The Differing Language Of Males And Females Cultural Studies Essay

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The first of these approaches that attempts to explain the difference in language use between the genders is the dominance approach, which suggests that language is used differently by males and females because of their differing places in society, namely men are dominant and women are subordinate. The dominance approach then suggests that men use their language to assert their authority and show their power, and that by the language women choose to use, they are effectively keeping themselves as the subordinate members in society.

The diffence approach focuses on the fact that men and women are, both biologically, and socially different, and as such they use language in different ways. The diffene approach is beneficial when looking at language differences between the two genders as "it allows women's talk to be examined outside a framework of oppression and powerlessness" {LANGUAGE AND GENDER BOOK)

Finally, the most recent approach taken by linguistics in order to explain why men and women use language differently is the social constructionist, or the dynamic approach, which suggests that language, along with other features of masculine and feminine behavior, are constructed by society

2.2 What constitutes a swear word?

Many people have tried to define what makes a swear word a swear word, the online Oxford English dictionary simply defines a swear word as "an offensive or obscene word." Andersson and Trudgill (1992: 53) suggests that to develop a definite definition of what swearing actually is would be difficult, perhaps due to differing opinions on what is and isn't a swear word. Andersson and Trudgill do however, go on to suggest that a swear word 'refers to something that is taboo and/or stigmatized in the culture, should not be interpreted literally and can be used to express strong emotions and attitudes', developing on the Oxford English dictionary's definition and trying to identify why swear words are offensive and obscene.

Andersson and Trudgill (1992: 55-56) also suggest that taboos used in Western society usually relate to areas of life that although are not forbidden by law, are restricted to a certain time and place, and are governed by social rules, either consciously or unconsciously. For example, bodily functions are not forbidden, but when we are required to talk about them we feel we should use the 'proper' terms for them, for example one would talk to the doctor about 'urinating' and not 'pissing'. It is the more vulgar, derogatory terms in a lexicon, such as pissing' that are classed as taboo language and/or swear words.

David Crystal, (cited in Macaulay, 1994: 102,) also attempts to define swear words, his definition referring to the area of language he thinks are the main sources of words classed as swearing

"Sex, erection and the supernatural are the main sources of swearwords. One important class of items deals with words to do with body parts and functions that society considers taboo . . .The other class deals with the names of gods, devils, sacred places, the future life and anyone or anything that holds a sacred place in the belief systems of a community."

Trudgill also argues that within the English language, "some of the strongest taboos aply to words associated with sex" (cited in Risch:1987:353)

Edmund Leech, (cited in Andersson ad Trudgill 1992: 15) also suggests that there are 'categories' of swearwords or taboo language. Leech suggested that there are three types of taboo words in the British language, and swearwords can be placed into a category based on the definition of the word. The three categories Lech suggests swear words fall into are

"1) 'Dirty' words, having to do with sex and excretion, such as 'bugger' and 'shit'.

2) Words that have to do with the Christian religion, such as 'Christ' and 'Jesus'. 3) Words which are used in 'animal abuse' (calling a person by the name of an animal), such as bitch' and 'cow'."

Bill Bryson (1991: 211) also tries to define the types of swearing found within a language. Bryson however separates words depending on how offensive they are, and as such suggests that "Most cultures have two levels of swearing - relatively mild, and highly profane" If this is the case it could be assumed that women, who are said to be the politer of the two sexes linguistically, will use 'relatively mild' taboo words more than the 'highly profane' and that the opposite will be true for men.

2.5 Why do people swear?

A popular explanation as to why people swearing is that people only swear because they have no other words to express their feelings. Jay (2009) however, suggests that "reasons for using or not using taboo words depend on the conversational goals of the speaker" (p155) which may imply that people don't necessarily use swearing because swear words are the only words they know, and in actual fact the speaker has a particular reason to use swear words in a particular situation, for example to achieve a certain reaction from the person they are speaking too.

The possible reasons for using for swear words are explored by Andersson and Trudgill (1992), who suggest that swearing is used for one of four reasons, as an expletive, for abuse, for humor or as an auxiliary.(p 61)

Some swear words however, may fall into many categories, as they can be used for a multitude of reasons, 'fuck' for example can be used to show feeling of aggression, confusion, despair and laziness amongst others [QUOTE?], it can also be adapted into various categories of words, for example, it can be used as a verb, a noun or an adjective "it has also acquired more grammatical flexibility so that fuck has altered from being exclusively a verb to every part of speech". A study of the British National Corpus revealed that the present verb form 'fucking' is used more often than the root 'fuck' or the noun 'fucker' by both males and females. The flexibility of the word, and its ability to be used in many situations may, in part, explain why its usage has increased.

The person being spoken to may also influence a speakers likelihood to use taboo language, as suggested by [Johnstone & Mattson Bean REF]"Speakers use language not only to express their identification with, or rejection of social groupings, but also to express their individuality. [study bnc?] Women have been seen as more likely to change their language to fit in with others (Gordon:1997), but will women be more likely to change their language usage to include a feature typically seen as unfeminine?

It has been suggested (REF L&G) that when a woman does decide to use a taboo, or swear word, she is does not necessarily do it because she wants to betray stereotypes and talk like a man, but because she, for example, doesn't want to be nice, or because she is angry. After the first incidence of using taboo language, her decision to continue using profanities may be influenced by the reaction of the people she is speaking too, if they did not seem offended by her choice of language, she is more likely to continue using profanities, to the point where the use of taboo language becomes almost spontaneous, because it is embedded in their idiolect for a certain situation. (PAGE) It could therefore be suggested that when women swear, they do it because they feel it appropriate for a certain audience, or situation, and when they don't it is because they do not deem taboo language appropriate for the situation they are speaking in. They do not necessarily avoid swearing because it is not feminine, or swear because they want to sound masculine.

Although it is seen as less acceptable for women to swear than men, women may, in part, be responsible for this situation NAME suggests that (l&g p306)"our place in the gender order constrains our acts, but at the same time it is our acts (and those of others) that place us in the gender order" (PAGE) Women come 'below men' within patriarchal society, and so must not use the same, 'rough' profanities as men, but by using a more polite form of speech women keep themselves 'below' men in the gender order.

As Andersson and Trudgill (1992: 53) suggest that swearing is used to express emotion, it may, be the case that men and woman use swearwords differently because, for example, women have been shown to be more able to talk about their feelings and emotions than men (REFERENCE) and as such have a larger lexicon of words used for expressing their emotions and/or attitudes, and so do not need to resort to swearing,

Jay, (2009) found that "Two-thirds of our swearing data are linked to personal and interpersonal expressions of anger and frustration, which seem to be the main reason for swearing" (p156)

2.3 Why is swearing considered unacceptable (especially by females)?

The social acceptance of taboo language differs greatly between the sexes, women are expected to use more standard, polite forms of language than men, thus meaning taboo language by women is usually frowned upon. It was once the case that men were chastised for using bad language when speaking to a woman, and example of this, from the middle ages, a man, whilst sat in bed with a woman asked her if she would like a fuck, the woman, deeply offended by this feels the need to take revenge. (Woman, men and language, 13.)

If one is to take the popular explanation that, 'people swear becase they have nothing else to say' as fact, it may be seen that swearing should be avoided as it shows linguistic laziness or a poor vocabulary.

Maccaulay (1994) states that "even today when swearing is much more tolerated in public…Some words still have the power to shock and offend." (p103) Thus suggesting that although swear words in general are beginning to be seen as more acceptable there are still occasions when certain words are seen to be completely unacceptable, and it is perhaps the more 'highly profane' words mentioned by Bryson (1991: 211) that are seen as least acceptable.

Rich also suggests that taboo words are only acceptable in some situations. Risch (1987:353) notes how taboo words are "considered inappropriate for a certain context . . .forbidden in most communicative contexts. As Risch's study took place some seven years before Maccaulay's book was published, it may be the case that some of the milder and less offensive swearwords had become more accepted by society, hence the fact that Risch states taboo words in general are unacceptable in most situations, but Maccaulay only noted that "some words" are unacceptable.

Hughes (1991: 207) notes that

"The general feminist view is that, since language is generated in a 'patriarchal' or 'phallocratic' dispensation, there has developed, especially male swearing, a prevalence of the terms of female anatomy, such as cunt and tit."

Which may imply that it is seen to be less acceptable for women to swear as a large number of taboo words are vulgar terms for their own body. It may also be the case that as society is more patriarchal than matriarchal, it is more acceptable for men to belittle women by using vulgar words such as 'cunt' and 'tit' than it is for women to use such vulgar terms about men, or indeed other women.

Greer (1971) noticed that there had been a growth in the number of derogatory terms available to describe women, but Hughes (1991: PAGE) however points out that the majority of swear words are "applied exclusively to the male sex", thus causing 'lexical gaps' in a lexicon, suggesting that even though the lexicon of taboo language applied only to women has grown, there may still be gaps in the language. These gaps may somewhat explain the notion that women are less likely to swear than men, as there are few words for a woman to use regarding other women, however women should be able to swear when speaking to or about men, as there are no gaps in this lexicon, something explored by Risch.

Risch (1987) conducted a study to find out which words women know, and use, to refer to men. Risch first asked her participants, (females aged between 18 and 32 with a median age of 19) if they knew of any male equivalents of the derogator terms men use about women, such as 'chick' or 'cunt' (355). Once a list of all such terms had been compiled, Risch hen asked the participants to list the words they personally would use, and then words they had only heard their friends use. Risch found that "of the 279 responses, 187 were listed in the column 'terms I use' and 92 in the column 'terms my friends use'" (356) suggesting that women do make use of the lexicon available to them, and that males are not the only ones that swear.

Hughes (1991) also points out that, other than the word 'pig' There are no swear words that can be applied to both sexes, and 'pig' can only be used when used in relation to a person's eating habits (207). Although, during the course of her study Risch (1987: PAGE), heard male student in Cincinnati call female 'dick'. However, Risch's study was conducted in an American university, and as such may be more flexible in their language use. As Risch (1987: 354) herself states

"Female speakers under thirty particularly those of a working class, are less constrained by prestige forms of speech and are therefore more likely to use non standard forms."

Which may explain why she heard the female student using a term perceived to be more suited to the lexicon of males.

It may be suggested that the reason woman do not swear may be due to the fact that they see the use of coarse language to be unladylike. As suggested by De Klerk (1992: 277) "women seen as aspiring to prestigious ladylike behavior, have long been regarded as upholding such taboos and avoiding non standard or dirty words in particular" This may be due to the fact that women are socialized into believing that they should not use such language, thus supporting the social constructionist approach (REF) of explaining language differences between the genders

The belief that taboo language is a symptom of masculinity, may be evident when a woman does break the stereotypical norm and use taboo language, only to be chastised and told "that's not ladylike". (Eckert:2003:307) A prospect also noted by Lakoff (1975: 5) "If a little girl 'talks rough' like a boy, she will be ostracized, scolded or made fun of" However, Lakoff's theory is now 35 years old, and as swearing in general, not only that by women, is now more accepted than it was in the 70's it may be the case that opinions have now change, and 'rough' language is now equally acceptable for both male and female children

The fact that women are now beginning to use swear words in the same way that men do, as noticed by De Klerk (1992:278) who noted of Risch's study (1987) that "females do use derogatory terms, and are doing so in an increasing number" De Klerk (1992:286) also noted, of her own study in which she found males knew more derogatory terms for females than males, and vice versa. "The stereotype of women not using taboo words is not upheld by the data."

De Klerk (1992: 286)also suggests that contrary to popular belief, females "are not striving for standard prestigious speech (Trudgil 1972)but are striving to use what their peers are using", perhaps suggesting that, especially with teens and young adults, is seen as more important to use language that will make you 'fit in' than to speak 'properly'

The fact that swearing is not solely a male phenomenon is also noted by Eckert who states that "The prescriptive norm against females' use of profanity is constantly invoked, often obeyed but at least as often broken". (2003: 307)

Andersson andTrudgill (year) for example, look at the social restrictions on swearing, and notes the fact that 'even within a culture there seems to be variation in the frequency group, not only between groups, but also within groups." (page) Swearing is found to be more common in spoken than written language. This may be due to the fact that written language is typically of a more formal nature than spoken language, and as it has been suggested that swearing is "one of the linguistic indicators of informality"(BNC study) it seems logical that swearing would be used more frequently in spoken language.

And although swearing is seen to be more acceptable in spoken language than written, there are times when, even in spoken language, swearing is considered unacceptable, as demonstrated in a 1992 study of lower working class women in Salford, England, Hughes found that there were situations in which some (or all) of her participants would never swear.

Hughes(1992), for example found that all 6 of the working class women in her study, expletives of lower-working class women, said they would 'never' use swear words when speaking to their parents, but 4 women suggested they often used swear words in speech directed at their children. (page)

The fact that the women in Hughes's study would use swear words in some contexts but not others suggests that although the use of swear words is becoming more common, and that they are more widely found in spoken language than written language, unwritten rules about when swear words are and aren't acceptable do exist.