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Why Women Speak Differently Than Men

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Language
Wordcount: 3912 words Published: 25th May 2017

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This theoretical seminar paper will elaborate on the significant differences of language or speaking behaviour concerning gender.

The different ways men and women use language has been of interest in the study of discourse in awhile. Current studies have revealed that women use more words related to psychological and social processes, whereas men refer more to object properties and impersonal topics. (Newman (2008) p. 211) However, do women really speak differently than men or is language possibly even sexist? Ann Weatherall, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, assumed that language issues concerning gender are political issues. Furthermore, she thinks that a woman’s social position is not only reflected by language, but it could challenge it. In addition, she says that certain knowledge about the relationship between language and gender is significant, due to information about strategies for engendering social change for the better. (Weatherall (2002) p. 2)

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The overall aim of this paper is to draw a conclusion on a de facto incidence of concrete language or speaking differences in meaning/ message, words and phrases between men and women. Where are the differences concerning politeness? Is there a women’s language and why do men mostly dominate conversations, if women are better at talking than men? In which way do language skills develop during the childhood? All these questions will be answered in this theoretical analysis. Summing up, this analysis identifies when, where, and how do men and women communicate differently, including why these differences exist. The following research provides a reflection on how men and women communicate in various contexts and domains.


Theoretical Concepts

Generally speaking, gender differences in terms of language contain political, professional and personal implications. Other guiding principles are biological or social differences, which need to be taken into consideration. The following analysis points out both sex similarities and sex differences with respect to communicative behaviour. In some domains men’s normal speech is similar to women’s talking behaviour and in cases they differ completely. In progress, it should be anticipated that both sexes budge in manifold cultural and social environments and thus avail themselves of alternative meanings by sharing universal terms and expressions. Those subtle distinctions often cause misunderstandings and even confusion regarding verbal and non-verbal messages. (Canary, 1998, p. ix-xi)

Language differences between men and women can be found in vocabulary innovation, pronunciation, communication style and grammar. According to Ann Weatherall, a scientist of psychology, the nineteenth-century contained an awareness of a relationship between language and women’s social status due to women’s movement and the publications of this time. (Weatherall, 2002, pp. 2)

Language Development during Infancy

Even in infancy at the age of nine to fifteen years, the development of language diverse grids can be observed. In their article “Sex differences in neural processing of language among children” of 2008 by Douglas D. Burman, Tali Bitan and James R. Booth, the scientists research on the sex differences with regard to cerebral activities. They suggest “that girls rely on a supramodal language network, whereas boys process visual and auditory words differently.” Furthermore the scientists claim that females are generally better among language performance than males, even when they are only two or three years old. They say that boys start talking later, acquire vocabulary slower and show less spontaneous language than girls. (Burman (2008) pp. 1349)

For their research study, they used a statistical model that generalized across task, stimulus modality, and age while accounting for variability in performance accuracy. Their findings revealed the following significant attributes: Girls exhibit a greater activation of language areas. In frontal and temporal regions the activation was bilaterally weaker among boys, as right-hemisphere activation was stronger among girls, “reducing sensitivity with a higher threshold created the appearance of a laterality difference similar to that reported by others”. The left fusiform and superior temporal gyri showed similar sex differences during non-linguistic sensory tasks, yet activation of the fusiform (as well as the left inferior frontal gyrus) was correlated with performance accuracy only during linguistic judgments. Correlation of the left fusiform activation with standardized reading scores further demonstrated its relevance to sex differences in language function. Finally, differences in brain behaviour correlations collapsed across language judgments or stimulus modality demonstrated that girls and boys rely on different brain areas for accurate language performance.” (Burman (2008) p. 1357)

“Although both boys and girls showed bilateral activation, increasing our statistical threshold (thereby lowering sensitivity) resulted in marked sex differences in laterality, with frontal and temporal lobe activation appearing in the right-hemisphere of girls, where their activation was stronger than boys.” (Burman (2008) p. 1358)

As Jennifer Coates’ research found, girls acquire linguistic skills at a faster rate than boys. Moreover, they acquire patterns, which differentiate them from boys. The differences, initially thought to result from innate biological differences, are actually developments of distinctions in the linguistic environment of girls and boys. In the socialization process, language plays an important role for a child. “[C]ildren are socialized into culturally approved sex roles largely through language.” The process of learning to be male or female in our society means, in other words, to learn sex-appropriate language. There are four methods of acquiring socialization through language: The first approach would be “through explicit comment on certain aspects of linguistic behaviour”, for instance, through swearing, taboo words, verbosity or politeness. Secondly, adults provide different linguistic models for children to identify with. A third way would be that adults talk differently to children depending on the sex of the child. Experiences say that adults tend to interrupt girls and lisp more when speaking to little girls. The fourth way says that adults have different preconditions of male and female children. Girls are expected to be more verbally able than male infants.

The locus of linguistic change can be child language. Linguistic change in progress will be revealed, when we compare the variety of language acquired by children with the variety used by adults of the same ethnic groups or social classes.

During infancy and adolescence the individual learns linguistic behaviour appropriate to its sex and becomes part of his or her identity. (Coates, 1986, pp. 133, 134)

iii. Major Differences

According to Canary and Dindia, the term gender concerns “social, symbolic construction that expresses the meaning a society confers on biological sex.” Furthermore, they claim gender is related to cultures within any society given. Those two researchers found various communication-related differences including that “male infancy and adolescent interacting contains a lot of interruption, self-displays, challenges, strong assertion or direct judgement than female childhood and adolescent communication.” Their observations showed that females rely more on verbal communication than men, comprising personal disclosures. Women exhibit this behaviour to maintain and to build intimacy with friends or potential partners. On the other hand, men put confidence in shared activities or doing complaisance for others “to build, sustain and express intimacy with friends and potential partners.”

Additionally, the scientists claim that men only talk about relationships, if there emerged a serious tension or problem requiring attention, whereas women conciliate when talking about relationships. In general, men react less sensitive to and perceptive of others’ nonverbal cues than women. Moreover, females tend to be more involved in taking care for others than men do. Resulting from these facts comes the idea that both sexes follow expressive and instrumental goals, although one sex may stress one objective more than the other. In other words, males and females misunderstand each other in terms of requesting, questioning, listening or offering assistance.

Contrary to sex differences, gender distinctions are cultivated, but not compulsive. (Canary, 1998, p. 20)

Speaking mannerism is also shaped by group experiences such as football, hunting, ballet, cheerleading, being father or mother, president or even a hobo. Other social ideologies can be personal appearances or professional options, which underly and reflect social, economic and political power, the income and economic security, which is provided by women and men. Those indications constitute the major distinctions in male and female communication behaviour.

As gender theory is seen as a “social construction rooted in hierarchy”, which means that power is more useful than gender in defining general differentiation. Power imbalance gives information about varieties between various “groups of unequal standing, containing parents and children, slaves and masters, prisoners and guards or workplace related hierarchies. ” (Canary, 1998, p. 21)

All in all, owing to Canary’s and Dindia’s evidences, differences between man and women depend on “social structures and practices that create and normalize disparate power and correspondingly disparate opportunities, experiences and socially approved identities and activities for the sexes.” In their point of view, there was a misinterpretation of personal qualities of human beings by justifying the unequal treatment of individual persons.

With the help of Tavris’ work on academic and popular instances and endemic differences between males and females, the researchers state that men’s and women’s daily behaviour is adjusted to their roles they play, the ideologies they belief in and the work they do. Thus, their human qualities can be encourages by transforming roles, ideologies and work in both sexes. A further perception in terms of social prescriptions is the fact that women are naturally better than men at taking care of others and of the range of things necessary for all of us to exist. So, we can say in the first place, the existing differences result from culture without being unalterable or essential. (Canary, 1998, pp. 34-36)

When looking at conversational interaction, we observe many differences and even a polarized depiction of men and women. The differences imply thoughts, feelings, responds, reactions, love, needs and appreciation. The so-called socialization of women and men develops contrasting communication styles. From this follows that men tend to be direct and assertive, on the other hand, women have a penchant to be polite, expressive and to assume an interpersonal orientation. It needs to be added that those differences reside within the individual. A person’s gender does not define its entity, but one should pay attention to what someone does in interaction with others. Male or female talking behaviour depends on the situational context and for that reason no person can be allocated masculine or feminine in significant contexts. “[The] construction of polarized conception of men and women in interaction helps to sustain current realities and keep inequalities in place. (Canary, 1998, p. 77)

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As we learned, the comparison of talking behaviour between men and women reveals consistent gender differences in language use. For women “the English language served as way to discuss people and their actions, as well as communicating internal processes to others, including doubts.” Additionally, women express thoughts, emotions, senses, negations and verbs in present and past tense more often than men. For men language serves rather as a repository of labels for external events, objects and processes. Along with technical linguistic features such as numbers, articles, prepositions and long words were discussion of occupation, money, sports and even swear words. One phenomenon of both sexes is the indistinguishability in their references to sexuality, anger, time, the use of first-person plural, the number of words and question marks and the insertion of qualifiers in the form of exclusion words (e.g., but, although). The main difference of men was that their speech was characterized by more negative emotion and more references to the past relative to their writing. Natural language tends to be more informal and less constrained, perhaps because spoken language is more “natural” than writing. Especially girls use function words like pronouns at much higher rates in conversations. Unlike women, men talk about concrete objects, which require nouns and articles, when having a conversation about any topic.

Summing up, the general message by Newman, Groom, Handelman and Pennebaker concerns gender differences that are larger on tasks and place fewer constraints on language use. Despite this, both sexes use language in reliably and systematically different ways. Writing about a traumatic experience is very different from writing a class exam, but men and women wrote differently across both contexts. This mirrors the substantial intraindividual consistency in language use reported in earlier work. Thus, gender differences in written and spoken language appear to be reliable and subtle.

Their analysis has identified differences at four major levels of research- words, phrases, sentences, and overall messages. Primarily presented word differences possess the most direct correspondence to previous literature. However, many phrase-level, sentence-level, and message-level features are associated with particular word choices. (Newman, 2008, pp. 229,230)

iv. Word Differences

Discoveries found that women used more intensive adverbs and affect words regarding emotional references, not being always restricted to positive emotions. Successful replications for men’s speaking behaviour contained a substantial increased use of numbers, articles, long words, and swearing. Women are more likely to refer both to positive feelings and to negative emotions than men, especially, sadness and anxiety. The finding of a male advantage in anger words is not replicated. The most striking discovery is that unlike men, women are the more prolific users of first-person singular pronouns (i.e., I, me, and my). (Newman, 2008, pp. 230, 231)

v. Phrase Differences

The category of polite forms (e.g., “Would you mind if…,” “Should I get the door?”) confirms a small but reliable tendency to be appearing more often in women’s texts. Women were more likely to hedge than men. However, women were no more likely to use words from the tentative category (e.g., maybe, perhaps). The use of phrases, such as “I guess,” indicate the findings that women use more polite forms, and are reluctant to force their views on other people. (Newman, 2008, p. 231)

vi. Sentences Differences

In terms of words used, men consume more “airtime”. The data of Newman data found no evidence of any differences in overall word count. Women ask more questions and insert more tag questions into their sentence. (Newman, 2008, p. 231)

vii. Differences in message

It concerns what is implicit in language rather than what is contained in language’s manifest features. Even so, it is informative to consider the types of topics that males and females use their words to talk about. There is strong evidence that women seem to have more of a rapport style, discussing social topics and expressing internal thoughts and feelings more often, whereas men report more often, describing the quantity and location of objects. The absence of a difference in first-person plural may indicate that the word “we” is not a simple marker of a communal, interdependent mindset rather than indicating doubts about whether women really are rapport oriented. (Newman (2008) pp. 232-233)

In the sociolinguistic research of sex differentiation, scientists found that “sex differences in language often cut across social class variation. It seems that women from the middle class apply proportionally more standard forms, accorded to overt prestige by society. However, men from the working class apply proportionally more non-standard forms, which are closer to the vernacular. (Coates, 1986, pp. 77, 78)

If we have a look at sex differences in communicative competence, it can be observed that men and women pursue different interactive modes. Exempli gartia, in mixed-sex conversations, men tend to interrupt women, which induces silence in the female mind. This strategy used by men is meant to control certain topics of conversation. In return, women have the conspicuous mannerism of minimal responses to indicate support for the person, who is talking. As a general rule, men tend to talk more, use more often swearwords or imperative forms to get things done, while women have a disposition to ask more questions. In terms of politeness, it is the women that avails herself of genteel linguistic forms. Such amassments of linguistic features are often called men’s or women’s style. Such conspicuous facts in speech are typical for people, who range within a low status society. Such linguistic clusters can be seen as powerful signs of mutual support and solidarity, when women talk to women. Those tokens can also be denoted as ideal form of co-operative discourse or co-counselling. Consequently, men’s style could be describes as competitive and assertive by dominating mixed-sex interaction, whereas the women’s style can be interpreted as co-operative and supportive. Looking at the speech community in respect of participation, it can be assumed that both males and females stick to a certain set of norms for conversational interaction. Needless to say, these norms are differently referring to women or men. What we can exclude is the assumption that these shared norms are grammatical or phonological, but men and women constitute distinct speech communities. (Coates, 1986, p. 117)

Contexts are significantly different according to the same-sex or to mixed-sex conversations. The gender hierarchy becomes irrelevant, if all the talking participants are the same sex. In mixed-race conversation, one can observe dominance and oppression. When women interact with other women, they feel equal, but when speaking to men, they are dominated. (Coates, 1986, p. 161)


Taking everything into consideration, interpreting the gender differences is clearly an expansive matter. Further investigation in the future could give some more indications of detailed explanation of the ways in which social roles and relationships between men and women contribute to differences in language use. As we learned during the analysis atop, the study of language caters an unambiguously “social” perspective on the study of gender differences. Understanding the main differences in communication style between human beings is obviously dependent on the maintenance of gender stereotypes. Communication differences concerning gender reflect a complex combination of social goals, situational demands, and socialization.

The overall aim of this paper was to provide a clear outline of the differences in men’s and women’s language, and maybe offers a starting point for future research into the nature and origin of gender differences. Furthermore, the analysis demonstrates significant differences in the way that humans use language with respect to what they say and how they choose to say it. (Newman (2008) p. 233)

Furthermore, the study found that girls have significantly greater activation in linguistic areas of the brain. The pattern of activation differences and the relationship of activation with performance accuracy and reading skill suggest that these differences underlie childhood sex differences in language performance. Furthermore, the results indicate that accurate performance among boys and girls depends on different brain regions, perhaps reflecting different approaches to linguistic processing despite extensive overlap in activated regions. Girls make language judgments based on linguistic content by accessing a common language network regardless of the sensory input, whereas boys rely on a modality-specific network. Although such differences reflect early differences in processing language, evidence does not currently suggest that differences in brain-behaviour correlations persist into adulthood. Instead, such differences may disappear as the development of sensory processing in boys catches up to girls, so that by adulthood language processing in both sexes relies on the efficiency of the brain’s linguistic network. This possibility warrants further study. Nonetheless, by characterizing the nature of sex differences in processing language during a period in which reading acquisition occurs, our findings represent an important step toward identifying the developmental basis for sex differences in language performance. (Burman (2008) pp. 1359, 1360)

Summing up, this theoretical seminar paper tried to uncover sex and gender differences and has demonstrated that not only in our society exist male and female differences in language. Linguistic sex differences have socially undesirable consequences. Men’s and women’s differing understanding in conversational interaction can sometimes lead to miscommunication. “[This] miscommunication between adult speakers in mixed conversations assumes that women and men talk differently and have different rules for conversation, because they belong to different subcultures. The path of using language concerning girls is a contributory factor to their disadvantaged position. Differences in girls’ and boy’s language are directly related to girl’s oppression, when looking at the differences in the gender roles and identities of women and men and the hierarchical nature of gender relations and the dominance of men. “Language is one of the means by which individuals locate themselves in social space.” Completing, speech can be seen as an act of identity, because while speaking the individuals defines him- or herself as male or female. (Coates, 1986, pp. 160, 161)

It is hoped that this paper could help to understand the way males and females use language and their linguistic relationship a little better.


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