Shawna Goss
Argument
Sauer
12/6/96

Gender and Speech Patterns

"Men, and a surprisingly large number of women are buying Jeep Cherokees now more than ever!" This Jeep commercial is a prime example of stereotypes still thriving in today's culture. Stereotypes that relay women as more passive and uncaring about an off-road vehicle then men are. It reflects the old lifestyle of women, when they usually didn't buy cars and when only men were expected to. But that was all part of the patriarchal society that no longer exists. Right? If so, how do these stereotypes continue in today's society where women are considered equal? It is because there is an underlying difference in the language styles between men and women that has kept old beliefs alive through association. Our speech is taught by our mentors, who were taught by theirs. The style has remained the same despite its changing atmosphere. Verbal communication is the medium most commonly used between genders to express thoughts, feelings and ideas. Because of the difference between genders, language has become related to characteristics which represent past convictions.

What has lead to the continuing attempt of male dominance in society? In our society there is some sense of omnipotence that can be achieved by men if they possess power over those surrounding them. Through dominance of conversation with women and other men, a man can achieve his need for control. "Men's dominance in conversation parallels their dominance in society" (Maltz). This dominance is the chief characteristic in the male language style. Most other qualities can be linked back to this need for control. It is easiest to see this speech in males when they are in a group setting, either a group of friends, or a classroom. "Boy's group speech is used to assert dominance, to attract and maintain an audience" (Romaine). In the class room "boys are not simply passive recipients of increased levels of teacher attention, but may actively demand this" (Graddol). By doing so they obtain a power over the class associated with the teacher. In relation to their peers, "boys were eight times more likely than girls to call out answers" (Graddol), thus gaining respect and taking some control over the topic. This desire for control leads boys "to be more disruptive than girls" therefor making them "the focus of teachers attempts to maintain control" (Graddol). Males have different tools to gain an audience and control of the conversation. They are "more likely to interrupt...more likely to challenge or dispute...more likely to ignore" others and they are more likely to "use mechanisms for controlling the topics" then women are (Maltz). Males tend to interact in more crude ways also. While in a group situation "narratives such as jokes and stories are highly valued, especially when they are well performed for an audience" (Graddol). Jokes and story telling are how many boys learn to get the floor to gain prestige (Romaine). The second most common feature in this environment is the opposite of the good natured joke or story, it is loud and aggressive argument. This includes "shouting, wagering, name-calling, and verbal threats" (Graddol). A high value is placed on obscene language and swearing" (Romaine). Men tend to communicate in a more crude abrasive way then do most women.

Their style is apparent, although not necessarily conscious. In today's society some men get picked on for the way they speak. Usually the only difference noted is a speechl isp, but the real difference may be heard subconsciously in the language pattern. They have a different pattern then males are used to hearing in each other, and so the guy is marked as "gay" sounding. His speak isn't as "masculine" sounding. This same subconscious knowledge can be used for a woman who doesn't blend with the average female speech patterns. These two types of speech are seen as less manly or womanly, proving the importance of language in definition of gender.

Women have their own style which compliments the male language. Being that the word "dominance" has such negative connotations, it is easy to say that the female language pattern is the victim of the male language pattern. But the words themselves are not victims of the male speak, they are victims to time and association.

"Words for women have negative connotations, even where the corresponding male terms designate the same state or condition for men. Thus, spinster and bachelor both designate unmarried adults, but the female term has negative overtones to it... We can see how the female terms may start out on an equal footing, but they become devalued over time" (Romaine).

There are also double standards that come into play when using gender specific words. Girls are describes as gossiping or chattering and to be very talkative. Guy on the other hand are said to "talk shop...But actual research reveals that men talk much more than women across a wide range of topics" (Romaine). This can be attributed to their need to control the conversation, and men's ability to define words and labels throughout history.

But the issue here is more the female language style. "Male techniques, it said, allow speakers to dominate conversations whereas 'female' techniques are more supportive"(Graddol). Since women tend to be dominated in cross-sex conversation "women used[d] more attention-getting devices such as 'D'you know what?', and ask[ed] more questions." (Graddol). This has been interpreted "as attempts to guarantee attention and response" (Graddol). But the use of tag questions has been found to be used equally by men and women in the same position. Tag questions seem to be a reflection of a "subordinate position," (Romaine) so therefore are not true feminine-language characteristics. Another detail which has been pointed out in previous research is the quality of intonation, as revealing hesitancy or lack of confidence. Women were in "subordinate positions" for a long time. They also come under more attack or lack of confidence then men do. This explains why these two aspects of speech have been largely regarded as a part of feminine language.

The female language tends "to create and maintain cohesiveness. Differentiation between girls is not made in terms of power" (Romaine). Females also tend to put forth a polite and tactful (Graddol) impression so as to seem more womanly. This can be seen as almost a complimentary from to the abrasive and crude speak of the man. Women tend to speak inclusively with words such as 'you' and 'we' (Maltz). Women also tend to "give off and look for signs of interest and attention" (Maltz). Females have a different pronunciation usage then men do. Women tend to use "prestige pronunciation" while men have a "greater tendency to use vernacular forms of speech" (Graddol). The same links to the main ideas behind each style. For the woman, a pronunciation to promote her womanhood, and for the man a speech form to reflect his aggressive dominant nature. This language technique also helps define and divide gender.

Women have long been thought of as unequal to men. This history may be the reason for the ways of the female language. It tends to be subtle, quiet and not nearly as aggressive as male patterns. But women have been allowed to join the work force despite their speak, and now as they move to higher levels, men may begin to feel a threat to their dominance and fear that women are taking over (Kaufman). This moving up "involves acquiring certain discipline-specific ways of...talking and writing" which is especially "fraught with anxiety and anguish of women" (Olson). Because of their language, they are still heard the same way. And the same old time beliefs are perceived through each noticed detail of speech. "Negotiating a professional identity confronts women with collegial expectations that are often grounded in gender stereotypes and discriminatory behaviors" (Olson). But women have proved time and again their ability to accomplish this when put in the situation.

Since the beginning women have been seen as the inferior sex. The Bible tells how the women was derived from the man. And throughout history, the woman was not expected to be equal. During this time, language developed "and the patriarchal society establishes the male as the normal, the standard, therefore, the female is other than the norm, a deviation from the norm" (Olson). This statement seems to be a reference to the Bible story, although it is harsh. This possibly explains the base to the entire dominance complex since religion has been a prominent player in the development of society and language throughout history.

Language patterns have a profound impact on our understanding of each other. Through time men have been in the dominant roles in their countries, town and families. They grew accustomed to being in charge and having complete control, not only over women and slaves, by having control when with other men also. Nothing applies to every man, or every woman, but in general, this has been the case. Men are taught by their fathers and grandfathers that control is expected. This is reinforced in the classroom by both teachers and peers. Women on the other hand have gone throughout history usually in a subordinate role. They never grew accustomed to having power on the most part, and so they taught their progeny what they had known. Meanwhile, language was forming and men were applying their roles to their speak. And women were doing the same. What resulted was a masculine speak that was based on dominance and control, and a feminine language that related to the masculine, one of support and passivity in comparison to the aggressive nature of the masculine. So the people related to the language and the language related to the roles.

Today much of the same tone and characteristics still exist, but the roles have changed. Women still speak the same, and their speech represents what used to be. But they are moving past the boundaries of the past. Men have long been in a position of dominance, and they are now being joined or passed by women. So the question arises, how do the two languages relate now? The feminine is based on politeness and getting along, the masculine, the opposite. Language doesn't change overnight. All that can come of this is a better understanding of each other. This can lead to better relationships, both business and personal. Eventually, because of the mixing of genders, language is destined to change. Further study of male and female aggression patterns over time and stereotypical interpretation changes would probably be the only solid evidence of the changes already occurred and those still to come.