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The Link Between Language And Gender English Language Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 2670 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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There have always been many differences between men and women. They dress differently, act differently, have different opinions and what is more interesting have many differences when speaking. First of all there is a difference in the use of standard language. Women use more standardised version of the language while men speak more on the vernacular. They also use the pronunciation established by the standard language more than men. Men are interested in different topics. They like to talk about sports, politics and money. Women are more interested in fashion and clothing and gossiping. Even though men like to gossip too, they never say they are gossiping but just talking. When it comes to expressing feelings it is much harder to hear a man talking about his feelings than women. They are considered to be more powerful and talking about their feelings is expressing their weakness. Power is also shown thorough the imperatives and directive which are rarely used by women and are often softened. Interruptions and the dominance of speaking is also a feature of men because they want to control the topics and in that way also show their power. On the other hand women ask more questions to keep the conversation going and to make sure their listeners are participating and listening to what they are saying. Non-verbal communication is more connected to women because they are more sensitive to non-verbal signs. All this and many more differences are in connection to classes and economic situations. Here we are going to see how it all influenced on the differences of male and female language.

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Gender can be understood in two ways. Grammatical gender that we can find in languages, for example Latin, German, Spanish, where we can distinguish masculine, feminine and neuter gender. Or gender as a social attribute of human beings. People are born with it and it is something we do, not something we have. We are surrounded by gender lore from the time we were born. It is present every where around us and in everything we do. But from the time we were born we are taught what is appropriate for a girl and what for a boy. In this way the society is trying to match up our way of behaving with biological sex assignments. “Gender is the social elaboration of biological sex” (Eckert and McConnell-Ginet 2003:10 ). But the distinction between sex and gender, that is where sex leaves off and gender starts is not clear-cut. The definition of male and female is ultimately social, it is how people understand and see themselves.

There has been a great dissatisfaction with the sexist language where some lexical items that were considered exclusively male had to be replaced. There are many word endings in -man that do not have their “female pair”. No suffix has been made to make the word ending in -man change to mean the female person. Because of that many words were changed, for example firemen had to change to firefighters, mailman had to become letter carrier, and when it comes to chairman, a female word that has started being used was chairwoman or for both, female and male, chairperson. Many words that do not end in man also did not have their par but they were accepted to be used for males and females. On the other hand, a lot of words that have their pair have pejorative meaning for females. For example, master which means the boss with his female counterpart mistress which means lover. Some do not have pejorative meanings but simply do not mean the same thing like in governor which means high political office holder and governess which means private teacher. When we talk about the language that refers to males and females, we have to mention generic reference. When without any regard to the sex of the human being we use a particular term. For example, the word man which actually suggests male rather than female, but is said to refer to any human being. Another example can be the pronoun he which we all use for males but in grammatical category of gender is usually employed for both male and female, as well as for indeterminate referents.


There are many more similarities than differences in the use of English by males and females. Many factors influence the usage, like age, geographic region, socio-economic class, ethnic identification, etc. A difference can be seen when speaking about social status and class. Middle-class women tend to use more standard forms in casual conversation while working class men use non-standard forms. While women never use non-standard forms men use it all the time. However those differences cannot be taken for facts because they are different in the parts of social hierarchy. Mostly they can be found in the lower middle and upper working classes. They can show that there was an uneven spread of the standard language. It was showed that in many cases non standard language was identical with the vernacular which showed the strong connection between language and local culture.

When discussing the vocabulary use many changes can be found between male and female use of the language. Women like to talk about different topics from men. They concentrate more on people, clothing and decorations while men talk more about sports, money and politics. This may be the consequence of the historical division that was made between males and females. Women were at home, concentrated on the family and domestic problems, while men were working to provide money for the family, and were engaged in sports and politics. Another difference is that women use more emotive language, they express their feelings more freely than men do. There is also a difference in color use and taboo language. Women use more exact color terms, different intensifiers and adjectives than men do. Men talk more about taboo themes and use word that are considered to be taboo. Women do not use obscene expressions in the same amount as men.

Another difference in the language use can be grammar. Women do not use the imperatives and directive forms as much as men do. This can also show that there is a difference in speech style as well as in power. Men tend to show power more than women and are considered to be more powerful (strength) than women. An investigation was made where two children, male and female, were playing. It showed that the girl used to soften her directives while the boy used more straightforward directives without any softening. There is also a variation in the use of tag questions. When women use tag questions they try to get a confirmation of a personal opinion. However there are different opinions about tag questions and their use. Some say that women do not use more tag questions while others say they do. It shows us that there are many factors that need to be taken into consideration when trying to find the difference in use of tag questions.

Distinction between males and females can also be found when discussing the pronunciation. The first thing that should be mentioned is the pitch. When a person speaks we are able to say whether that person is man or woman because men have lower pitch. Moreover, men use lower level of pitch than women. Very rarely a man uses a high level of pitch typical for woman. In English language the difference was made in the use of intonations. Falling intonations were used more by men while rising intonations by women. When referring to pronunciation the difference can be made with the use of standard form of language. Women tend to use pronunciation that was established in standard form of the language while men use more non standard or vernacular type of pronunciation. It is also possible to connect this to social classes. Women in upper working class use the same pronunciation as the men in lower middle class. Women try to adopt the pronunciation of the class immediately above them and are always ‘over reporting’ while on the other hand men say they use fewer standard forms than they actually use, which is called ‘under reporting’. People are perceived in different ways according to their pronunciation. Women who used RP were considered as very competent and communicative but also were considered to be unsocial and not integrated into female society of the region.


It is proved that women communicate differently from men but there are three approaches that explain us why. ‘Deficit model’ shows that the differences are in difference in socialization. The ‘Dominance model’ says that men are to be blamed because they interrupt, determine the topic of conversation, speak more and women have to adapt to this. The ‘Difference model’ sees women and men acting and interacting in their own way. When we hear the word ‘gossip’ we immediately link it to women. Deborah Jones finds four different gossips among women: ‘house talk’, ‘scandal’, ‘bitching’ and ‘chatting’. Men also engage is speech activities that would actually count as gossip but that is not considered as gossip even though they are talking about private things or other men that are not present at the time. There were attempts to show that female gossip has positive social functions but none the less it is still considered to be “a nasty kind of feminine talk derived from men’s fears of what

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unsupervised women might be saying to one another on such occasions” (Eckert and McConnell-Ginet 2003:100). On the other hand, men are more engaged in telling jokes, that is dirty jokes in which women are mentioned, also more competitive and aggressive jokes. Women do tell bawdy jokes but not in the same amount as men. Further more men use more witty remarks and women are not expected to be witty. It is also shown that their humor may be acceptable in some situations but not when it is focused on male authority.

When discussing the dominance in speaking, it is proved that men dominate more, speak more and thus control the topics. The accepted stereotype is that women speak more but in fact it is men who talk more and that is shown in many studies. The number of turns in conversation with both the length of turns is in favor of men. They tend to dominate when hierarchy and power is relevant. Men consider women to be more talkative in the situations when they do not have actually something to say, on topics they do not usually talk about. Interruption is one way of showing power and controlling the conversation and in some investigations it is shown that men interrupt more than women. On the other hand, other investigations showed that there is no difference, that men do not interrupt more than women. When talking about questions, women use three times more questions than men. In that way they want to get a response from other participants of the conversation or simply keep the conversation going. When talking, people are expected to prove they are listening to the speaker, not only by nodding their head but also by producing sounds like uh-huh or yeah. That is called backchanelling. Women also produce more minimal responses (mmm. Uhuh, yeah) to make the other participants aware of the fact that they are actively listening and participating in the conversation and are encouraging the speakers to continue the conversation. They also play a supportive role in the conversation.


There are many evidences that show influence of socialization on development of languages. Children from early days imitate adults, mostly their parents. Girls imitate mostly mother’s language while boys their father’s. Girls are also more interested in learning politeness patterns. Boys use more direct requests, laugh more and talk more about sports. Girls are more interested in school and sitting games. At the age of three to seven, children have their portrays of language in which male language is more straightforward, unqualified and forceful and female is talkative, polite, qualified and higher pitched. The mother’s language is called ‘motherese’ and it shows many differences form father’s language. “Motherese involves slowness, redundancy, simplicity and grammaticality. Utterances are shortened… There is a great deal of repetition. There is present orientation, and there is control.” (Gramley and Pätzold 2004: 222). Fathers have other roles like introducing more new words, they use more imperatives, ask fewer questions and tend to use fewer repetitions. However, motherese is used by both, mothers and fathers, just not in the same amount.


People communicate in other ways beside language. Non-verbal ways of communication include gestured, mimicry, posture, eye contact, smiling, touch and others. We can even say that non-verbal communication has stronger and more powerful effect than actual words. Even if a person says something nice by their gestures, smile or eye contact we are able to see that he does not actually mean that. When it comes to differences among men and women, we can say that women are more sensitive to non-verbal signals. This can be interpreted with the need for mothers to understand and respond to children’s non-verbal signals or because have less power in society and thus need to use more interpretations of implicit message than men. There is a difference when it comes to smiling. Women tend to smile more than men even when they are not happy. Their smile is not the indicator of their happiness. This is explained in terms of politeness – women are considered to be warm and polite especially in public situations and social interaction. When it comes to touch situation is more complicated. It is said that the higher one’s status is the more freedom that person has to touch others. It is similar when speaking of age – older persons have more freedom to touch. Women do less touching and are more touched. But when a woman touches a man it is very often interpreted as a sexual gambit. Linking to that, women are approached more than men which also demonstrates that they have less personal space. Difference in body posture is also visible. Men tend to hold their arms and legs at a wider angle than women. Finally we come to eye contact where women tend to maintain more eye contact than men.


Gender is something we are born with, not something we do. But we are under the constant pressure of the society which is directing us to what is and is not appropriate for a boy or a girl. This is why many differences among male and female languages were made. Many words had to be changed because they did not have their female pair. Women use more standard forms than men. The topics men and women like to talk about are different. Women are more emotional so they talk more freely about their feeling. Men feel more comfortable in talking dirty jokes and talking about taboo topics. They are also more dominating in conversation, use more imperatives and straightforward directives. Tag questions are used more by women because they want approval or agreement, or just want to see their listeners are participating in the conversation. They are considered to be more talkative when in fact it is men who talk more, interrupt more and want to control the conversation. While gossiping is connected to women, men too like it and do it too. Both men and women, that is parents, are role models to their children. Girls usually imitate mother’s language while boys father’s. Women are better in non-verbal communication. They smile more and maintain eye contact more than men. All in all, women are considered to be more polite and it is appropriate for them to use standard form of the language. Men have more freedom in their language.


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