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Summary of James' Women, Men and Prestige Speech Forms

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Do women and men talk differently? Gender differences of all kinds fascinatepeople, and so it is not surprising that there is curiosity about the way womenand men talk and whether there are linguistic gender differences. We all haveour own views on gender differences – in language and in other aspects of human life.

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When such large-scale systematic research into sociolinguistic variationbegan in the 1960s, its main focus was to illuminate the relationship betweenlanguage and social structure more generally, rather than the relationshipbetween language and gender specifically. However, the category of sex (un-derstood simply as a binary division between males and females) was oftenincluded as a major social variable and instances of gender variation (or sexdifferentiation, as it was generally called) were noted in relation to other socio-linguistic patterns, particularly, social class and stylistic differentiation. Some of the same linguistic features figure in patterns of both regional andsocial dialect differentiation, with working-class varieties being more local-ized, and they also display correlations with other social factors. The inter-section of social and stylistic continua is one of the most important findings ofquantitative sociolinguistics: namely, if a feature occurs more frequently inworking-class speech, then it will occur more frequently in the informal speechof all speakers.

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Observations of the differences between the way males and females speak werelong restricted to grammatical features, such as the differences between masculine andfeminine in morphology in many languages. However, in the 1970s women researchersstarted looking at how a linguistic code transmitted sexist values and bias. Lakoff’s work(1975) is an example of this; she raised questions such as: Do women have a morerestricted vocabulary than men? Do they use more adjectives? Are their sentencesincomplete? Do they use more ‘superficial’ words? Consequently, researchers started toinvestigate empirically both bias in the language and the differential usage of the code bymen and women. According to Cameron and Coates (1985), the amount we talk is influenced by whowe are with and what we are doing. They also add that if we aggregate a large number ofstudies, it will be observed that there is little difference between the amount men andwomen talk. On the one hand, in a recent study, Dr

Brizendine (1994) states that womentalk three times as much as men.

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In sum, studies of gender-specific variation are diverse and often contradictory, depending on such factors as researchers’ assumptions about sex and gender, the methodology, and the samples used. Women’s language has been said to reflect their…conservativism, prestige consciousness, upward mobility, insecurity, deference, nurture, emotional expressivity, connectedness, sensitivity to others, solidarity

And men’s language is heard as evincing their toughness, lack of affect, competitiveness, independence, competence, hierarchy, control.

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Brizendine, L. (1994) The Female Brain., Women's Mood & Hormone Clinic, UCSF.

Cameron, Deborah and Coates, J. (1985) Some problems in the sociolinguisticexplanation of sex differences. Language and communication 5:143-51.

Dale, S. (1980) Man made language.

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