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Gender in Communication
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In 1922, Otto Jespersen published the very first piece in modern linguistics concerning "women's language." In his book he devotes an entire chapter entitled, "The Woman," to describing differences in women's compared to men's speech and voice pitch. He describes women's vocabulary as less extensive, keeping them in what he refers to as the central field of language -- the "indispensable small-change of a language" (Frank, p. 48). He claims that the periphery of language and the development of new words is only for men's speech. Jespersen attributes these differences to the early division of labor between the sexes. In his conclusion he claims that the social changes taking place at the time "'may eventually modify even the linguistic relations of the two sexes'" (Frank, p. 48). Perhaps Jespersen was predicting the very speech styles that sociolinguists today are studying.
Robin Lakoff was one of the first women to publish theories on the existence of women's language. Her book Language and Woman's Place (1975) and her article entitled "Woman's Language" have served as the basis for much research on the subject. In her 1975 article she published 10 basic assumptions about what she felt constituted a special women's language. Much of what Lakoff proposed agreed with Jespersen's theories:
- Hedges: phrases like "sort of," "kind of," "It seems like," etc.
- (Super) polite forms: "Would you mind...," "I'd appreciate it if...," "...if you don't mind."
- Tag questions: "You're going to dinner, aren't you?"
- Speaking in italics: intonational emphasis equal to underlining words -- so, very, quite.
- Empty adjectives: divine, lovely, adorable, etc.
- Hypercorrect grammar and pronunciation: English class grammar and clear enunciation.
- Sense of humor lacking: women do not tell jokes well and often don'tunderstand the punchline of jokes.
- Direct quotation: men paraphrase more often.
- Special lexicon: women use more words for things like colors, men for sports, etc.
- Question intonation in declarative statements: women make declarative statements questions by raising the pitch of their voice at the end of a statements, expressing uncertainty. For example, "What school do you attend?" "Lafayette College?"
Lakoff believed that women, in general, have a language style in which they make use of the above-mentioned speech patterns. She did not deny, however, that there are cases in which women do not use all or even some of these patterns. Her observations coincide with many of Jespersen's, and they have found much support in researchers and scholars today.
Zimmerman and West
A 1975 study by Don Zimmerman and Candace West at UC Santa Barbara analyzed conversations in a college community. They found that in same-sex conversations, interruptions were distributed fairly evenly among the speakers. In the cross-sex conversations, however, contrary to the belief that women talk and interrupt others more than men do while speaking -- men were responsible for 96% of the interruptions. Zimmerman and West concluded from their study that "men deny equal status to women as conversational partners" (Spender, p. 44). By interrupting men can prevent females from talking and can gain the floor for their own discussion; "they engineer female silence" (Spender, p. 44). According to Dale Spender in her review of the Zimmerman and West study, any woman who tries to interrupt a man is seen as rude, domineering and bitchy. In addition to Spender's review, Eakins and Eakins conducted a study of "verbal turntaking" (Frank, p. 57) by faculty members in meetings that supports Zimmerman and West's conclusion. They discovered that men had more frequent turns, spoke for greater lengths of time with each, interrupted more and were interrupted less.
About this Document
This is a fun "magazine" style quiz plus note-taking pages for research on how men and women communicate, based largely on Tannen's work