Gender and Language Theories

  • Created by: iona_Cb
  • Created on: 04-06-21 14:34

Early Theorist

Otto Jespersen - 1922

  • The deficit approach is attributed to him
  • Showed that some language features seem to be exclusively male or female
  • Showed that language is used to create an identity
  • Was incorrect in saying that some features are inherently male or female
  • Believed that women have a debilitating effect on language, and men introduce new words
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Department Store Study

William Labov - 1966

  • The most prestigious accent in New York is rhotic (meaning it uses the post-vocalic /r/)
  • Recorded the speech of shop assistants at a high-end, mid-range, and cheap department store
    • Women of all classes used the post-vocalic /r/ more than men, and were more likely to use hypercorrection
    • Subjects at the high-end stores used the prestige variety more often
  • The sound was used to gain overt prestige
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'Ing' Suffix

Trugill - 1972

  • Observed the use of the 'ing' suffix in Norwich
  • Women used the Standard English form more - /ŋ/ rather than /n/
  • They used it more frequently in formal settings
  • The sound was used to signal social status and overt prestige
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Mothers and Children

Clarke-Stewart - 1973

  • From 'Women, Men, and Language'
  • Observed American mothers with their first-born children from 9 to 18 months of age
  • Language skills in girls (both comprehension and vocabulary) seemed to be significantly higher
  • This paralled with girls' more positive involvement with their mothers
  • Girls' mothers compared to boys' mothers:
    • Spent more time in the same room as their children
    • Had more eye contact with them
    • Use more directive and restrictive behaviours
    • Had a higher ratio of social to referential speech
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Robin Lakoff - 1975

  • Used the deficit approach in her book 'Language and Women's Place', which was met with widespread criticism
  • Used observations, rather than statistical evidence
  • Found various features of women's speech:
    • Hedges
    • Empty adjectives
    • Super-polite forms
    • Apologising more
    • Speaking less
    • Avoiding coarse language
    • Tag questions
    • Hyper-correct grammer and pronunciation
    • Indirect requests
    • 'Speaking in italics'
  • Only studied white, middle-class women
  • Implied an almost complete dissimilarity between men and women's language, highlighting women's uncertainty and powerlessness
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Don Zimmerman and Candace West - 1975

  • Studied 31 examples of speech from white, middle-class college students
  • Found that men interrupted far more (96% of the time)
  • Concluded that men's dominance lay in conversational management, by:
    • Speaking more
    • Using longer terms
    • Being interrupted less
    • Interrupting more

Geoffrey Beattie - 1982

  • Studied 557 interruptions
  • Men interrupted slightly more, but not enough to be statistically significant
  • Critical of Zimmerman and West's study, saying the sample size was too small
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Reading Gangs

Jenny Cheshire - 1978

  • Found that teenage gangs in Reading used a high level of non-standard forms
  • They used them to express the rejection of Standard English, which they related to the education system and adult society that labelled them as 'failing'
  • Individuals who conformed more the the gang sub-culture used more non-standard varieties
  • Girls were more likely to use a prestige form when speaking with teachers than boys
  • A third of the girls did not associate much with the other girls
    • They criticised the others' language and behaviours
    • They used far fewer non-standard forms
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Dominance Approach

Dale Spender - 1980

  • Wrote 'Man-Made Language'
  • Interpreted womens's silence as a form of opression
    • Referred to this as 'assymetry' - a power imbalance between speakers
  • Language is man-centric, reflecting men;s historical dominance
  • She gave examples of grammatical rules created in the 16th to 18th centuries:
    • Male terms always come before female ones
    • Male terms are generic
    • Men's names are used in adresses on envelopes - e.g. 'Mr and Mrs Ronald Jones'
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Social Network Theory

Leslie and James Milroy - 1980

  • Studied the language of three working-class communities in Belfast
    • Ballymacarret (Protestant, low male unemployment)
    • The Hammer (Protestant, substantial male unemployment)
    • The Clonard (Catholic, substantial male unemployment)
  • The stronger the social network, the greater the use of vernacular forms - in Ballymacarret, women used less of these, as they were less likely to work
  • In The Hammer and The Clonard, younger women used more non-prestige forms; it was a way of showing solidarity with unemployed men
  • Gender, religion, unemployment, and strength of social networks all had an impact on an individual's speech
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Conversational Shitwork

Pamela Fishman - 1983

  • Studied conversations between American couples
  • Found that women used tag questions four times as much as men
  • Concluded that they were used not to represent uncertainty (like Robin Lakoff said) but to start and maintain conversations with men
    • Men do not always respond to declarative statements, or will only respond minimally
    • Women used tag questions to gain conversational power
    • Women were often the ones to begin and sustain conversation, doing what Fishman termed 'conversational shitwork'
  • Said that this is due to male dominance; men are relucatant to do the 'conversational shitwork' due to what they perceive to be their dominant role
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Courtroom Study

William O'Barr and Bowman Atkins - 1980

  • Language differences are situation specific, relying on authority and power rather than gender
  • Studied courtroom cases and looked for hedges and tag questions (which Robin Lakoff identified as typical of women's language)
  • Used three pairs of witnesses - one male, one female - to show that these features displayed powerlessness, not womanhood:
    • The first used many 'women's language' components
      • One was a housewife
      • One was an ambulance driver
      • Neither stereotypically had much power or control
    • The second was between the other pairs in the frequency of the features
    • The third used very few of the features
      • Both were expert witnesses - one a doctor, and one a policeman
      • Both had more power in their jobs and lives than the others
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Friendship Groups

Jennifer Coates - 1989

  • Used the difference model
  • Boys and girls usually have single-sex friendship groups growing up, and so develop different ways of speaking
  • Female language is co-operative in single-sex conversations
    • More tag questions
    • More modal verbs
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Difference Model

Deborah Tannen - 1990

  • Originally a student of Robin Lakoff
  • Wrote 'You Just Don't Understand'
  • Women and men do speak differently
    • People's desire to affirm women's equality makes them reluctant to admit observable differences
  • Her representation of male and female language revolves around six contrasts: (male  - female)
    • Status - support
    • Independence - intimacy
    • Advice - understanding
    • Information - feeling
    • Order - proposals
    • Conflict - compromise
  • Used the word 'genderlect' to refer to the different language use of men and women
  • Language is not necessarily used by men to be dominant, although it is clearly different
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Gender as Performance

Judith Butler - 1990

  • Wrote 'Gender Trouble'
  • Reinforcing a binary view of gender and asserting that 'women' are a group with common characteristics and interests is wrong
  • We are not biologically constructed, but we conform to social norms
  • We learn to perform gender from a young age, including through phrases such as 'I now pronounce you man and wife' or 'it's a girl/boy'
  • Language is just one part of how we learn this performance
    • There is a difference between 'I speak like this because I am male/female' and 'I speak like this and so I come across as masculine/feminine'
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Intersectional Approach

Penelope Eckert - 1990

  • Criticised previous gender theorists for viewing gender as a discrete variable which can be treated in isolation
  • Gender interacts with other aspects of identity and social locations, such as ethnicity, age, and class
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Self-Help Book

John Gray - 1992

  • Wrote the non-academic self-help relationship book 'Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus'
  • Inspired by Deborah Tannen's difference model
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Gender Similarities

Janet Hyde - 2005

  • Gender is something that speakers 'do' as a part of deliberate projection of their identity
  • Criticised deficit, dominance, and difference models of identity
  • Proposed a 'gender similarities' model
    • There are many more similarities than differences between male and female language
    • Where there are differences, they may be due to other variables
      • Class
      • Ethnicity
      • Education
      • Occupation
      • Sexuality
      • Politics
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Deborah Cameron - 2008

  • Wrote 'The Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages?'
  • The myth that men and women use language in very different ways has developed around ideas such as:
    • Women pay more attention to being good listeners than men
    • Men have a desire to be competitive, resulting in an aggressive speech style
    • Women talk about people, relationships, and feelings, while men talk about facts and things
  • Challenges the work of Pamela FishmanRobin Lakoff, and Deborah Tannen
  • These myths have shaped our expectations of men and women, and what linguistic behaviour is deemed normal or deviant, promoting further myth-making
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Double Voicing

Judith Baxter - 2014

  • Women are more aware than men that the people they are interacting with may have their own agendas
  • They adjust their language to reflect this by double-voicing
    • Anticipatory double-voicing anticipates others' response and tries to dilute or deflect criticism
    • Mitigating double-voicing attempts to build solidarity
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