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Li2 Language variation. gender. Today’s topics. Sex vs gender Linguistic reflections of social attitudes concerning gender Gender-based linguistic differences. Inherent vs. grammatical gender. inherent gender ( sex )  socially-constructed gender 3rd social gender in Oman: gay men

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today s topics
Today’s topics
  • Sex vs gender
  • Linguistic reflections of social attitudes concerning gender
  • Gender-based linguistic differences
inherent vs grammatical gender
Inherent vs. grammatical gender
  • inherent gender (sex)  socially-constructed gender
    • 3rd social gender in Oman: gay men
    • Some Native American groups distinguish 4 social genders
  • languages may grammatically encode either type of gender, or neither
    • Neither: Armenian, Turkish, Persian, Abkhaz
    • Inherent: Tukanoan; English (for humans)
    • Social: English dialects
linguistic reflections of social attitudes concerning gender
Linguistic reflections of social attitudes concerning gender
  • 2 main theories of language/gender relationship
    • Culture language
      • If a culture is misogynist, the language will be too.
    • Language  culture
      • Language itself can determine gender relations
        • e.g. languages with no grammatical gender
  • Gender markedness in morphology and vocabulary
gender in morphology
Gender in morphology
  • nouns of occupation are simultaneously masculine and generic; female terms are marked:
    • sculptress, actress, usherette, Lady X…
      • NB in steward(ess) steward is formally/historically unmarked, but stewardess is semantically/pragmatically unmarked
    • exceptions:
      • masseuse , widow, nurse, seamstress, male ho
      • duck, cow, goose, moorhen
      • Armenian skesrayr is derived from skesur, opposite of normal m  f pattern
        • because mother-in-law is more culturally salient, since wife always hates her?
    • cháirman vs. mílkmàn referring to female?
    • Unmarked/default gender interpretation of nouns with no overt marking: doll…
  • Pronouns:
    • use of he vs. they for neutral singular pronoun—sometimes they is clearly better:
      • which Austin Powers star made THEIR movie debut in a film starring Elizabeth Taylor?
        • choices: Mike Myers, Michael York, Elizabeth Hurley
        • “their” is required here in order to avoid specifying gender
      • NB this “singular they” is used only with indefinite referents
        • *Cathyi hurt theiri hand
gender markedness in vocabulary
Gender markedness in vocabulary
  • “Neutral” labels for men and women
    • female labels: Miss, Mrs., Ms.
    • male labels: Mr.
    • implication: more important for woman to show if she’s married
  • Historical outcomes of male and female pairs
    • Master : mistress
    • Hussy, wench
  • Slang for (promiscuous) men and women 
slang for promiscuous men and women
Slang for promiscuous men and women
  • Men:
    • cad, cocksucker/(Aus.) cock teaser, gigolo, horndog, hornytoad, John, lech, mack, motherfucker (?), pimp, playboy, player, slut (?), stud, sugardaddy
    • Total: 20
  • Women:
    • bimbo, bitch, chick, floozy, harlot, hooker, hussy, prostitute, skank, slag, slut, tart, tramp, trick, trollop, wench, whore/ho…
    • Total: 220

Sample from the Thesaurus of American Slang

gender based linguistic differences

Gender-based linguistic differences

NB what follows are group-preferential distributions (speakers from two groups both use a set of forms, but one group uses them more often) rather than group-exclusive patterns, in which speakers from one group use a form, while speakers from another group do not.

do the genders actually differ linguistically
Do the genders actually differ linguistically?
  • Traditional research (almost all by males, in “male” academic climate) says YES
    • Labov, Trudgill, Lakoff, Eckert…
  • Predominant opinion of gender researchers in last 10-20 years (almost all by females, in “feminist” research climate) says NO
    • all evidence is anecdotal, focuses on differences rather than similarities, creates artificially monolithic gender categories
    • From most recent Linguistics Department meeting: “no scientific evidence for gender-based linguistic differences”
  • Is there any scientific/legitimate evidence for gender-based linguistic differences?
    • Yes, as we’ll see especially for non-canonical genders…
glasgow s
Glasgow /s/
  • From Stuart-Smith et al. 2000 again
  • The scatter plot shows the distribution of two measurements ('mean‘(X)/ 'spread‘(Y)) calculated from the overall energy spectrum of /s/ at the midpoint of the fricative.
  • The mean value reflects the overall pitch of the fricative, which is expected to be higher for female than male speakers.
  • Here females are higher than males overall (all males are below 6000Hz), but there are outliers, in particular 5 girls, including all four working-class girls, who cluster within the male range. This demonstrates that the articulation of /s/ is not simply dependent on biological constraints of sex, but can be finely controlled to signal gender and social group membership.
vocabulary 1 japanese
Vocabulary 1: Japanese

men’s women’s

1st person formal watakusi watakusi

watasi atakusi

plain boku watasi


deprecatory/ ore Ø


2d person formal anata anata

plain kimi anata

anta anta

deprecatory/ omae Ø

casual kisama

Other examples: Lakota, Chukchee…

vocabulary 2 english
Vocabulary 2: English
  • Color terms
  • Girlfriend (vocative)
  • Cute
  • Pee/piss
  • Fart, take a dump, drop anchor…
gender based linguistic differences part 2

Gender-based linguistic differences, part 2

Traditional variationist differences

change towards std lg led by women
Change towards std lg led by women
  • Spanish dialect of Ucieda has posttonic [u] where Spanish has [o]
    • Ucieda trabaju : Castilian (= Std) trabajo ‘work’
  • This vowel has been lowering in Ucieda as an accommodation to the Castilian form.
  • The height of this vowel distinguishes:
    • those engaged in agriculture vs industrial sector
    • those engaged in traditional mountain agriculture vs the more modern dairy farming
  • Women (most noticeably in agriculture/farming) lead this change.
  • Holmquist’s analysis:
    • agricultural life is unattractive to women, who share in the farm work and do the housework too.
    • For this reason women are quicker than men to leave the farm, and quicker to signal their distance from their current way of life in their speech.

Holmquist, Jonathan. 1985. Social correlates of a linguistic variable: A study in a Spanish village. Language in Society 14:191-203.

jocks and burnouts
Jocks and Burnouts
  • Eckert 1989 study of a suburban high school in Detroit, focusing on two social groups:
    • jocks: middle class bkgd, establishment, extracurricular activities, school-based social life, intend to leave
    • burnouts: working class bkgd, local friends, intend to stay, vocational training

Eckert, Penelope. 1989. Jocks and burnouts: Social categories and identity in the high school. New York: Teachers College Press.

gender asymmetry by age labov
Gender asymmetry by age (Labov)
  • Women lead men in most linguistic changes in progress that have been studied by quantitative methods (Labov 1990).
  • The figure below shows M and F patterns by age for the devoicing of (j) in calle, llame, etc. in the Spanish of Buenos Aires (Wolf and Jiménez 1979). 
    • Women show higher % devoicing from the outset; males lag behind.
    • The dotted arrows suggest, moreover, that this is a lag of one generation:
      • Males 15-24 approximate the values of women 38-55
      • 12 year old males have values in the range of women 24-35.
non canonical genders1
Non-canonical genders
  • Intonation
    • Stereotypically, female speech includes a greater intonation range than male speech (McConnell-Ginet 1983, Henton 1989)
    • What about non-canonical genders?
      • Female
        • Stereotypical lesbian speech includes a narrow pitch range and generally flat intonation patterns (Queen 1997)
        • Disconfirmed experimentally by Waksler 2001
      • Male
        • Schuler 2003: significant correlation between 95% pitch range, speaker orientation, and listener rating

Waksler, Rachelle. 2001. Pitch range and women’s sexual orientation. Word 52.1:69-77.

influence of sexual orientation on vowel production
Influence of sexual orientation on vowel production
  • Pierrehumbert et al 2004
    • Phonetic study of vowelproduction in gay, lesbian, bisexual (GLB), and heterosexual speakers
    • Differences in the acoustic characteristics of vowels were foundas a function of sexual orientation:
      • Lesbian and bisexual womenproduced less fronted /u/ and /a/ than heterosexual women.
      • Gaymen produced a more expanded vowel space than heterosexual men.
      • However, the vowels of GLB speakers were not generally shiftedtoward vowel patterns typical of the opposite sex.
    • These resultsare inconsistent with the conjecture that innate biological factors havea broadly feminizing influence on the speech of gay menand a broadly masculinizing influence on the speech of lesbian/bisexualwomen.
    • They are consistent with the idea that innate biologicalfactors influence GLB speech patterns indirectly by causing selective adoptionof certain speech patterns characteristic of the opposite sex.
question tags
Question tags
  • Showing solidarity:
    • His portraits are quite static by comparison, aren’t they?
  • Indicating uncertainty:
    • You were missing last week, weren’t you? (Coates/Cameron 1989: 82)
    • This particular utterance could be confrontational with the right intonation
  • Men use question tags more often to express uncertainty while women use them largely to facilitate communication(Holmes 1992:319).
  • Coates, Jennifer/Cameron, Deborah. (eds.) (1989): Women in Their Speech Communities. London.
  • Holmes, Janet (1984): "Women's Language: A Functional Approach". General Linguistics 24/3: 149-178.
  • Eakins/Eakins 1978: status seems to be a factor in the pattern of interruptions.
    • Males initiated more interruptions than females in their study of faculty meetings, but…
    • there was a clear ranking along status lines.
      • The chair of the department suffered the least number of interruptions
      • Nevertheless, the most interrupted person was a woman.
  • But, Holmes 1992:
    • in doctor-patient conversations female doctors were interrupted more often than male physicians
    • in business organisations, men but not women tended to dominate the interactions
  • And West 1998: study of interaction between doctors and patients: female physicians were interrupted more often by patients of all social status groups than male physicians.
    • Gender of Physician # of Interruptions by Physicians by Patients # of Patients  
    • Male 188 67% 33% 17
    • Female 59 32% 68% 4

Eakins, Barbara/Eakins, Gene: "Verbal Turn-Taking and Exchanges in Faculty Dialogue". In: Dubois, Betty/Crouch, Isabel (eds.) (1976): The Sociology of the Languages of American Women. San Antonio, TX: 53-61.

Holmes, Janet (1992): An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. London.

West, Candace: "When the Doctor is a 'Lady': Power, Status and Gender in Physician-Patient Encounters". In: Coates, Jennifer (ed) (1998): Language and Gender: A Reader. Oxford: 396-412.

Zimmerman, Don/West, Candice: "Sex Roles, Interruptions and Silences in Conversations". In: Thorne, Barrie/Henley, Nancy (eds.) (1975): Language and Sex: Difference and Dominance. Rowley; MA: 105-129.

  • Gender surfaces in language in a wide variety of ways: phonetic, lexical, pragmatic…
  • The interactions between gender and other social variables, goals, etc. are extremely complex.
  • Though language can affect social systems…
    • exogamy
    • phone prejudice?
  • …the primary direction of influence is socio-cultural  linguistic.

Labov, William. 2003. The reinterpretation of social categories in the course of linguistic change. Paper presented at the LSA.

Chambers, J. K. 1995. Sociolinguistic theory: Linguistic variation and its social significance. Oxford: Blackwell.

Cheshire, Jenny. 1982, Linguistic variation and social function. In S Romaine, ed. 1982, Sociolinguistic variation in speech communities, 153-166. [Excerpted in J. Coates ed. 1998, Language & Gender: A Reader, 29-41.]

Coates, Jennifer. 1993 (2nd ed.). Women, Men and Language. London: Longman.

Coates, Jennifer, ed. 1998. Language and Gender: A Reader. (Blackwell Publishers).

Coupland, Nikolas, & Adam Jaworski, eds. 1997. Sociolinguistics: A reader. Palgrave/St. Martin’s Press.

Eckert, Penelope. 1989. The whole woman: sex and gender differences in variation. Language Variation and Change 1:245-267.

Eckert, Penelope. 1998. Gender and sociolinguistic variation. In J. Coates ed. 1998, Language & Gender: A reader, 64-75.

Gordon, Elizabeth. 1997. Sex, speech, and stereotypes: why women use prestige speech forms more than men. Language in Society 26: 47-64.

Guy, Gregory. 1988. Language and social class. In F. Newmeyer, ed., Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey, vol. 4. (Language: The Socio-cultural context.), 37-63. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Labov, William. 1990. The intersection of sex and social class in the course of linguistic change. Language Variation and Change 2: 205-254.

Patrick, Peter L. To appear 2001. The speech community. In J.K. Chambers, P. Trudgill and N. Schilling-Estes, eds., Handbook on Language Variation. Oxford: Blackwell.

Pierrehumbert, Janet, Tessa Bent, Benjamin Munson, Ann Bradlow, and J. Michael Bailey. 2004. The influence of sexual orientation on vowel production. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 116.4:1905-1908.

Trudgill, Peter. 1983. Sex and covert prestige. In P Trudgill On Dialect, Chap. 10. [Revision of the original 1972 article in Language in Society; which is excerpted in J. Coates, ed. 1998, Language & Gender: A reader, 21-28.]

sociolinguistic universals of gender
Sociolinguistic universals of gender
  • Women and men develop different patterns of language use. (462)
  • Women tend to focus on the affective functions of an interaction more often than men do. (463)
  • Women tend to use linguistic devices that stress solidarity more often than men do. (468)
  • Women tend to interact in ways which will maintain and increase solidarity. (472)
  • Women are stylistically more flexible than men. (475)

Holmes, Janet (1998). Women's talk: The Question of Sociolinguistic Universals. In Language and Gender: A Reader , Jennifer Coates, ed. Oxford: Blackwell.461-483.

power vs prestige
Power vs. Prestige
  • Eckert, Penelope (1989). The whole woman: Sex and gender differences in variation. Language Variation and Change 1:245-267.
    • Ecket argues against the claim that women are more linguistically conservative than men in order to symbolically enhance their socioeconomic status. Eckert suggests that power underlies women's orientation toward linguistic markers of status: lacking power, women claim authority through symbolic capital rather than socioeconomically. She demonstrates that there is greater differentiation in female speech than in male speech across social-class groups in a high school that are defined locally as "jocks" and "burnouts." I
  • Labov, William (1990). The intersection of sex and social class in the course of linguistic change. Language Variation and Change 2:205-254.
    • Labov rejects Eckert's hypothesis that power, not prestige, accounts for gender differences in language use, and maintains instead that gender differences indicate the increased socioeconomic mobility of women of the lower middle class. Labov's explanation does not account for his own observation that lower-middle-class women do not merely lead in use of prestigious forms, but may lead in the use of stigmatized forms as well. This pattern can be accounted for by Eckert's theory, because stigmatized forms may have covert prestige for women as well as men.