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Do Men and Women Really Speak Differently?
Thread poster: Jacek Krankowski
Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
Feb 2, 2003

Sociolinguistics is a term including the aspects of linguistics applied toward the connections between language and society, and the way we use it in different social situations. It ranges from the study of the wide variety of dialects across a given region down to the analysis between the way men and women speak to one another. Sociolinguistics often shows us the humorous

realities of human speech and how a dialect of a given language can often describe the age, sex, and social class of the speaker; it codes the social function of a language.

When two people speak with one another, there is always more going on than just conveying a message. The language used by the participants is always influenced by a number of social factors which define the relationship between the participants. Consider, for example, a professor making a simple request of a student to close a classroom door to shut off the noise from

the corridor. There are a number of ways this request can be made:

Politely, in a moderate tone \"Could you please close the door?\"

In a confused manner while shaking his/her head \"Why aren\'t you shutting the door?\"

Shouting and pointing, \"SHUT THE DOOR!\"

The most appropriate utterance for the situation would be a. The most inappropriate would be c. This statement humiliates the student, and provides no effort by the professor to respect him/her. Utterance b is

awkward because it implies that the teacher automatically assumes that the student should know better than to leave the door open when there is noise in the hallway. The inappropriateness is a social decision tied to the social factors which shape the relationship between speaker (the professor), and the listener (the student).

When choosing an appropriate utterance for the situation, there are factors that you must consider in order to effectively convey the message to the other participant.

Participants- how well do they know each other?

Social setting- formal or informal

Who is talking- status relationship/social roles (student vs. professor)

Aim or purpose of conversation


Do you notice that there is a difference in the way you speak to your friends and the way you speak to your relatives, teachers, or others of professional status?

When telling your friend that you like his/her shirt, you say:

\"Hey, cool shirt, I like that!\"

When telling the President of the company your parents work for that you like his/her shirt, you say:

\"You look very nice today, I really like that shirt.\"

This is called choosing your variety or code. This can also be seen on a larger scale, diglossia, where multilingual nations include a variety of accents, language styles, dialects and languages. Each of these factors is a reflection of the region and socio-economics background from which you come from. In monolingual societies, the region and socio-economic factors are

determined by dialect and language style.

It is not uncommon in our nation to see that languages other than English are spoken inside the home with friends and family. However when these bilingual or even trilingual families interact socially outside of their home, they will communicate in English. (...)

In everyday conversation, there are ways to go about getting the things we want. When we are with a group of friends, we can say to them, \"Go get me that plate!\", or \"Shut-up!\" However, when we are surrounded by a group of

adults at a formal function, in which our parents are attending, we must say, \"Could you please pass me that plate, if you don\'t mind?\" and \"I\'m sorry, I don\'t mean to interrupt, but I am not able to hear the speaker in the front of the room.\" In different social situations, we are obligated to adjust our use of words to fit the occasion. It would seem socially

unacceptable if the phrases above were reversed.

According to Brown and Levinson, politeness strategies are developed in order to save the hearers\' \"face.\" Face refers to the respect that an individual has for him or herself, and maintaining that \"self-esteem\" in public or in private situations. Usually you try to avoid embarrassing the other person, or making them feel uncomfortable. Face Threatening Acts (FTA\'s) are acts that infringe on the hearers\' need to maintain his/her self esteem, and be respected. Politeness strategies are developed for the main purpose of dealing with these FTA\'s. What would you do if you saw a cup of

pens on your teacher\'s desk, and you wanted to use one, would you

say, \"Ooh, I want to use one of those!\"

say, \"So, is it O.K. if I use one of those pens?\"

say, \"I\'m sorry to bother you but, I just wanted to ask you if I could use one of those pens?\"

Indirectly say, \"Hmm, I sure could use a blue pen right now.\"

There are four types of politeness strategies, described by Brown and

Levinson, that sum up human \"politeness\" behavior: Bald On Record, Negative

Politeness, Positive Politeness, and Off-Record-indirect strategy.

If you answered A, you used what is called the Bald On-Record

strategy which provides no effort to minimize threats to your teachers\' \"face.\"

If you answered B, you used the Positive Politeness strategy.

In this situation you recognize that your teacher has a desire to be respected. It also confirms that the relationship is friendly and expresses group reciprocity.

If you answered C, you used the Negative Politeness strategy which similar to Positive Politeness in that you recognize that they want to be respected however, you also assume that you are in some way imposing on them. Some other examples would be to say, \"I don\'t want to bother you but...\" or \"I was wondering if ...\"

If you answered D, you used Off-Record indirect strategies. The

main purpose is to take some of the pressure off of you. You are trying not to directly impose by asking for a pen. Instead you would rather it be offered to you once the teacher realizes you need one, and you are looking to find one. A great example of this strategy is somethin g that almost

everyone has done or will do when you have, on purpose, decided not to return someone\'s phone call, therefore you say, \" I tried to call a hundred times, but there was never any answer.\"

Are Women More Polite Than Men?

Politeness is defined by the concern for the feelings of others.

From Nancy Bonvillain\'s \"Language, Culture, and Communication\" she notes that, \"women typically use more polite speech than do men, characterized by a high frequency of honorific (showing respect for the person to whom you are talking to, formal stylistic markers), and softening devices such as

hedges and questions.\"

Sociolinguists try to explain why there is a greater frequency of the use of polite speech from women than from men. In our society it is socially acceptable for a man to be forward and direct his assertiveness to control the actions of others. However, society has devalued these speech patterns

when it is utilized by women. From historical recurrence, it has appeared

that women have had a secondary role in society relative to that of the male. Therefore, it has been (historically) expected from a women to \"act like a lady\" and \"respect those around you.\" It reflects the role of the inferior status being expected to respect the superior. In Frank and Anshen\'s \"Language and the Sexes\", they note that boys, \"are permitted, even

encouraged, to talk rough, cultivate a deep \"masculine\" voice and, if they

violate the norms of correct usage or of polite speech, well \"boys will be boys,\" although, peculiarly, it is much less common that \"girls will be girls\" Fortunately, these roles are becoming more of a stereotype and less of a reality. However, the trend of expected polite speech from the female continues to remain. This is a prime example of how society plays an important part on the social function of the language.

Honorifics: linguistic markers that signal respect to the person you are speaking to:

\"Hey ma, fix my jacket\"

Mom, could you please do me a favor, and fix my jacket?\"

In Japanese, according to Masa-aki Yamanashi, the appropriate choice of

honorifics is based on complex rules evaluating addressee, referent, and

entities or activities associated with either. (...)

Hedges: \"loosely speaking\", having a sense of \"fuzziness\" they take away assertiveness in your statements, soften the impact of your words or phrases such as \" I was sort-of-wondering,\" \"maybe if....,\" \"I think that....\"

\"HANK is SO MEAN!\"


\" I sort-of-think that Hank is a bit of a mean person.\"

Who Talks More, Men or Women?

A common cultural stereotype describes women as being talkative, always speaking and expressing their feelings. Well, this is probably true, however, do women do it more than men? No! In fact an experiment designed to measure the amount of speech produced suggested that men are more prone to use up more talking time than women. An experiment b y Marjorie Swacker entailed using three pictures by a fifteenth century Flemish artist, Albrecht Durer which were presented to men and women separately. They were

told to take as much time as they wanted to describe the pictures. The average time for males: 13.0 minutes, and the average time for women 3.17 minutes.

Why is this?

Sociolinguists try to make the connection between our society and our language in a way that suggests that women talk less because it has not always been as culturally acceptable as it has been for men. Men have tended to take on a more dominant role not only in the household, but in the business world. This ever-changing concept is becoming less applicable in our society, however, the trend is still prominent in some societies across the world. It is more acceptable for a man to be talkative, carry on long conversation, or a give a long wordy speech, however it is less acceptable

for a women to do so. It has been more of a historical trend for men have more rights to talk. However, it is common for men to be more silent in situations that require them to express emotion. Since childhood, they have been told to \"keep their cool\" and \"remain calm, be a man.\"

Do Men and Women Really Speak Differently?

Can you tell who, most likely, is speaking?

\"Wow what a beautiful home!\"

\"That outfit looks lovely on you!\"

\"Nice coat.\"

\"Where can I find a pair of shoes like that, I like them.\"

\"This is a super cool shirt, I love it.\"

\"This shirt is cool.\"

Sometimes comment like these may be extremely stereotypical, however it is

easy for any one to identify who the speaker is. In English we laugh at these utterances, however in some languages there are gender-exclusive speech patterns for men and women respectively. It is not uncommon to see

these speech patterns cross-culturally to linguistically the gender of the speaker. Edward Sapir documented such occurrences in Yana, an American Indian language, where there are distinct words that are used for men and women respectively. (...)

Sapir found that the male form of speech is used by men when talking to other men. Female speech is used by women talking to other women or men, or by men talking to women. Therefore, there is an exclusive speech pattern for men speaking to men. (...)

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Kim Metzger  Identity Verified
Local time: 16:51
German to English
Female pronunciation/vowel shift Feb 2, 2003

Nice article, Jacek. I just want to comment on one aspect: female pronunciation. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent linguistics professor for my Introduction to Linguistics class: John Lamendella. He pointed out that there\'s actually such a thing as a difference in the way some American women/girls pronounce words. After hearing this statement I realized he was right. In the US one will often hear a woman change the [e] as in best to [a] as in last. So you hear about the bast actor award. And I don\'t hear that shift among the male population.


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Jacek Krankowski  Identity Verified
English to Polish
+ ...
That's interesting, Kim Feb 3, 2003

because I observe the same tendency, sometimes, in my wife who is not a native speaker of English, but has lived in the US. This has always puzzled me and now I see there may be more to it.

[ This Message was edited by:on2003-02-03 07:43]

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two2tango  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:51
English to Spanish
+ ...
Indeed!! Feb 3, 2003

Gender and Discourse, Deborah Tannen, Oxford University Press, 1994 says it all.

Find below an excerpt from Deborah Tannen\'s You Just Don\'t Understand . This book spent nearly four years (in cloth and paper) on The New York Times Best Seller list and has sold over a million and a half copies.

Clearly, Tannen\'s insights into how and why women and men so often misunderstand each other when they talk has touched a nerve. \"Can\'t We Talk?\" (condensed from: You Just Don\'t Understand)

by Deborah Tannen

A married couple was in a car when the wife turned to her husband and asked, \"Would you like to stop for a coffee?\"

\"No, thanks,\" he answered truthfully. So they didn\'t stop.

The result? The wife, who had indeed wanted to stop, became annoyed because she felt her preference had not been considered. The husband, seeing his wife was angry, became frustrated. Why didn\'t she just say what she wanted?

Unfortunately, he failed to see that his wife was asking the question not to get an instant decision, but to begin a negotiation. And the woman didn\'t realize that when her husband said no, he was just expressing his preference, not making a ruling. When a man and woman interpret the same interchange in such conflicting ways, it\'s no wonder they can find themselves leveling angry charges of selfishness and obstinacy at each other.

As a specialist in linguistics, I have studied how the conversational styles of men and women differ. We cannot lump all men or all women into fixed categories. But the seemingly senseless misunderstandings that haunt our relationships can in part be explained by the different conversational rules by which men and women play.

Whenever I write or speak about this subject, people tell me they are relieved to learn that what has caused them trouble - and what they had previously ascribed to personal failings - is, in fact, very common.

Learning about the different though equally valid conversational frequencies men and women are tuned to can help banish the blame and help us truly talk to one another. Here are some of the most common areas of conflict:

Status vs. Support.

Men grow up in a world in which a conversation is often a contest, either to achieve the upper hand or to prevent other people from pushing them around. For women, however, talking is often a way to exchange confirmation and support.

I saw this when my husband and I had jobs in different cities. People frequently made comments like, \"That must be rough,\" and \"How do you stand it?\" I accepted their sympathy and sometimes even reinforced it, saying, \"The worst part is having to pack and unpack al the time.\"

But my husband often reacted with irritation. Our situation had advantages, he would explain. As academics, we had four-day weekends together, as well as long vacations throughout the year and four months in the summer.

Everything he said was true, but I didn\'t understand why he chose to say it. He told me that some of the comments implied: \"Yours is not a real marriage. I am superior to you because my wife and I have avoided your misfortune.\" Until then it had not occurred to me there might be an element of one- upmanship.

I now see that my husband was simply approaching the world as many men do: as a place where people try to achieve and maintain status. I, on the other hand, was approaching the world as many women do: as a network of connections seeking support and consensus.

Independence vs. Intimacy.

Since women often think in terms of closeness and support, they struggle to preserve intimacy. Men, concerned with status, tend to focus more on independence. These traits can lead women and men to starkly different views of the same situation.

When Josh\'s old high-school friend called him at work to say he\'d be in town, Josh invited him to stay for the weekend. That evening he told Linda they were having a house guest.

Linda was upset. How could Josh make these plans without discussing them with her beforehand? She would never do that to him. \"Why don\'t you tell your friend you have to check with your wife?\" she asked.

Josh replied, \"I can\'t tell my friend, \'I have to ask my wife for permission\'!\"

To Josh, checking with his wife would mean he was not free to act on his own. It would make him feel like a child or an underling. But Linda actually enjoys telling someone, \"I have to check with Josh.\" It makes her feel good to show that her life is intertwined with her husband\'s.

Advice vs. Understanding.

Eve had a benign lump removed from her breast. When she confided to her husband, Mark, that she was distressed because the stitches changed the contour of her breast, he answered, \"You can always have plastic surgery.\"

This comment bothered her. \"I\'m sorry you don\'t like the way it looks,\" she protested. \"But I\'m not having any more surgery!\"

Mark was hurt and puzzled. \"I don\'t care about a scar,\" he replied. \"It doesn\'t bother me at all.\"

\"Then why are you telling me to have plastic surgery?\" she asked.

\"Because you were upset about the way it looks.\"

Eve felt like a heel. Mark had been wonderfully supportive throughout her surgery. How could she snap at him now?

The problem stemmed from a difference in approach. To many men a complaint is a challenge to come up with a solution. Mark thought he was reassuring Eve by telling her there was something she could do about her scar. But often women are looking for emotional support, not solutions.

When my mother tells my father she doesn\'t feel well, he invariably offers to take her to the doctor. Invariably, she is disappointed with his reaction. Like many men, he is focused on what he can do, whereas she wants sympathy.

Information vs. Feelings.

A cartoon shows a husband opening a newspaper and asking his wife, \"Is there anything you\'d like to say to me before I start reading the paper?\" We know there isn\'t - but that as soon as the man begins reading, his wife will think of something.

The cartoon is funny because people recognize their own experience in it. What\'s not funny is that many women are hurt when men don\'t talk to them at home, and many men are frustrated when they disappoint their partners without knowing why.

Rebecca, who is happily married, told me this is a source of dissatisfaction with her husband, Stuart. When she tells him what she is thinking, he listens silently. When she asks him what is on his mind, he says, \"Nothing.\"

All Rebecca\'s life she has had practice in verbalizing her feelings with friends and relatives. But Stuart has had practice in keeping his innermost thoughts to himself. To him, like most men, talk is information. He doesn\'t feel that talk is required at home.

Yet many such men hold center stage in a social setting, telling jokes and stories. They use conversation to claim attention and to entertain. Women can wind up hurt that their husbands tell relative strangers things they have not told them.

To avoid this kind of misunderstanding, both men and women can make adjustments. A woman may observe a man\'s desire to read the paper without seeing it is a rejection. And a man can understand a woman\'s desire to talk without feeling it is a manipulative intrusion.

Orders vs. Proposals.

Diana often begins statements with \"Let\'s.\" She might say \"Let\'s park over there\" or \"Let\'s clean up now, before lunch.\"

This makes Nathan angry. He has deciphered Diana\'s \"Let\'s\" as a command. Like most men, he resists being told what to do. But to Diana, she is making suggestions, not demands. Like most women, she formulates her requests as proposals rather than orders. Her style of talking is a way of getting others to do what she wants - but by winning agreement first.

With certain men, like Nathan, this tactic backfires. If they perceive someone is trying to get them to do something indirectly, they feel manipulated and respond more resentfully than they would to a straightforward request.

Conflict vs. Compromise.

In trying to prevent fights, some women refuse to oppose the will of others openly. But sometimes it\'s far more effective for a woman to assert herself, even at the risk of conflict.

Dora was frustrated by a series of used cars she drove. It was she who commuted to work, but her husband, Hank, who chose the cars. Hank always went for cars that were \"interesting\" but in continual need of repair.

After Dora was nearly killed when her brakes failed, they were in the market for yet another used car. Dora wanted to buy a late-model sedan from a friend. Hank fixed his sights on a 15-year-old sports car. She tried to persuade Hank that it made more sense to buy the boring but dependable car, but he would not be swayed.

Previously she would have acceded to his wishes. This time Dora bought the boring but dependable car and steeled herself for Hanks\' anger. To her amazement, he spoke not a word of remonstrance. When she later told him what she had expected, he scoffed at her fears and said she should have done what she wanted from the start if she felt that strongly about it.

As Dora discovered, a little conflict won\'t kill you. At the same time, men who habitually oppose others can adjust their style to opt for less confrontation.

When we don\'t see style differences for what they are, we sometimes draw unfair conclusions: \"You\'re illogical,\" \"You\'re self- centered,\" \"You don\'t care about me.\" But once we grasp the two characteristic approaches, we stand a better chance of preventing disagreements from spiraling out of control.

Learning the other\'s ways of talking is a leap across the communication gap between men and women, and a giant step towards genuine understanding.

Hope you all enjoy reading this !!! it´s very enlightening!!


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Aurora Humarán  Identity Verified
Local time: 18:51
English to Spanish
+ ...
Thank you Jacek! Feb 3, 2003

Thank you sharing so much stuff with us, linguistics fans.

Thank you. Thank you. It is very kind of you.

Need time to metabolize this.

Come to think of it...have I sounded too....\"feminine\"?


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George Hopkins
Local time: 23:51
Swedish to English
Yes, very differently Feb 3, 2003

As Herbert Tingsten (a well-known name in Sweden) once said, if I remember rightly:

Trying to discuss somethiing with a woman is like trying to read a newspaper outdoors in a storm.

In the British film \"Hope and Glory\", the grandfather said (kindly) something like this: \"Women are wonderful, but never try to understand them, just love them.

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Local time: 23:51
Polish to English
Short U May 1, 2007

Good point. I've never actually listened to women (or men, for that matter) for these differences, but I've noticed that women in the US sometimes pronounce the vowel "u" as in "bOOk" without rounding their lips at all. As a consequence, what they end up saying is, if you look at Daniel Jones's Cardinal Vowel Chart, is the high back undrounded "o." Just a random observation.

Best regards

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