H A S A N B I L O K C U O Ğ L U
LANGUAGE & GENDER
Who is possibly talking ?
1-a) oh dear, you‟ve put the ice-cream into the
1-b)damn ! You‟ve put the ice-cream into the
2-a) what a divine idea!
2-b) what a terrific idea!
SEX & GENDER:What are the differences?
It is obvious that the men and women who speak a
language use it in different ways; therefore, any
differences that exist simply reflect the ways in which the
sexes relate to each other in a society may make it
possible to describe a particular language as “sexist”.
These issues have risen discussions in the last decades of
the twentieth century, and have been one of the biggest
growing areas within sociolinguistics in recent years. In
the 1980s, it was normal for a sociolinguist to describe
his/her studies as being „language and sex‟. Yet, during
years, the term „sex‟ has been replaced by the term
„gender‟, of which the difference between the two terms
are as follow:
Miriam Meyerhoff (2006) differentiates the two
terms „sex‟ and „gender‟ suggesting that‟‟ the term
„sex‟ is increasingly restricted in sociolinguistics to
refer to a „biologically‟ or „physiologically‟ based
distinction between males and females, as opposed
to the more social notion of „gender‟ „‟ (p.201)
According to Meyerhoff (2006) gender is „‟not sex of
speaker which (largely) reflects biological or
physiological differences between people used
increasingly in sociolinguistics to indicate a social
identity that emerges or is constructed through
social actions‟‟ (p.201)
Whorfian Hypothesis and gender
it suggests that language that we speak affects our thoughts in clear ways -
it makes us how we are - that is, what you speak is what/how you think. In
the Whorf hypothesis, one cannot think outside the confines of one's
language. For example, if you ask German and Spanish speakers to
describe the same objects having opposite gender assignment in those
two languages, you may get different describtions. A study showed that
the descriptions they gave differed in a way predicted by grammatical
gender. For example, when asked to describe a "key" — a word that is
masculine in German and feminine in Spanish — the German speakers
were more likely to use words like "hard," "heavy," "jagged," "metal,"
"serrated," and "useful," whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to
say "golden," "intricate," "little," "lovely," "shiny," and "tiny." To describe
a "bridge," which is feminine in German and masculine in Spanish, the
German speakers said "beautiful," "elegant," "fragile," "peaceful,"
"pretty," and "slender," and the Spanish speakers said "big," "dangerous,"
"long," "strong," "sturdy," and "towering." This was true even though all
testing was done in English, a language without grammatical gender.
How Sexist the language of English is !
Use of Pronouns: he , she
Intonation differences: women-rising intonation/ tag questions (it is claimed that
women use tag questions more than men because they are not sure whether waht they
say is true or not, thus they employ tag questions to get a clarification)
Vocabulary differences: colours (women use more words for colours!), adjectives,
addressing, titles... actor, actress
Baron, Baroness ,Count, Countess , Duke, Duchess,Emperor, Empress,giant, giantess,host,
hostess,lion, lioness, manager, manageress,master, mistress,murderer, murderess,priest,
priestess,Prince, Princess,poet, poetess,waiter, waitress, bridegroom, bride, widower,
widow,boy-friend, girl-friend,grandfather, grandmother,great grandfather, great
grandmother, grandson, granddaughter,great grandson,great granddaughter, father-in-
law, mother-in-law,brother-in-law, sister-in-law,son-in-law, daughter-in-law,landlord,
landlady,manservant, maidservant, step-father, step-mother,step-son, step-daughter,
Godfather, Godmother, Godson, Goddaughter
Animals:tom, tib (cat), tom, tib (elephant),bull, cow,boar, sow,buck, roe, ram, ewe, etc.
A language has 'gender-specific pronouns' when
personal pronouns have different forms according to
the gender of their referents.
The English language has three gender-specific
pronouns in the 3rd. person singular, whose forms
are gender-specific: he (masculine), she
(feminine), and it (neuter, used for
objects, abstractions, and most animals). The other
English pronouns (I, you, they...) do not make
gender distinctions; i.e., they are genderless or
In most Indo-European languages (though not in the modern Indo-Iranian languages) third-person
pronouns are gender-specific, while first and second person pronouns are not.
For example, in French,
First person singular je ('I'), me ('me')
Second person singular (familiar) tu, te ('you')
First person plural nous ('we', 'us')
Second person plural vous ('you')
Third person possessives leur ('their') and son/sa/ses ('his'/'her'/'its'/'their')
are all gender-inclusive; but
Third person pronouns il ('he'), le ('him'), ils ('they', referring to an all-male or mixed-gender group)
are all masculine.
Third person pronouns elle ('she'), la ('her') and elles ('they', referring to an all-female group) are all
In some languages (including most modern Germanic languages) this distinction is neutralised in the
plural: English and Modern Russian both have gender-inclusive forms for the third person plural
pronouns: 'they'/'them' and они (oni).
Where a language has grammatical gender, gendered pronouns are sometimes used according to the
grammatical gender of their antecedent, as French il ('he') for le livre ('the book' - masculine),
whereas in Spanish, el libro is also masculine, but it would not be considered correct to refer to it by
using the masculine pronoun él. Instead, something such as "Where is the book?" "It is on the table",
would be rendered as "¿Dónde está el libro?" "Está sobre la mesa" where the pronoun is omitted.
However, when the pronoun is used as a direct object, gender-specific forms reappear in Spanish.
The sentence I can't find it. (always referring to the masculine noun libro (book) would be No lo
encuentro, whereas if I can't find it refers to a magazine (revista in Spanish, which is feminine) then
the sentence would be No la encuentro.
Icelandic uses a similar system to other Germanic
languages in distinguishing three 3rd-person genders in
the singular - hann (masculine gender), hún (feminine
gender), það (neuter gender). However it also uses this
three-way distinction in the plural: þeir (m. only), þær (f.
only), þau (n., which includes mixed gender). It is
therefore possible to be gender-specific in all
circumstances should one wish - although of course þau
can be used for gender-inclusiveness. Otherwise the form
used is determined grammatically (i.e., by the gender of
the noun replaced). In general statements the use of
menn could be preferable as it is less specific than þau.
In Norwegian a new word is proposed, hin ('sie' or
'hir') to fill the gap between the third person
pronouns hun ('her') and han ('him'). Hin is used,
but in limited groups; it is not yet embraced by
society as a whole. One can also use man or en or
den (en means 'one'). These three are considered
In some dialects of the Swedish language there is a word hän
(borrowed from Finnish) that means either han ('he') or hon
('she').It has spread to hacker slang. Some more common
gender-inclusive pronouns however are hen ('he'/'she') and
henom ('him'/'her').[The Swedish Language Council
recommends den ('it') for third person singular of indefinite
gender. However, large parts of the Swedish LGBT community
consider this a derogatory term, since it implies that the
person referred to is linguistically equated with a lifeless
thing. Instead the terms hen and henom is preferred if one
wants to refer to someone without a definite placement inside
the binary system of masculine and feminine.
Written Japanese underwent a transition similar to Chinese when
an archaic demonstrative kare (彼) was resurrected to translate the
'he' of European languages, while a word kanojo (彼女) was
invented to translate 'she'. In the spoken language, the words carry
the connotation of boyfriend and girlfriend respectively, and instead
ano hito (あの人, literally 'that person') is used in those cases where
a pronoun is required. Unlike Western languages, pronouns in
Japanese are a type of nouns rather than a distinct class.
Nevertheless, pronouns in Japanese usually have traditionally
carried a strong gender connotation (though it has somewhat
weakened nowadays), even first-person ones. For instance, ore (俺
or オレ) or boku (僕 or ボク) is used as 'I'/'me' mainly by men
(women have begun using boku nowadays), while watashi (私 or わ
たし) or atashi (あたし or アタシ) is used by females.
Novial (Nov International Auxiliari Lingue) is an international
auxiliary language created by Otto Jespersen(1928), a linguist from
Denmark. Jespersen recognized a need for an international auxiliary
language and thought there were many problems with Esperanto. With
Novial he tried to cure those problems. Novial was designed to be easy
to learn with vocabulary taken mainly from Germanic and Romance
languages, and grammar based mainly on English.
In Novial the third person pronoun le means 'he' or
'she' or 'it'. There are also the gender-specific
pronouns lo, la and lu ('he', 'she', and
'it', respectively). Each has a corresponding plural
les, los, las and lus all translated as 'they' in English.
Gender Differences in Language Use
.Avoid eye contact Physical Orientation
.Talk for status Status&Connection
.From decision to discussion Directness&Indirectness
.Talkative in public, quiet in private Public&Private talk
.Fight for fun Ritual Opposition
.‟Trouble talk‟ avoided, would not put status in risk Conversational Style
Gender Differences in Language Use
Use eyes contact
Talk for solidarity STATUS&CONNECTION
From discussion to decision DIRECTNESS&INDIRECTNESS
Quiet in public, talkative in private PUBLIC&PRIVATE TALK
May fight, but not for fun RITUAL OPPOSITION
„Trouble talk‟ used to create rapport CONVERSATIONAL STYLE
Holmes (1998) suggested some testable claims of what she
named „sociolinguistic universal tendencies‟. The followings
are five of them:
Women and men develop different patterns of language use
Women tend to focus on the affective functions of an
interaction more than men do.
Women tend to use linguistic devices that stress solidarity
more than men do.
Women tend to interact in ways which will maintain and
increase solidarity; yet, men (especially in formal context)
tend to interact in ways which will maintain and increase their
power and status.
Women are stylistically more flexible than men.
George Keith and John Shuttleworh
George Keith and John Shuttleworh (2008) in
„Living Language‟ (p.222) suggest that:
women - talk more than men, talk too much, are more
polite, are indecisive/hesitant, complain and nag, ask
more questions, support each other, are more co-
men - swear more, don't talk about emotions, talk about
sport more, talk about women and machines in the same
way, insult each other frequently, are competitive in
conversation, dominate conversation, speak with more
authority, give more commands, interrupt more.
Jennifer Coates (1993) claims that ;
Men will often reject a topic of conversation
introduced by women while women will accept the
topics introduced by men
Men discuss „male‟ topics e.g.
business, sport, politics, economics
Women are more likely to initiate conversation than
men, but less likely to make the conversation succeed
Robin Lakoff in his book „Language and Woman‟s Place (1975) and in a related
article, he published some claims that women;
Speak less frequently
Show they are listening by using minimal responses mm, yeah
Speak more quietly than men and tend to use the higher pitch range
of their voices
Use hyper-correct grammar and pronunciation: Standard English
Use a greater range of intonation and „speak in italics‟: so, very,
Use question intonation in declarative statements: women make
declarative statements into questions by raising the pitch of their
voice at the end of a statement, expressing uncertainty.
Overuse qualifiers: (for example, “I think that...”)
Hedge: using phrases like “sort of”, “kind of”, “it seems like”.
Use super-polite forms: “Would you mind...”,“I'd appreciate it if...”,
“...if you don't mind”.
Apologise more: (for instance, “I'm sorry, but I think that...”)
Use tag questions: “You're going to dinner, aren't you?”
Have a special lexicon: e.g. women use more words for colours, men
Social Structures: Masculinity and Femininity
female language male and female language male language
the majority of people use a combination of male and female language
some females, some males
Dialogues and Styles of Speech
A man talks to a man:
Lets get hammered! (short, vulgar, NOT
I don„t like this topic at all. (formal behaviour,
He was a hell of a man! (talking about s.o.,
Dialogues and Styles of Speech
A woman talks to a woman:
Let„s meet for a make up party next saturday.
Do you mind if we change the topic.
The guy I met in the elevator had a very bad attitude.
(honest, polite, bad
Dialogues and Styles of Speech
A man talks to a woman
Would you like to have another drink?
(polite, playing a role,
thinking of own
We will discuss the topic tomorrow if you don„t mind.
He is a very strange person.
(covering own antipathy
REASONS FOR COMMUNICATION
.More inclined to use conversation to establish and maintain relationships
.‟‟Talking is the essence of relationship‟‟
.Most common theme: EMPATHY
.‟To know you are not alone‟
.To get practical tips, or offer them to others.
.Conversations are fast-paced and tend to stay on the surface.
.Direct and practical, straight to the point.
OPPOSITE GENDER CONVERSATIONS
Women and men describe topics discussed by opposite sex as ‘trivial’
Men think women:
- Ask for too much details,
- Give too much details
- Focus too much on feelings and emotions
.on the other hand, women want to talk about important
things such as:
How are they getting along
Why are women more chatty ?
Researchers found the so-called 'language protein' that makes
women more talkative also causes male rats to be more vocal than
their female cage mates
Researchers have found women have higher levels of
Team from University of Maryland found male rats - the chattier gender in
rodents - make more of the protein than female
It has been claimed previously that women speak about 20,000
words a day - some 13,000 more than the average man.
Girls learn to speak earlier and more quickly than boys
Putting into a nutshell, it can be claimed that there are
differences in men‟s and women‟s speech since boys and girls
are brought up in different ways and they generally fill
different roles in society. As the literature shows, there is
obviously a difference between men and women and the way,
the style they hold their conversations. Men‟s language is
clearly different than women‟s. Women are frequently asked
why they are not direct, why they seem to be hesitating a lot
which make them look uncertain. On the other hand, men
tend to raise topics more frequently than women do; men
tend to use conversation to swap information, instead of
building up intimacy or community, unlike women. A possible
explanation for this might be laying in the evolution we had
and the different tasks assigned to men and women.
Holmes, J. (1998). Women‟s Talk: The Question of Sociolinguistic
Jeniffer, C. (1993).Women, Men and Language (originally
published 1986, 2nd edition 1993) Harlow: Longman.
Jespersen, Otto (1928). An international language. London: Allen
Keith, G. and J. Shuttleworth (2008). Living Language and
Literature, 2nd ed. Hoddler Education.
Lakoff, R. (1975). Language and Women’s Place. New York: Harper
Meyerhoff, M.( 2006). Introducing Sociolinguistics. London/NY:
Why are women more chatty? Retrived from:
precise.html#ixzz2UCVMhqV5) on 27, May 2013