Please explain some differences between how men and women use language. 

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Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While everyone has a general understanding of what language is and how it is used, scientists and researchers are still debating the best ways to study language and especially the role of gender in language. Studies of the brain regarding language acquisition in boys and girls are more extensive that those regarding language usage between men and women. What most researchers do agree on, though, is that men and women use language differently--at least at times.

The general consensus is that women enjoy conversation and social talk while men prefer to use language more objectively; in other words, women use language in more social and psychological (emotional) ways while men use more language in more objective and impersonal ways. More assumptions, quoted from the Guardian article linked below, include the following:

  1. Language and communication matter more to women than to men; women talk more than men.
  2. Women are more verbally skilled than men.
  3. Men's goals in using language tend to be about getting things done, whereas women's tend to be about making connections to other people. Men talk more about things and facts, whereas women talk more about people, relationships and feelings.
  4. Men's way of using language is competitive, reflecting their general interest in acquiring and maintaining status; women's use of language is cooperative, reflecting their preference for equality and harmony.
  5. These differences routinely lead to "miscommunication" between the sexes, with each sex misinterpreting the other's intentions. This causes problems in contexts where men and women regularly interact, and especially in heterosexual relationships.

Unfortunately, such generalizations are not always accurate. In the workplace, for example, men and women are more likely to speak in the same kinds of ways because they want to achieve the same goals. The danger, of course, is that people in the workplace can act on assumptions about gender and language rather than reality.

These kinds of assumptions about how men and women communicate differently, while perhaps true in some settings, can impact career choices and limit opportunities for study or getting hired for a job. The use of more emotion-based language, of course, must mean that women are best suited to careers which seem to rely on emotion and empathy than on logic and reason. This can relegate women to jobs such as nursing, teaching, and social work while keeping them from careers in research or other hard sciences. Of course the reverse must also be true, then. We know this is not the case.

When it comes to gender, society does tend to assume that men and women have more differences than similarities; in the case of language, this may or may not be true. Conflicting studies can be found on nearly every aspect of language, from its acquisition to the role of biology in language usage; this conflict is especially pronounced when gender is part of the study, at least in part because society is so highly sensitized to fairness and equality.