StudyBoss » Gender » Gender Roles In Language

Gender Roles In Language

A businessman is aggressive; a businesswoman is pushy. A businessman is good on details; she is picky…. He follows through; she doesnt know when to quit. He stands firm; she is hard…. His judgements are her prejudices. He is a man of the world; shes been around. He isnt afraid to say what is on his mind; she is mouthy. He excersises authority diligently; shes power mad. Hes closemouthed; shes secretive. He climbed the ladder of success; she slept her way to the top.

From How to Tell a Businessman from a Businesswoman, Graduate School of management UCLA. From the first moment a child begins to understand the spoken word, they begin to receive messages about society view of the different sexes. Language itself can not be deemed good or bad, but it does reflect individual or societal values. The above example displays the way in which language can be used to stereotype gender. Both sexes in the example are behaving in the same way but the language used has separated them, praising the male whilst disparaging the female.

In order to explore the differences between males and females regarding language we must look at whether or not language is sexist, whether it is used differently by different genders and how language has changed, if at all, in relation to these points. Womens roles in society have changed considerably over time, and they are now valued more than ever in society. Chafetz (1990) has claimed that this has largely arisen due to the media. She says that newspapers and magazines now largely avoid sexist language, and even advertisers have changed their depiction of both genders to some degree.

Universities have expanded their curricula to include courses for women, even hospitals have changed their policies pertaining to childbirth in directions originally propounded by womens movement activities; i. e. developing birthing centres etc. These examples are merely a few of the multitudes of changes that have occurred. Trask (1995) has pointed out that the utilisation of language differs with gender. For instance, women have more of a tendency to use finer discriminations than men do in some areas such as colour terms.

Women would be more at ease using the labels crimson, ecru, or beige, than men and men would be found to use the simpler version: Its blue, not cornflower; what the hell is cornflower (my dad when looking at paint. ) Trask also noted that men have a tendency to drop more expletives into a conversation than women, although some women do swear, especially younger females (just sit in a student common lounge for a while to back this up); which is becoming worringly commonplace.

Jeperson,an early linguist, included a chapter on The woman in his book Language: Its Nature, Development and Origin (1922). He claims that the womens contribution to the language is to maintain its purity, caused by the way they shrink from coarseness and vulgarity. ( A totally outmoded theory. ): There can be no doubt that women excersise a great and universal influence on linguistic development through their instinctive shrinking from coarse and vulgar expressions and their preference for refined, and (in certain spheres) veiled and indirect expression.

Jespersen 1922. He does maintain, however, that it is mens language which is endowed with vigour, imagination and creativity. Without it, he states, there is a danger of the language becoming languid and insipid. He goes on to claim that women have a smaller vocabulary than men and that which they do have they tend to misuse. As examples he quotes that women use intensifying adverbs with disregard of their proper meaning, as in the German riesig klein (gigantically small), the English awfully pretty, and terribly nice….. Danish raedsimt morosom (awfully funny). 922)

He claims that women also suffer from an inability to finish sentences and while there is more talk from women there is less substance. Talbot assures us that none of these claims were based on evidence but were mere conjecture on Jespersens part. She goes on to add that the women that he encountered may well have ahd smaller vocabulary than the men, but that women then were often denied the education permitted to most men. She also says that the statement that women talk more is a familiar folklinguistic claim and that there is not a substantuial bodyof evidence to the contrary.

She adds that it has been suggested (by Spender 1985, for instance) that the volume of womens talk has not been measured against mens but against silence. Perhaps a more controversial issue raised by Trask, is the likelihood for women to drop more tag questions into the conversation; ending statements with isnt it? , arent I? or havent you?. This gives the impression that a women wants or needs some sort of reassurance from whoever she is talking to. Women also tend to start sentences with I might be wrong or Its just an idea but.. , apologising in advance for their existence or showing a lack of confidence.

Although this may not be picked up on by many women, it shows a subordinate side to women, surely they shouldnt need to have reassurance from a man, as they are or should just as confident and capable of judging for themselves. It is also claimed by Trask that men interrupt a conversation more often than women do; which may come as a surprise to many men who seem to think it is the other way round. Another interesting piece of research by Trask has shown that a womans discourse tends to be co-operative whereas a mans, on the other hand, tends to be competitive.

Trask argues that this is due to womens capacity to sympathise with others and to support the contribution of others. Conversely, men are seen to compete with one another in conversation, trying to outshine one another and scoring points off each other; arguably a typical masculine characteristic. From as long ago as 1974, Fromkin and Rodman have argued that language does reflect sexism in society, although they point out that language alone is not sexist, but it can promote sexist attitudes as well as attitudes about social taboos or racism.

Fromkin and Rodman relate their discussion to some interesting examples and resort to dictionaries to clarification of terms. They found that in the American Heritage Dictionary, the terms manly courage and masculine charm were illustrated without any reference to women. This gives the impression that there is no such thing as womanly charm or even womanly courage. It is also implied that men are brave to go out and fight, and assumes the women stay away from it all, locked up in the home being passive.

Women were included in the dictionary, but not for the same reasons as men. Instead, terms cropped up such as womanish tears and feminine wiles, which are not exactly complimentary terms to be compared to. In relation to men, Franklin and Rodman highlighted that the word honorarium was defined as a payment to a professional man for services in which no fee is set or legally obtainable. Once again the description is more flattering to males than females, especially with the implication that it is only males who perform such tasks of honour.

From research conducted by Fromkin and Rodman, they found that the US American Men of Science did not change its name to include and Women until 1921, and until 1972, the womens faculty toilet doors were labelled women whilst the mens were highly labelled Officers of Instruction. I would imagine this would have been quite a set back for women, as here they were still apparently regarded as inferior, or not as highly ranked as the men, who were considered as officers. Cameron (1995) claims that the controversy over sexism the language pre dates the political correctness debate by some years.

She claims that no one who has been involved in a campaign for non sexist language, or followed one closely, will be astonished to learn that it remains a contenscious issue. Cameron draws upon reference to an article that was featured in the New York Times back in 1991 containing a brief section on avoiding sexist language. Cameron felt that this event would be insufficiently remarkable to merit editorial comment in the Times. Many tabloid newspapers over time have contained derogatory depiction of women, or at least non too flattering comments.

This is evident through the use like blonde bombshell and sexy. Men are rarely depicted in this derogatory fashion, instead they are described as handsome or smart. Cameron argues that in 1990, the university of Strathclydes Programme of Opportunities for Women Committee put out the drafting of a leaflet on gender free language. She says that the finished product, entitled gender free language: guidelines for the use of staff and students was issued to the staff in 1991, and publicised outside of the university through a press release.

It had been endorsed by the universitys governing bodies, the Senate and Court, and this information, states Cameron, was included on the leaflet, giving it some considerable status as official policy. However, in relation to civility and fairness, Cameron argues that senior people in jobs were unwittingly offending their females colleges by using non inclusive phrases like the best man for the job. She states that this is made objectionable as the women, who were already in the minority, were made to feel even more excluded.

The guidelines I mentioned earlier made much of a point of this as they claimed that sexist language could lead to alienation of female students, and so non sexist language was designed to include all the potential addresses. Cameron tells us that they asked lecturers to consider the feelings and emotions of the females in their classes, and showed that to take no account of people who were actually sitting in front of them was ill-mannered, and that the educational institution would be placing women students in an environment which was not conductive to learning.

On this issue, Cameron concludes that from a civility point of view, the point of using non sexist language is not to challenge linguistic representation of the world at large, but to avoid offending/ alienating women in the immediate context. She states that this makes sexism a matter of individual men giving offence to individual men giving offence to individual women, rather than a systematic social process. She states finally that if there were no women present at a meeting or in the class, then there would be no offence given and therefore no need to be attentive to sexism.

Going back as far as 1867, there was an attempt made in Parliament to give women the vote, although it came to be unsuccessful. Barker and Canning (1995), showed how an article, written by a female contained vocabulary which was literally begging for women to be able to vote. There were words and phrases contained such as I beg and if you are gallant enough, (referring to the men in parliament). This letter shows a weak side to women, as they give praise to the men of parliament, and almost lose respect for themselves in the process. The feminist movement has challenged assumptions over time about male and female stereotypes.

Simeone de Beauvior, an author in the 1940s, analysed womens perceptions of their roles. She stated that woman herself recognises that the world is masculine on the whole; those who fashioned it, ruled it and still dominate it today, are men. This view would now probably be challenged a great deal, especially by feminists, who say that we should over throw patriarchy. Studies of womens language use have revealed sufficient distinctive features for it to be recognised as a variety and to have earned it the name genderlect by Barker and Canning.

In their publication English Language Topics, Trudgill observed the pronunciation of male/ female speakers in Norwich and found that there was a tendency for women, especially lower middle class women, to move towards a more prestige form on more formal situations. For example, they used (ing) rather than (in) for words such as running or digging. Barker and Canning claim that sometimes the desire for correctness led to hypercorrection. For instance, they say that (h) is seen as a prestige form, but does not occur in RP in words such as honour or honest.

Dale Spender (1995), pointed out the fact that men tended to use non standard forms with covert prestige as a form of bonding (downward rather than upward convergence). Barker and Canning again show that, with regards to RP, women are more likely than men to move away from their local dialect, and towards standard grammatical forms. Chesire (from Barker and Canning 1995) carried out research concerning the speech of Reading teenagers and found very significant differences in the syntactic features of male and female groups.

The research showed that in 86% of cases, boys said the double negative in sentences such as I aint got no sweets and for girls the outcome was only 51%. Chesires study found that aint replaced hasnt or isnt in 92% of the boys cases but in only 62% of girls. Barker and Canning show that girls are more inclined to shift their style according to the social context; i. e. adopting more standard forms in classroom than in the playground. Alternatively, the boys, when alienated from the school culture, used more non standard forms in the classroom as a way of expressing rebellion.

One other connected factor, they say, is that women, in wanting the best for their children, tend to try and impose a standard of correctness for them. According to Talbot (1998) a substantial body of non-feminist work on language and gender came out of wider studies of social dialect. These were sociolinguistic studies performed in the sixties and seventies, which claimed to find a difference between the language used by men and women: namely that women in all social classes used the prestige or standard variety of a language more than men did.

The best known survey of this type having been done by Labov (1966) in New York City. Research in England involved looking into the use of ing (the prestige forms) as opposed to in (the vernacular). Peter Trudgill, a British linguist, conducted a survey in Norwich which was modelled on Labovs New York one. As with Labovs study it was intended to elicit different degrees of formality. His results showed that in most cases women were using a lower percentage of the vernacular, non-Standard variety then men in the same social category.

The only exceptions being in upper working class women in reading styles and lower middle class women in casual speech. Trudgill suggested reasons for this, he said that explanations are centered around notions of status consciousness. He claimed that women in our society are more status conscious than men, generally speaking and are therefore more aware of the social significane of linguistic variations. He also gives two possible reasons for this. Primarily he says that the social positions of women in our society are less secure than that of men, and that women are usually subordinate to that of men.

He believes that it may be on account of this that women find it more necessary to secure and signal their social positions linguistically. The second reason he gives is that men in our society are rated by their occupation, earnings, and their own abilities, in other words what they do. Therefore they may not be as concerned with how they are heard as women. Talbot points out some problems with this study. She says the first phenomenon requiring explation is why it is necessary to explain womens greater use of the prestige form rather than mens lesser use of them.

She goes on to explain that feminist critiques of this kind of study have explained this in terms of the male as norm theory. They state that the mans behaviour is normal where as the womens is a deviation that needs accounting for. The question that Talbot asks is Are women really more preoccupied with keeping up with the Joneses than men are? Several British linguists have demonstrated that the work Trudgill claims backs up this theory is very shaky indeed. It has been claimed that because women lack status, particularly thise women who are not in paid employment, they try to aquire it through the way they speak.

Talbot says that if working women could be shown to use fewer standard forms than women working in the home, then it would back up claims that women are using Standard forms in order to gain prestige. She goes on to say that in fact the research that has been done showed that women who worked in the home used fewer standard forms than women in paid employment. Talbot does conceed, however, that there are differences in the pronunciation patterns of men and women.


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Leave a Comment