One of the debates which is of long standing within the study of linguistics is concerned with whether women speak in a language and perceive situations in a manner significantly different from that of men. Many theorists both feminists and anti-feminists have attempted to prove that women do indeed speak in a different way from men; and that there is such a thing as the “women language”. The debate attempts to place in context matters such as sex differences in linguistic behavior at the level of phonology and to a lesser extent grammar.
The concepts upon which the debate has been built however reflect, to a greater or lesser extent, the influence of feminism over the past two decades. Feminism has fore grounded issues of gender differences and male domination in society; it has prompted a concern with putting women ‘on the map’ and a critical reappraisal of feminist and non-feminist research. The discussions on gender linguistics therefore focus on the feminist projects of ‘redressing the balance’, as manifested in the academic field of languages. Phonology
Cognitive research on gender differences has drawn interest from linguistic experts and language scholars. Holmes and Meyeroff (2003, p. 144), the research more often than not directs itself to the hypothesis that women posses much better verbal skills than men. Most of the studies have drawn the conclusion that there are in fact differences based on gender, in verbal performance and verbal cognitive processing. It is often believed that females are far better in reading and posses much stronger language acquisition skills than males.
Many scholars equate this probability to the phonological superiority possessed by women, (Christie 2002, p. 102). The difference in phonological ability is often attributed by some researchers and scholars to the structure of the brain which in this case favors the female. Studies suggest that the left hemisphere of the brain which is much more developed in males is superior in mathematical and scientific processing and analysis (direct speech).
On the other hand the right hemisphere (much highly developed) in females is much more superior in word structure, grammar recognition and verbalization (indirect speech), (Christie 2002, p. 104). However the evidence provided to support this theory has often drawn inconsistent results making it much difficult to prove. Another school of researchers in linguistics suggests that culture is the main foundation for any form of language processing and development. For this school of scholars the role of women as caregivers in society makes them much more sensitive in their speech structure and verbalization.
They know that they must be more knowledgeable in the different aspects of language and speech, (Holmes and Meyerhoff 2003, p. 142). The women are the first teachers for the child and therefore they take much more time to understand the speech techniques and pronunciation so they can be able to direct the children much easily. The men’s social role as providers on the other hand, pre-disposes them to poor performance in reading, sounds and sentence structure. This means that women easily develop direct and indirect speech much easily than men.
Men are much better at direct speech. Use of Slang In historical society and the study of linguistics, women have been given the conservative linguistic role while men are often considered much more creative, and innovative in their language use. In traditional societies, subordination of women denied them the chance to use creative, innovative language that violated the speech protocol. It is from this perspective that many scholars develop the notion that women are less likely to develop “slang” or terms considered as “slang” in their speech.
Medieval society put in place taboos and regulations that denied women the chance to distort conventional language regulations. Women had to use respectable language, refrain from swearing and insults; and use properly structured words and sentences. Grammatical errors and poor pronunciations were frowned upon, a woman’s speech was considered a reflection of her character and conduct, (Christie, 2000, p. 154). Surprisingly this practice is still present in today’s modernized society.
We all have a tendency to judge and draw conclusions regarding an individual’s character from their command of conventional language, moreso women. Although there is no evidence that the use of ‘slang’ is more predominant in a specific gender than the other; it is found that men revert to the use of ‘slang’ terminologies much more easily than women. Even when women are influenced by the use of ‘slang’ and they incorporate ‘slang’ terminologies in their speech, the difference can be seen from the choice of terminologies.
Women tend to use more euphemistic terminologies, while men apply complete use of ‘slang’ vocabulary. Use of Polite Speech In any form of communication, the speaker often hopes to get respect from his audience or the people he is speaking to. The difference in language and speech comes from how the women and men perceive respect. While the men view fear and admirations as forms of respect, women view agreement, generosity and sympathy as the measures of respect. Socio-linguists use this reason to explain why women are much more pre-disposed to the use of polite language than men.
The mutual agreement is that women find polite language to be much more productive than men who prefer aggressive terms. Men are socialized by society to use rougher and more commanding language than women. Women on the hand are required to “act like ladies”, be respectable and meek. Coates (1998, p. 87) women are much more likely to use polite words such as please, excuse me and thank you than men. Women identify with the lesser classes and the abused or misused, and find it natural to appreciate others. Men on the other hand are socialized to demand action, appreciation and praise especially from women.
Though being male does not necessarily mean that one is rude and arrogant, it does mean that the person is less likely to say please or thank you. In written literature, feminist scholars have often insinuated that female writers have developed what is known as the “female sentence”, which is structured to appeal to the polite nature of the female reader as well as the writer. Women are socialized to be much more submissive, as young girls for example sharing use of polite language and general respect to others is applauded. On the other hand boys are encouraged to be much more aggressive and demanding.
It is this form of socialization rather than the biological composition of gender that linguists believe conditions women to be much more polite than men. Conversation Dominance A study conducted in 1975 by psychologist and linguist Zimmerman and West, based on a turn taking conversation model revealed that men are much more likely to dominate a conversation through interruption than females, (as quoted in Coates 1998,p. 161). Men feel the need to be dominant in all areas of their life, always commanding the full attention of others.
They employ strategies such as interruption, questions in the middle of sentences and change of topics to maintain the dominance of the conversation. Men are well versed in strategies such as ‘no response’, interrupting, poor and inadequate responses and silence employed to change the path of the conversation to what suits them best. Eckert and McConnell- Ginnet (2003, p. 121) state that women may resort to arguments and shouting much easily when ignored, but they also tend to calm and compromise easily. However men are much more adamant, they can become completely uncooperative when ignored.
While women have a tendency to imply what they would like to address or their wants and needs, men just tend to come out and directly demand what they want. Men are more confident with voicing their own needs even when they are infringing on some one else’s needs and time. As children parents and the society in general socializes the young girl to be more compromising allowing the male to get the attention they seem to thrive on. The male on the other hand is socialized to fight for and demand this attention. Conclusion
The analysis of language and speech in gender provides a reflection of the cultural roles and status in society. The biological composition of each sex is less important in the development of language as compared to the socialization patterns utilized by different cultures. In general women are much more likely to develop subjective language and speech, easily influenced by the people they are speaking to. Men however are much more technical and object oriented in their language and speech, incorporating as little emotion as they can.
To understand the difference in speech and language between men and women, one must first understand the gender roles and status defined by specific cultures. Works Cited 1. Christie Christine. Gender and Language: Towards Feminist Pragmatics. Edinburgh. Edinburgh University Press . 2000. 2. Coates Jennifer. Language and Gender: A Reader. Massachusetts. Blackwell Publishing 1998. 3. Eckert Penelope and McConnell -Ginet Sally. Language and Gender. United Kingdom. Cambridge University Press. 2003 4. Holmes Janet and Meyerhoff Miriam. Handbook of Language and Gender. Massachusetts. Blackwell Publishers. 2003.