Essay on The Problems of Sociolinguistic Studies of Gender Differences

Essay on The Problems of Sociolinguistic Studies of Gender Differences

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The Problems of Sociolinguistic Studies of Gender Differences


It has long been assumed that women and men differ in their use of language. These differences are supposed to represent (and perpetuate) the social divisions between women and men. Few researchers will disagree that women and men’s speech styles are different, though they may disagree as to what extent or as to what these differences may mean.

Expecting to find such differences, I began a study of a two-hour conversation with my family. But in the course of attempting to transcribe my family’s conversations and in reviewing the current research, I encountered many difficulties. Nearly every article I read seemed to contradict the previous ones, and there were numerous problems in the transcription process that made me question my initial assumptions. With this in mind, I decided to shift my focus to an analysis of some of the problems involved in research on gender and language.

Studying Women as a Social Group

There are many factors complicating the study of women as a social group. As Jennifer Coates points out in her book Women, Men, and Language, "female speakers are not a homogenous group using a single dialect" (Coates 1993: 196). In fact, women are a part of every social group. One could make a reasonable argument that there is more variation between individual women than between women as a group and men as a group. In "Women and Men Talking: Are They Worlds Apart?", Elizabeth Aries makes this point rather well: "People of the same sex have a range of values, attributes, and styles, not one style… The variability that exists within members of the same sex gets overshadowed by a focus on group differences" (Aries 199...

... middle of paper ...

...uptions: A Critical Review. In Gender and Conversational Interaction, edited by Deborah Tannen, pp.231-280. Oxford University Press, New York.

Nichols, Patricia C
1983 Linguistic Options and Choices for Black Women in the Rural South. In Language, Gender and Society, edited by Thorne, Kramarae, and Henley, pp.54-68. Newberry House Publications, Inc., Rowley.

Tannen, Deborah
1993 The Relativity of Linguistic Strategies: Rethinking Power and Solidarity in Gender and Dominance. In Gender and Conversational Interaction, edited by Deborah Tannen, pp.165-188. Oxford University Press, New York.

West, Candace, and Don H. Zimmerman
1983 Small Insults: A Study of Interruptions in Cross-sex Conversations between Unaquainted Persons. In Language, Gender and Society, edited by Thorne, Kramarae, and Henley, pp.103-118. Newberry House Publications, Inc., Rowley.

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