Among the major social determinants of linguistic variation, gender is widely considered to be one of the most significant ones. According to research on a range of linguistic features, gender may even be the dominant factor.
The relationship of gender and linguistic behavior is a compelling topic which is getting more and more attention since it is closely related to gender studies. It is widely agreed that men and women use language differently in most speech communities, though to various extents (Holmes, 2001). Many works on the topic indicate that gender-specific linguistic behavior is a social practice which is based on gender identities and power relations (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 1992; Bruckmüller, Hegarty & Abele, 2012).
This paper aims to examine how gender differences are manifested in linguistic behavior. It focuses on the way men and women speak rather than that they are spoken about. Their speech differences in politeness, interaction, style and confidence are socialization practices which connote the power inequality between the two sexes. Examples of genderlects will be presented, and possible explanations from different perspectives will be evaluated before making a reasonable conclusion on the issue.
Gender-specific Patterns of Linguistic Behavior
The selection of examples of language patterns will be grounded on the characteristics of ‘women’s language’ proposed by Lakoff (Holmes, 2001; Rasmussen & Moely, 1986; White, 2003). Tags, ‘superpolite’ forms, ‘hypercorrect’ grammar and hedges will be given particular attention and grouped into four main sections.
As men and women are socialized differently, females tend to express politeness more than men. One common facilitative device is tag question which displays positive politeness by softening criticisms and showing concern for others’ feelings (White, 2003). Not only do women use more tags than men, but they may also use in different ways. Women want to be more polite and supportive when they use tags while men often use tags as they have doubts (Holmes, 2001; Kunsmann, 2000).
Studies also find more ‘superpolite’ forms like indirect requests in women’s speech. While men frequently use direct commands, women are more likely to get somebody to do something by asking indirect questions (White, 2003; Voegeli, 2005; Rasmussen & Moely; 1986). The benefits of indirect requests, defensiveness and rapport, are consistent with the observation that most women are facilitative and hope to keep both the listeners and themselves from embarrassment if negative answers are received (White, 2003; Cowie, 2000).
Research has found that men incline to dominate conversations irrespective of their posts, chief or subordinate (Voegeli, 2005; Holmes, 2001). This does not only mean that men tend to talk more (Voegeli, 2005; Cowie, 2000; Edvardsson, 2007; Meunier, 1996), but it also denotes that men are able to raise more topics while women may get less...