In class, we were instructed that as a general rule, women opt to use standard forms of language compared to men. During Thanksgiving break, I spent time with family and friends in order to test if this was true for me.
Women are distinguished from men through socio-cultural processes which are wrong in my view. This is because there is a distinction between biological sex and gender. This is because, from the feminist perspective, women are not a derivative of men in the way the book of Genesis suggests in the Bible (Romaine, 2011; Fasold 1990; McElhinny, 2003). Biology and culture collide in a complicated way in features of human speech such as pitch. On average, biologically men have a lower pitch speaking voice compared to biological females. Men have larger larynxes and their long thick vocal cords vibrate at a low fundamental frequency. Nonetheless, fundamental frequency differences don't necessarily determine voice pitch.
Another biological difference is that women have a wide pitch. I am willing to concede that pitch differences may not be fully sociological, however, on occasion, I have observed differences in pitch among men based on nationality. American men tend to be louder than say, an Asian man or an African man not raised in the US (Romaine 2001; Gefen & Ridings, 2005). Vocal training can also be an exception to fundamental frequency similarly, the social context if the discussion may determine the pitch a person uses.
All speakers naturally raise their pitch when speaking in public for the purposes of being audible but since women already speak at a higher tone compared to men, women have less leeway to vary their pitch without coming off as shrill or vindicating the stereotype of women as emotional (Romaine 2001; Bucholtz, Mary & Kira Hall, 2005) The differences between men and women on voice pitch is hormonal. There are no differences until entering puberty in female pitch with their male peers.
Research on differentiating how women speak using conversational style is a new practice. This is because of the pervasive attitude that what men do is more important and all that women do is gossip or talk about child rearing. Women speak differently with other women when compared to an audience of both men and women. Women in their all-female groups tend to use words that encourage the group to stay together.
This is because women in a group tend not to have intra-group competition but rather, the objective is cooperation. Since there is no need to assert dominance, that is why women never naturally developed low speaking tone. Men in their groups have a hierarchy in which everyone is competing for dominance. The language they use is consequently different. The use a lot of commands and suggestive language more than women.
This kind of evidence refutes the commonly held the view in socio-linguistics that boys and girls first learn how to speak like their mother since she is the primary caregiver in most cases. Furthermore, elementary school teachers are women. The 'women language ' account goes on to say that it is only after boys become adolescents who abandon the speech pattern they learned from their mothers while their female peers don't change speech patterns. Boys may start speaking more roughly but girls keep speaking politely. It could be that women and girls constantly face social pressure, not to discard 'women's language.'
Observing the way women interact, it is clear that women and to a large extent police each other's speech patterns. On the other hand, boys seem to be under constant pressure to change their speech patterns in order to be accepted by their peers.
Women do not like confrontations and that reflects in the language they use as they interact with the world. Their style is more inviting compared to men who have aggressive language. This is because women, as they speak, are always looking for agreement and cooperation. Women are better managers of a conversation compared to men. Women don't want to over talk others in conversations. This could be because women are socialized to care about other people's feelings. Men are not and in most conversations with women, they constantly interrupt trying to get their points across. Women's conversational patterns can be a problem in careers with few women such as the S.T.E. M field where they must fit in with groups of men. This is because adopting men's interactional styles usually end in failure since women don't have an overwhelming need to engage in power struggles present in a hieratical male group of friends.
These are the reasons why feminist linguists constantly highlight the systematic gaps in the usage of English on how to refer to the female experience. Some suggest that all sexists' words in the language must be eradicated but this seems a bit too extreme. The focus should be on changing the culture in a given society that has patriarchal attitudes manifested into the language.
Fasold, Ralph W., and Elisabeth Stephens. The sociolinguistics of language. Oxford: Blackwell, 1990.
Bucholtz, Mary, and Kira Hall. "Identity and interaction: A sociocultural linguistic approach." Discourse Studies 7.4-5 (2005): 585-614.
McElhinny, Bonnie. "Theorizing gender in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology." The handbook of language and gender (2003): 21-42.
Gefen, David, and Catherine M. Ridings. "If you spoke as she does, sir, instead of the way you do: a sociolinguistics perspective of gender differences in virtual communities." ACM SIGMIS Database: the DATABASE for Advances in Information Systems 36.2 (2005): 78-92.
Suzanne Romaine, Language in Society and an Introduction to Sociolinguistics Second Edition, (2001) Chapter 4
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