Sociolinguistics Lesson 9 Gender and Age
Learning Objectives • Gender-exclusive speech differences • Gender-preferential speech features • Gender and social class • Explanation of women’s linguistic behaviour • Age-graded features of speech • Age and social dialect data • Age grading and language change
Gender-exclusive speech differences Example 1 Amazonian men and women speak different languages. Example 2 In Yana, a North American Indian language, men and women use forms of words.
Gender-exclusive speech differences Example 3 In Japanese, men and women use different words. Further example In Bengali society, a wife is subordinate and is not permitted to use her husband’s name. A Bengali wife therefore addresses her husband whose name means ‘star’ as ‘heavenly body’. Exercise 1
Gender-preferential speech features Instead of using completely different forms of language in highly structure communities, men and women in urban communities use different quantities or frequencies of the same forms. Example 4 h-dropping Further example In Sydney, men use [f] in words like thing more often than women.
Gender and social class The linguistic features which differ in the speech of women and men are usually features which also distinguish the speech of people from different social classes. Figure 7.1 Vernacular [in] by sex and social group in Norwich
Gender and social class In every social class, men use more vernacular forms than women. Women’s speech is closer to that of the men in the same group than to that of women in other groups. Therefore class membership seems to be more important than gender identity.
Gender and social class Across all social groups, women generally use more standard forms than men, who use more vernacular forms.
Pronunciation Norwich walking speaking Men vernacular [in] Women standard [iŋ]
Grammar Detroit multiple negation Men vernacular I don’t know nothing about it. Women standard I don’t know anything about it.
Vocabulary Liverpool Men vernacular judies last rozzers Women standard girls hopeless police
Activity 9.1 Do the women and the men speak differently in your speech community? Do you see a difference in the use of standard and vernacular forms?
Explanations for the difference in language use by gender • The social status explanation • Woman’s role as guardian of society’s values • Subordinate groups must be polite • Vernacular forms express machismo
The social status explanation Women use more standard speech forms than men because they want to claim social status, especially those who do not have paid employment. Counter-argument In an American study comparing the speech of women in service operations and that of women working in the home, women in paid occupations use more standard forms.
Women’s role as guardian of society’s values Society tends to expect ‘better’ behaviour from women than from men. Therefore they serve as role models for children’s speech. Counter-argument Interactions between a mother and her child are likely to be very relaxed and informal, and vernacular forms rather than standard forms are used.
Subordinate groups must be polite Women as a subordinate group must speak carefully and politely, and therefore tend to use more standard forms. Counter-argument Polite speech does not necessarily equate standard speech. Example 7
Vernacular forms express machismo Men prefer vernacular forms because they carry macho connotations of masculinity and toughness.
Some alternative explanations • How women are categorised? • The influence of the interviewer and the context
How women are categorised? Researchers in early social dialect studies often used the women’s husband’s occupation as their major criterion. Therefore miscategorisation often occurred and that explained the speech behaviour of the women. Example 10
The influence of the interviewer and the context • The interviewer as a middle-class well-educated academic • The interviewer as man • The formal context
Gender as the primary factor for speech variation Although gender interacts with other social factors, such as status, class, role of the speaker in an interaction, formality of the contexts, etc, there are cases in which gender is the primary factor accounting for speech variation. Examples Tyneside study Figure 7.2 Reading study
Age-graded features of speech • Use of swear words decreases after people begin to have children • Slang is the linguistic prerogative of young people
Activity 9.2 Do you see differences in language use in different age groups?
Age and social dialect data A common pattern shows that the use of vernacular forms is high in childhood and adolescence. The usage steadily reduces as people approach middle age when social pressures to conform are greatest. Vernacular usage gradually increases again in old age as social pressures reduce. Figure 7.3 Figure 7.4 Detroit and Appalachian study