing the same article, one with a man´s name and the other with a woman´s, they found the work of John T. McKay superior to that of Joan T. McKay even though it was the same article.
The evidence suggests that there are clear differences in language use between males and females and that the English language is biased towards men. However, over the past few years the situation has slowly been improving, as women are becoming more equal citizens; initially with things such as the right to vote and more recently the first appointment of a women in charge of a warship. Traditional terms such as postman and fireman are being replaced with unbiased expressions such as post person and fire fighter. Although steps towards change are being taken it is going to be a lengthy process and a long time before women become totally equal and this is reflected in our language. Ultimately it will be up to society to decide what is acceptable and it is the people who have the power to make the necessary changes.
Courtney from Study Moose
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