Gender and age peculiarities of the language and some linguistic difficulties of translation them in practice

Study of lexical and morphological differences of the women’s and men’s language; grammatical forms of verbs according to the sex of the speaker. Peculiarities of women’s and men’s language and the linguistic behavior of men and women across languages.

Рубрика Иностранные языки и языкознание
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Gender and age peculiarities of the language and some linguistic difficulties of translation them in practice


Chapter 1. Language and Gender studies

1.1 Gender and linguistics stereotyping

1.2 Gender Language and its subdivisions

a) Women's language

b) Men's language

c) Children's language

d) Age-graded language

Chapter 2. Linguistic peculiarities of translation of gender graded languages

2.1 Difficulties of translation of children's speech

2.2 Linguistic features of women's speech

2.3 Age-graded language and the way of improving it




The study of language has been a constant preoccupation with more or less professional researchers for thousands of years. Since the earliest times, much before the birth of linguistics as a distinct scholarly discipline, people have been aware of the essential role language plays not only in their everyday life, but also as a characteristic feature of mankind, radically differentiating human beings from other species of the animal kingdom.

The fact that language acts as a fundamental link between ourselves and the world around us and that in the absence of language our relation to the universe and to our fellows is dramatically impaired is something that people have been (at least intuitively) aware of since the beginning of history. Suffice it to mention that different cultures seem to associate speech problems with intellectual deficiencies. The origin of language (believed to be divine in most ancient cultures), the relation between language and thinking, the question if we can think without the help of language (and if we can, what kind of thinking is that), the manner in which human beings (who are not, obviously, born with the ability to speak, but have, however, an innate capacity for language acquisition) come, with an amazing rapidity, to successfully use language, beginning with the very first stages of their existence (the acquisition of language actually parallels the birth of the child's self-consciousness and the latter can hardly be imagined without the former) have puzzled researchers for centuries and none of these questions has actually received a satisfactory and universally accepted answer.

Language is obviously the main system available for us, not only for knowing the world and understanding it, but also for accumulating, storing and communicating information. Language can thus be understood as the main system we have for communicating among us. All the other systems of conveying information are actually based on this essential, fundamental one. Communication by means of language can thus be understood as a complex process actually consisting of several stages. Any act of communication basically takes place between two participants: on the one hand we have the source of the information, the person who has to communicate something, the sender of the message that contains the information, and on the other hand we need a second party, the recipient, the addressee of the message, the beneficiary of the communication act, in other words the person(s) to whom the information contained in the message is addressed. Since the sender has to convey a message, and the transmission is to take place on the basis of a system of signs (a code), the first thing the sender has to do is to encode or codify his message, in other words to render the contents of the message by means of the signs of the respective code (the language) .The next stage is obviously represented by the transmission of the message proper, which can be achieved in several ways (depending of the type of communication; e.g. written or oral). Once the message reaches the recipient, the process should unfold in the opposite direction. That is, the message gets to the recipient in an encoded form so that the recipient has to decode it and grasp its meaning.

The novelty of the study. Novelty of the diploma work is that it adds some details to what was studied before. This theme is actual for today and will always be. Many linguists are interested in the peculiarities of gender linguistics. Due to the analysis which is used in this diploma work to determine the women's language and men's language to reveal their differences and dominance.

The subject of the study is peculiarities of the women's and men's language and the linguistic behavior of men and women across languages.

The purpose of this diploma paper is the study of lexical and morphological differences of the women's and men's language, grammatical forms of verbs according to the sex of the speaker.

The English language gradually becomes one of the most widely used languages in the world. There are large numbers of students in institutions of higher and further education who are learning English for many purposes: as the medium of the literature and culture of English-speaking countries; for access to scholarly and technological publications; to qualify as English teachers, translators, or interpreters; to improve their chances of employment or promotion in such areas as tourist trade, international progammes for economic or military aid. In countries where it is a second language, English is commonly used as the medium for higher education, at least for scientific and technological subjects.

Advantage of this diploma paper is that it will be useful both to teachers, and to students. In teaching activity it can be applied in studying of such courses as practical course of translation, theoretical course of translation, practicum on culture of speech communication, etc. The analysis made in this diploma work will help to predict mistakes while speaking, will help to practical exercises for development of skills of linguistics.

The main task is to reveal peculiarities of the women's and men's language, find similarities and differences between the women's form and men's form of speaking, to define difficulties which encounter the students while reading and analyzing the texts, which are necessary to overcome, and also to study the theoretical basis of English linguistics in order to understand the structure of Modern English language.

The structure of the degree work. The present diploma work consists of the introduction, two chapters, the conclusion and bibliography.

Chapter 1. Language and Gender Studies

1.1 Gender and Linguistic Stereotyping

Gender stereotyping in the linguistics is a well-established fact. Nowhere is it more obvious than in advertising, where the authoritative male voice-over is a regular feature.'Perhaps the most telling evidence of sexism in advertising is not to be found in 'what happens', but in the ubiquity of the male in the voice-over, even in ads portraying or aimed at women, or which pay lip-service to the modern liberated women!' [Cook G., 1992] The attribution of specific and indeed limited gender roles by the advertising industry and by society in general is a fascinating subject in its own right. We propose to look initially at just one element of it, i.e. the portrayal of women's language and communicative skills as a component of their general behaviour patterns. Usually, references to women's linguistic behaviour are implicit rather than explicit. There are occasions when deep-rooted expectations and prejudices come to the fore, displaying a stereotypical picture of women as creatures who talk a lot, interrupt men and are illogical and changeable.

Be Quiet! Didn't your husband teach you not to interrupt when a man is talking?' - Pieter Botha, President of South Africa, responding to a female heckler. [Werner M., 1993].

How can we have an invasion when the troops storm ashore and then change their minds!' - Bob Hope, entertainer, about women in combat. [Werner M., 1993].

A further example relates to the stereotype that women talk a lot. It is taken from the British Telecom advertising campaign called 'It's good to talk':

e.g. Why can't men be more like women?

e.g. Women and men communicate differently.

e.g. Have you noticed?

e.g. Women like to sit down to make phone calls.

e.g. They know that getting in touch is much more important than what you actually say.

e.g. Men adopt another position.

e.g. They stand up.

Their body language says this message will be short, sharp and to the point. 'Meet you down the pub, all right? See you there'. That's a man's call.

e.g. Women can't understand why men are so abrupt. [The Sunday Times]

Lip-service is paid to women's role in maintaining social harmony. However, it is abundantly clear that what women say is unimportant, if 'getting in touch is much more important than what you actually say' and women's conversation is irrelevant if it is 'not to the point'. Interestingly, the two accompanying pictures show a man and a woman on the phone, wearing no clothes with the caption strategically positioned. The suggestion is obviously (and dangerously) that such behaviour is biologically determined. What might be represented elsewhere as a disadvantage is here turned to advantage for raw commercial purposes: how else could 'talking-time' be sold other than by reference to the stereotypical high-achievers in the area, i.e. women?

Linguistic stereotypes

Since the publication of Robin Lakoff's stereotypes about women's speech have percolated through from linguistic circles to the general public. [Lakoff R, 1975]. It is almost impossible to look through a women's magazine nowadays without finding some article popularising descriptions of women's speech, largely based on linguistic research. [U Magazine; September, 1995]. Lakoff drew up a list of features of women's speech, relating mostly to vocabulary, but also to syntactic structures. Until then, few outside hallowed linguistic circles had even heard of the tag-question or had any idea what it was. The following are examples of tag questions:

e.g. John is here, isn't he?

e.g. They will be arriving shortly, won't they?

Since then, there has been furious debate about whether women use more tag-questions than men and if so, what it means. Various women's magazines offer advice on how to rid oneself of this and other female forms of speech, with the result that a further set of stereotypes has emerged, this time based on the research of linguists. The following is part of the most recent list provided by Lakoff:

· Women's intonational contours display more variety than men's.

· Women use diminutives and euphemisms more than men.

· Women make more use of expressive forms (adjectives, not nouns or verbs and in that category, those expressing emotional rather than intellectual evaluation) more than men: lovely, divine.

· Women use hedges of all kinds more than men.

· Women use intonation patterns that resemble questions, indicating uncertainty or need for approval.

· Women's voices are breathier than men's.

· Women are more indirect and polite than men.

· In conversation, women are more likely to be interrupted, less likely to introduce successful topics.

· Women's communicative style tends to be collaborative rather than competitive.

· More of women's communication is expressed non verbally (by gesture and intonation) than men's.

· Women are more careful to be 'correct' when they speak, using better grammar and fewer colloquialisms than men. [Lakoff R, 1990]

Debate currently rages about most of the features mentioned above. Much work has been done on pitch, intonation, hedges, politeness and `correctness'. Sociolinguists such as Peter Trudgill and William Labove have consistently shown that, on average, women speak a form of language more approaching the standard (i.e. more `correct') than men of a similar social background. [Labov W., 1972]. Again, the problem is, how should this be interpreted? Does it mean that women are linguistically more conservative than men? Attempting to answer such questions is another day's work.Let us turn to the area that has received most attention in recent times, that of 'communicative styles' or 'strategies'. Initially research was carried out on private conversation but more recently attention has focused on women's linguistic behaviour in the workplace and whether, at least in part, it can be blamed for the existence of the 'Glass Ceiling'. Tannen's work has excited considerable controversy among linguists. Her views can be summarised as follows: men tend to employ 'contest' strategies and women 'community' strategies. [Tanner D., 1994]. If we accept such a dichotomy, it provides an easy explanation for women's lack of advancement in the workplace: women are too busy establishing 'community' or 'rapport' instead of climbing the ladder by engaging in the 'contest' strategies which are more successful in organisations founded on hierarchy. Of course, it is not as simple as that. It is not enough to study male patterns of linguistic interaction, adopt them and succeed where others have failed. Some women have done so: Margaret Thatcher lowered her pitch, spoke more slowly and reduced the variability of her intonation patterns. One has also to contend with society's expectations of women as ladies who speak politely and the fact that lower pitch is associated with greater credibility. (Studies have shown that the lower the news reader's voice, the more people are inclined to believe the news!).

Language in academe

Let us turn to the role of language in an academic institution of which Lakoff gives some fascinating examples in Talking Power. Lakoff considers the university a hierarchical institution par excellence, where vertical divisions are rigorously maintained, starting with the lecturer's dominance over a class of undergraduates, going on to the staff meeting where she considers that amount of talk is directly proportional to status. On the surface, it appears the rules are the same for women and men: from the students' perspective, whoever is on the podium has the floor whether male or female. It is only when you look at the administration of universities that the rules are different. [Lakoff R, 1975]. Lakoff describes her experience of committee meetings as follows: 'Here I was at one of the world's greatest universities, (The University of California at Berkeley) in the company of distinguished colleagues, and after listening to the latter for two hours or so, could not recall a single thing of substance that had been said. Worse, it would sometimes occur to me that my respected confrАres (almost always men) were spending hours on a point that could be summarised and concluded in a sentence or two. I would attempt to provide that sentence. But once I had spoken, the discourse would close over me like the ocean enveloping a pebble. It was as if I had not spoken - in fact, did not exist. What did it mean? After a while I figured it out. My colleagues were playing by men's rules: what was important was to gain turf, control territory. That goal was achieved by spreading words around. [Lakoff R, 1975].

Lakoff puts her finger on one of the dilemmas facing women: how to deal with the expectation that it is men not women who will occupy the floor. However eloquent or convincing a woman is, it is difficult for her to gain and maintain the floor in a public fora, (of which the university committee meeting is a prime example) because of the expectation that public fora are men's, not women's domains. The public/private divide still operates: the more public the forum, the less women are likely to speak. So it is not just a question of women acquiring new speech strategies in order to succeed, it is also a question of overcoming the expectation of less talk - or even silence. A university is no different in this respect than any other institution based on hierarchy. We are indeed a long way from the societal stereotype of the loquacious woman.

There is considerable divergence between conventional stereotypes and the reality of women's speech. Since linguistic behavior is not rigidly divided along sex lines, it is easy to discount differences as non-existent or unimportant. Linguistic research in the last twenty years has done nothing if not prove that variation does exist and that women are linguistically, as well as socially, at a disadvantage. Researchers have shown consistently that women speak less than men in public for a and that men interrupt women more than the other way round.

The problem is whether it is possible or desirable for women to alter their speech patterns so that they may be judged more direct and convincing; Deborah Cameron refers to such a process as 'verbal hygiene for women' [Cameron D., 1994]. This kind of linguistic training seems like a modern equivalent for women of the old elocution lesson from the days when a particular class accent was a marker for upward social mobility. In the context of the Glass Ceiling, upward mobility for women is a far more complex affair.

Changing women's linguistic strategies is not terribly difficult in certain areas: one can, for example, (possibly with a modicum of training), adopt lower pitch, reduce the range of intonation patterns and avoid disclaimers like: 'I'm not sure if this will work but...' Some women may have philosophical objections to being expected, yet again, to change their behaviour to fit in with a male norm. They may favour a `celebrating difference' approach, though this seems particularly unlikely to succeed in a hierarchical workplace.

Whatever one's position on the 'if you can't beat them, join them' debate, at least the time has come when doing research in language and gender and mediating it to the public is considered worthwhile, in contrast to twenty years ago when it would have been considered an unworthy, if not frivolous, subject of academic debate. More and more women appear to have cultivated elements of what some refer to as 'powerful' language, related to level of attainment rather than gender determined. One hopes that the more women participate in public life the more they will develop individual styles that no longer surprise because of their rarity. That will be progress.

1.2 Gender Language and its subdivisions

a) Women's language

b) men's language

Possible gender differences in language usage have recently attracted a lot of attention.

First, we need to sort out whether women really do speak differently from men. People's impressions are not necessarily correct: it is often assumed, for example, that women talk more than men, whereas almost all research on the topic has demonstrated the opposite, that men talk more than women. Similarly, it is sometimes claimed that women use 'empty' adjectives, such as divine, charming, cute, yet this type of description is possibly more usually used by (presumably male) writers in popular newspapers to describe women. [Aitchison J., 1992]

Furthermore, some characteristics which have been attributed to women turn out to be far more widespread. For example, women have been claimed to use tentative phrases such as kind of, sort of in place of straight statements: 'Bill is kind of short', instead of 'Bill is short'. They have also been accused of using question intonation in response to queries: 'About eight o'clock?' as a reply to: 'What time's dinner?' Yet this insecure style of conversation seems to be typical of 'powerless' people, those who are somewhat nervous and afraid of antagonizing others. Powerless people come from either sex.

1. Observations of the differences between the way males and females speak were long restricted to grammatical features, such as the differences between masculine and feminine morphology in many languages. In earlier usage, the word gender was generally restricted to these grammatical distinctions. They cause problems for speakers of languages like English, where grammatical gender is marked mainly in pronouns, when they learn a language like French, where non-sexed items like table (la table) can be grammatically feminine. [Spolsky B., 1998].

The most consistent difference found between men and women within the western world is a tendency for women to speak in a way that is closer to the prestige standard. In colloquial terms, they speak 'better' than men. No one is quite sure why this is so, and several explanations have been proposed, which may all be partially right. [Aitchison J., 1992]. For example, women may be pressurized by society to behave in a 'ladylike' manner, and 'speaking nicely' may be part of this. Or because they are the main child-rearers, they may subconsciously speak in a way which will enable their children to progress socially. Or they may tend to have jobs which rely on communication, rather than on strength. All these factors, and others, appear to be relevant. Of the social causes of gender differentiation in speech style, one of the most critical appears to be level of education. In all studies, it has been shown that the greater the disparities between educational opportunities for boys and girls, the greater the differences between male and female speech.

Historically, these differences sometimes seem to have arisen from customs encouraging marriage outside the community. If there is a regular pattern of men from village A marrying and bringing home to their village women from village B, then it is likely that the speech of women in village A will be marked by many features of the village В dialect. [Spolsky B., 1998].The preservation of these introduced features depends on the maintenance of social differentiation in occupations, status, and activities.

Children soon pick up the social stereotypes that underlie this discrimination. They learn that women's talk is associated with the home and domestic activities, while men's is associated with the outside world and economic activities. These prejudices often remain in place in the face of contrary evidence. Thus, while there is a popular prejudice that women talk more than men, empirical studies of a number of social situations (such as committee meetings and Internet discussion groups) have shown the opposite to be true.

In recent years, particularly among employed women, the differences between men's and women's speech appear to be diminishing. Such studies, then, provide further evidence of the importance of language in reflecting social attitudes and social changes.If the pattern of females relying on an abstract language network and of males relying on sensory areas of the brain extends into adulthood - a still unresolved question - it could explain why women often provide more context and abstract representation than men. For men the focus is on sharing information, while women value the interaction process. Men and women possess different interactive styles, as they typically acquired their communicative competence at an early age in same-gender groups. [ Montgomery, 1995].Ask a woman for directions and you may hear something like: "Turn left on Main Street, go one block past the drug store, and then turn right, where there's a flower shop on one corner and a cafe across the street.

"Such information-laden directions may be helpful for women because all information is relevant to the abstract concept of where to turn; however, men may require only one cue and be distracted by additional information. Studies of gender differences have shown the power of stereotyping. A poet is taken more seriously than a poetess; women's status is lowered by references to the girls. In Hebrew, only the lower ranks in the army (up to the rank of lieutenant) have feminine forms. The use of generic masculine ('Everyone should bring his lunch, we need to hire the best man available'), however well- meaning and neutral the speaker's intention may be, reinforces the secondary status of women in many social groups. [Spolsky B., 1998].

With the growth of social awareness in this area over the past decades, there have been many attempts to overcome this prejudicial use of language.The idea that men and women "speak different languages" has itself become a dogma, treated not as a hypothesis to be investigated or as a claim to be adjudicated, but as an unquestioned article of faith. Our faith in it is misplaced. If we examine the findings of more than 30 years of research on language, communication and the sexes, we will discover that they tell a different, and more complicated, story. The idea that men and women differ fundamentally in the way they use language to communicate is a myth in the everyday sense: a widespread but false belief. But it is also a myth in the sense of being a story people tell in order to explain who they are, where they have come from, and why they live as they do. Whether or not they are "true" in any historical or scientific sense, such stories have consequences in the real world. They shape our beliefs, and so influence our actions. For example, the workplace is a domain in which myths about language and the sexes can have detrimental effects. A few years ago, the manager of a call centre in north-east England was asked by an interviewer why women made up such a high proportion of the agents he employed. Did men not apply for jobs in his centre? The manager replied that any vacancies attracted numerous applicants of both sexes, but, he explained: "We are looking for people who can chat to people, interact, build rapport. What we find is that women can do this more ... women are naturally good at that sort of thing." Moments later, he admitted: "I suppose we do, if we're honest, select women sometimes because they are women rather than because of something they've particularly shown in the interview." The growth of call centres is part of a larger trend in economically advanced societies. More jobs are now in the service than the manufacturing sector, and service jobs, particularly those that involve direct contact with customers, put a higher premium on language and communication skills. Many employers share the call-centre manager's belief that women are by nature better qualified than men for jobs of this kind, and one result is a form of discrimination. Male job applicants have to prove that they possess the necessary skills, whereas women are just assumed to possess them. But it is not only men who stand to lose because of the widespread conviction that women have superior verbal skills. Someone else who thinks men and women are naturally suited to different kinds of work is Baron-Cohen. [Cameron D., 1998].

In The Essential Difference he offers the following "scientific" careers advice:

1)"People with the female brain make the most wonderful counsellors, primary school teachers, nurses, carers, therapists, social workers, mediators, group facilitators or personnel staff.

2) People with the male brain make the most wonderful scientists, engineers, mechanics, technicians, musicians, architects, electricians, plumbers, taxonomists, catalogists, bankers, toolmakers, programmers or even lawyers." The difference between the two lists reflects what Baron-Cohen takes to be the "essential difference" between male and female brains. The female-brain jobs make use of a capacity for empathy and communication, whereas the male ones exploit the ability to analyse complex systems. Baron-Cohen is careful to talk about - "people with the female/male brain" rather than "men and women". [Cameron D., 1998].

He stresses that there are men with female brains, women with male brains, and individuals of both sexes with "balanced" brains. He refers to the major brain types as "male" and "female", however, because the tendency is for males to have male brains and females to have female brains. And at many points it becomes clear that in spite of his caveats about not confusing gender with brain sex, he himself is doing exactly that. Baron-Cohen classifies nursing as a female-brain, empathy-based job (though if a caring and empathetic nurse cannot measure dosages accurately and make systematic clinical observations she or he risks doing serious harm) and law as a male-brain, system-analysing job (though a lawyer, however well versed in the law, will not get far without communication and people-reading skills). [Cameron D., 1998].

These categorisations are not based on a dispassionate analysis of the demands made by the two jobs. They are based on the everyday common-sense knowledge that most nurses are women and most lawyers are men. At its most basic it is simply the proposition that men and women differ fundamentally in the way they use language to communicate. All versions of the myth share this basic premise; most versions, in addition, make some or all of the following claims:

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.

Perhaps men have realised that a reputation for incompetence can sometimes work to your advantage. Like the idea that they are no good at housework, the idea that men are no good at talking serves to exempt them from doing something that many would rather leave to women anyway. (Though it is only some kinds of talking that men would rather leave to women: in many contexts men have no difficulty expressing themselves - indeed, they tend to dominate the conversation.) This should remind us that the relationship between the sexes is not only about difference, but also about power. The long-standing expectation that women will serve and care for others is not unrelated to their position as the "second sex". But in the universe of Mars and Venus, the fact that we (still) live in a male-dominated society is like an elephant in the room that everyone pretends not to notice. The tag question, similarly, can be interpreted as a hedging device which weakens womens' speech. Of all the linguistic forms originally listed by Lakoff, the tag has come to hold the position of archetypal women's language feature [Coates 1989].

For the different functions of the tag-question, Holmes [1992] reported the following results:

Figure 1

Function of tag



Expressing uncertainty


















As can be seen, men use question tags more often to express uncertainty while women use them largely to facilitate communication. Furthermore, she claims that downtoning a statement shows lack of confidence. Support for this position comes from those situations in which either verification of the statement can be made by mere inspection: John is here, isn't he? or where it reflects the opinion of the speaker: The way prices are rising these days is horrendous, isn't it? Clearly, these sentences need not be questioned and, thus, demonstrate the speaker's insecurity.There are instances as tag questions, two by the woman and one by a man:

Andy: You don't have a phone right now…do you? (falling intonation)

Jody: Mmhm.

Jody: Looks good…huh? (falling intonation)

Andy: Mmm.

Jody: You didn't get scissors, ehh? (rising intonation)

Ian: It's like talking to a machine.

She obviously had this spiel…It is not hard to see about the way men and women use language, provided those generalizations fit with already familiar stereotypes. An anecdote illustrating the point that, say, men are competitive and women cooperative conversationalists will prompt readers to recall the many occasions on which they have observed men competing and women cooperating - while not recalling the occasions, perhaps equally numerous, on which they have observed the opposite. If counter-examples do come to mind ("What about Janet? She's the most competitive person I know"), it is open to readers to apply the classic strategy of putting them in a separate category of exceptions ("of course, she grew up with three brothers / is the only woman in her department / works in a particularly competitive business"). In studies of verbal abilities and behaviour, the differences were slight. This is not a new observation. In 1988 Hyde and her colleague Marcia Linn carried out a meta-analysis of research dealing specifically with gender differences in verbal ability. [Hyde J.,1995]. The conclusion they came to was that the difference between men and women amounted to "about one-tenth of one standard deviation" - statistician-speak for "negligible". Another scholar who has considered this question, the linguist Jack Chambers, suggests that the degree of non-overlap in the abilities of male and female speakers in any given population is "about 0.25%". That's an overlap of 99.75%. It follows that for any array of verbal abilities found in an individual woman, there will almost certainly be a man with exactly the same array. As well as underplaying their similarities, statements of the form "women do this and men do that" disguise the extent of the variation that exists within each gender group. Focusing on the differences between men and women while ignoring the differences within them is extremely misleading but, unfortunately, all too common. If we are going to try to generalise about which sex talks more, a reliable way to do it is to observe both sexes in a single interaction, and measure their respective contributions. This cuts out extraneous variables that are likely to affect the amount of talk, and allows for a comparison of male and female behaviour under the same contextual conditions. Numerous studies have been done using this approach, and while the results have been mixed, the commonest finding is that men talk more than women. One review of 56 research studies categorises their findings as shown here:

Pattern of difference found / Number of studies

Men talk more than women / 34 (60.8%)

Women talk more than men / 2 (3.6%)

Men and women talk the same amount / 16 (28.6%)

No clear pattern / 4 (7.0%) [Tannen D. 1989]

The reviewers are inclined to believe that this is a case of gender and amount of talk being linked indirectly rather than directly: the more direct link is with status, in combination with the formality of the setting (status tends to be more relevant in formal situations). The basic trend, especially in formal and public contexts, is for higher-status speakers to talk more than lower-status ones. The gender pattern is explained by the observation that in most contexts where status is relevant, men are more likely than women to occupy high-status positions; if all other things are equal, gender itself is a hierarchical system in which men are regarded as having higher status. "Regarded" is an important word here, because conversational dominance is not just about the way dominant speakers behave; it is also about the willingness of others to defer to them. Some experimental studies have found that you can reverse the "men talk more" pattern, or at least reduce the gap, by instructing subjects to discuss a topic that both sexes consider a distinctively female area of expertise. Status, then, is not a completely fixed attribute, but can vary relative to the setting, subject and purpose of conversation. That may be why some studies find that women talk more in domestic interactions with partners and family members: in the domestic sphere, women are often seen as being in charge. In other spheres, however, the default assumption is that men outrank women, and men are usually found to talk more. In informal contexts where status is not an issue, the commonest finding is not that women talk more than men, it is that the two sexes contribute about equally. Sometimes, there are very clear differences between the forms of language typically used by women and those typically used by men. It is not an accident that all the traditionally "female" nouns have the polite or honorific prefix /o-/; this is one of many ways in which Japanese female speech has been characterized as being more polite than male speech. These days, many younger Japanese women would no longer choose to use the specific female forms. For instance, here are a few of the many cases where Japanese men and women traditionally use different lexical items to express the same meaning: [Janet Shibamoto, 1998].

Figure 2

Men's form

Women's form













box lunch
















Figure 3

Women's form

Men's form

English gloss



he is lifting it



let me lift it



he is peeling it



he is eating it



you are singing

Quite a few languages show lexical and morphological differences like those exemplified above for Japanese. In some Native American languages, grammatical forms of verbs are inflected differently according to the sex of the speaker. Examples from the Muskogean language Koasati are given below:

However, explicit and categorical grammatical and or even lexical marking of speaker gender is not the norm. Instead, we usually find differences in the frequency of certain things (words, or pronunciations, or constructions, or intonations, or whatever), especially when the circumstances of utterance are taken into account. This has been explained by Trudgill as follows:

“Linguistic gender varieties arise because ... language ... is closely related to social attitudes. Men and women are socially different in that society lays down different social roles for them and expects different behaviour patterns from them. Language simply reflects this social fact.... What is more, it seems that the larger and more inflexible the differences between the social roles of men and women in a particular community, the larger and more rigid the linguistic differences tend to be. ... Our English examples have all consisted of tendencies ... The examples of distinct male and female varieties all come from ... communities where sex roles are much more clearly delineated”.

It has often been observed that (other things equal) female speech tends to be evaluated as more "correct" or more "prestigious", less slangy, etc. Men are more likely than women to use socially-stigmatized forms (like "ain't" or g-dropping in English). On the other hand, women are usually in the lead in changes in pronunciation, typically producing new pronunciations sooner, more often, and in more extreme ways than men. A number of stylistic differences between female and male speech have been observed or claimed. Women's speech has been said to be more polite, more redundant, more formal, more clearly pronounced, and more elaborated or complex, while men's speech is less polite, more elliptical, more informal, less clearly pronounced, and simpler. In terms of conversational patterns, it has been observed or claimed that women use more verbal "support indicators" (like mm-hmm) than men do; that men interrupt women more than than they interrupt other men, and more than women interrupt either men or other women; that women express uncertainty and hesitancy more than men; and that (at least in single-sex interactions) males are more likely to give direct orders than females are. For nearly all of these issues of stylistic and conversational differences, there are some contradictory findings, and it seems that one must look closely at the nature of the circumstances in order to predict how men and women will behave verbally. Nevertheless, it is clear that in many circumstances, women and men tend to use language differently. Within the domain of culture, two broad classes of explanations for such gender effects have been offered: difference theories and dominance theories. According to difference theories (sometimes called two-culture theories), men and women inhabit different cultural (and therefore linguistic) worlds. To quote from the preface to Deborah Tannen's 1990 popularization You just don't understand, "boys and girls grow up in what are essentially different cultures, so talk between women and men is cross-cultural communication." [Tannen D., 1989]

According to dominance theories, men and women inhabit the same cultural and linguistic world, in which power and status are distributed unequally, and are expressed by linguistic as well as other cultural markers. In principle, women and men have access to the same set of linguistic and conversational devices, and use them for the same purposes. Apparent differences in usage reflect differences in status and in goals. The general consensus is that both sorts of explanations are appropriate to some degree, but the discussion is sometimes acrimonious and political. For instance, Tannen has been criticized by some feminist writers as a "deeply reactionary" "apologist for men", who "repeatedly excuses their insensitivities in her examples and justifies their outright rudeness as merely being part of their need for independence." Those who criticize Tannen in this way argue that the behavior of the men in her examples reflects a desire for domination rather rather than a different set of cultural norms. [Tannen D., 1989]

c) Children's language

To develop one's speech means to acquire essential patterns of speech and grammar patterns in particular. Children must use these items automatically during speech-practice. The automatic use of grammar items in our speech (oral and written) supposes mastering some particular skills - the skills of using grammar items to express one's own thoughts, in other words to make up your sentences.

One point in particular has become clearer: language has all the hallmarks of maturationally controlled behaviour. It used to be thought that animal behaviour could be divided into two types: that which was inborn and natural (for example, dogs naturally bark), and that which was learned and unnatural (dogs may be taught to beg). It turns out, however, that this division is by no means clear-cut and may be misleading. Many types of behaviour develop 'naturally' at a certain age, provided that the surrounding environment is adequate. Such behaviour is maturationally controlled, and sexual activity is a typical example. Arguments as to whether it is inborn or learnt are futile. Both nature and nurture are important. Innate potentialities lay down the framework, and within this framework, there is wide variation depending on the environment. When individuals reach a crucial point in their maturation, they are biologically in a state of readiness for learning the behaviour. They would not learn it at this time without a biological trigger, and conversely, the biological trigger could not be activated if there was nobody around from whom they could learn the behaviour. Human infants pay attention to language from birth. They produce recognizable words at around 12-15 months, and start putting words together at around 18 months. The urge for language to emerge at this time is very strong, and only very extraordinary circumstances will suppress it - as in the case of Genie, a Californian teenager who from the age of twenty months had been confined to one small room, and had been physically punished by her father if she made any sounds. Naturally, she was without speech when she was found. But all normal children, and some abnormal ones, will begin to speak if they hear language going on around them. [Aitchison J.,1992].

The realization that language is maturationally controlled means that most psycholinguists now agree that human beings are innately programmed to speak. But they cannot agree on exactly what is innate. In particular, they cannot decide to what extent (if any) language ability is separate from other cognitive abilities.

All researchers agree that there is extraordinary similarity in the speech development of English children. Children who could not possibly be acquainted go through similar stages in their development, and also make similar mistakes. The implications of this coincidence are hotly disputed. On the one hand, there are those who consider that this uniformity of speech development indicates that children innately contain a blueprint for language: this view represents a so-called content approach. Extreme supporters of this view suggest that children may have a universal framework imprinted on their brains.

On the other hand, there are those who support a process approach, and argue that children could not possibly contain specific language universals. Instead, they are innately geared to processing linguistic data, for which they utilize a puzzle-solving ability which is closely related to other cognitive skills.

A further group of people point to the social nature of language, and the role of parents. Children, they argue, are social beings who have a great need to interact with those around them. Furthermore, all over the world, child-carers tend to talk about the same sort of things, chatting mainly about food, clothes and other objects in the immediate environment. Motherese or caregiver language has fairly similar characteristics almost everywhere: the caregivers slow down their rate of speech, and speak in slow, well-formed utterances, with quite a lot of repetition. People who stress these social aspects of language claim that there is no need to search for complex innate mechanisms: social interaction with caring caregivers is sufficient to cause language to develop.

This latter view is turning out to be something of an exaggeration. The fact that parents make it easier for children to learn language does not explain why they are so quick to acquire it: intelligent chimps exposed to intensive sign language rarely get beyond 200 words and two-word sequences. Furthermore, language seems to be due to something more than a desire to communicate. There is at least one strange child on record who acquired fluent language, but did not use it to communicate. He spoke only monologues to himself, and refused to interact with others.

The whole controversy is far from being solved, though psycholinguists hope that the increasing amount of work being done on the acquisition of languages other than English may shed more light on the topic. It seems likely that children use an inbuilt linguistic ability to solve general intelligence problems, and also their natural puzzle-solving abilities to solve linguistic problems. With this kind of intertwining, the various strands may be inextricably interwoven.

In spite of the numerous controversies surrounding child language, psycholinguists are at least in agreement on one major point. Children are not simply imitating what they hear going on around them as if they were parrots. The learning processes involved are far more complex. From the moment they begin to talk, children seem to be aware that language is rule-governed, and they are engaged in an active search for the rules which underlie the language to which they are exposed. Child language is never at any time a haphazard conglomeration of random words, or a sub-standard version of adult speech. Instead, every child at every stage possesses a grammar with rules of its own even though the system will be simpler than that of an adult. For example, when children first use negatives, they normally use a simple rule: 'Put no or not in front of the sentence.' This results in consistent negative sentences which the child could not possibly have heard from an adult:

No play that.

No Fraser drink all tea.

This rule is generally superseded by another which says: 'Insert the negative after the first NP.' This also produces a consistent set of sentences which the child is unlikely to have heard from an adult:

Doggie no bite.

That no mummy.

A rather more obvious example of the rule-governed nature of child language are forms such as mans, foots, gooses, which children produce frequently. Such plurals occur even when a child understands and responds correctly to the adult forms men, feet, geese. This is clear proof that children's own rules of grammar are more important to them than mere imitation.

Children do not, however, formulate a new rule overnight, and suddenly replace the old one with this new one. Instead, there is considerable fluctuation between the old and the new. The new construction appears at first in a limited number of places. A child might first use the word what in a phrase with a single verb,

What mummy doing?

What daddy doing?

What Billy doing?

then only gradually extend it to other verbs, as in

What kitty eating?

What mummy sewing?

This process is somewhat like the way in which an alteration creeps from word to word in language change. Attention to the ways in which children move from one rule to another has shown that language acquisition is not as uniform as was once thought. Different children use different strategies for acquiring speech. For example, some seem to concentrate on the overall rhythm, and slot in words with the same general sound pattern, whereas others prefer to deal with more abstract slots. Of particular interest is work which looks at how children cope with different languages. This enables researchers to see if children have any universal expectations about how language behaves, or whether they wait and see what their own particular language offers.

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