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Theories of Language Difference in Genders

The intersection of language and gender has been studied by many because of the innate curiosity of each gender about the differences between them and others. Language is believed to be embodied in the different gender in different forms which has also led to various studies to understand the variations of language development in the two main genders. Studies have mainly fixated on understanding the relationship between speech and gender along with the use of gendered language (Crawford et al., 1995). On the other hand, language has been used for growing the gap between the two genders and keep the sexism and gender bias in place (Gu, 2013). This paper will analyse the gender differences in language, especially while comparing, contrasting, and differentiating the two main genders with each other. This will also be supported by understanding the theories of language difference in genders and twin studies that back the differences in the language usage by different sexes.

To comprehend the correlative relationship between gender and language, it is imperative to understand the theories about their usage. Most popular description has been given by Robin Lackoff (1975, as cited in Akhter, 2014, p. 4) in The Deficit Approach, which believes that the language used by males is stronger and desirable. On the other hand, the language by women is delicate and reserved language which could is similar to expressive language that lacks uncertainty, has low confidence, and with overuse of respect or civility (Lackoff, 1975, as cited in Akhter, 2014, p. 5). Another theory by Lackoff is called Dominance Approach which annotates the heavier language use by males because of their dominant nature in society (Lackoff, 1975, as cited in Akhter, 2014, p. 4).

To negate the Dominance theory as a manifestation of the patriarchal social order, Tannen (1990, as cited in Akhter, 2014, p. 5) approaches language as a ‘two-culture’ model of males and females in which children engage in these groups separately. The difference between men and women develops only because they grow up in different sub-cultures. This theory supports the language difference through six domains, i.e., Status vs Support, Independence vs Intimacy, Advice vs Understanding, Information vs Feelings, Orders vs Proposals, and lastly, Conflict vs Compromise.

Lastly, the Discursive theory postulates that the difference between man and women on the basis of their language use is depended on the economic climate of each society (Cameron, 2003, as cited in Akhter, 2014, p. 6). From a feminist point of view, it has been noted that language and gender behaviour develop out of influence of the ideas based in patriarchal society. Thus, different theories different postulations about the origin of the difference between men and women.

Gendered Language and its Use by Different Genders

The use of gendered language has been consistent with the two forms of gender. In other words, each gender employs their own variation of the language and thus, differences can be found when they use language. Carli (1990) reported women to be more influential because they spoke tentatively while use of tentative language had no effect on men. In a study conducted to understand the use of tentative language by men and women, there are noted differences between the vocabulary, voice, tone, structure, and style used by each gender (Palomores, 2009). Palomares (2009) studied the effect of gender-neutral, masculine and feminine topics and found that females were more cautious than males when talking concerning male topics in intergroup. While in feminine topics, females were more tentative than men in intergroup only (Palomares, 2009). However, it was seen that there were no differences in both the intergroup or intragroup contexts for gender-neutral topics (Palomares, 2009) Finally, gender salience had an effect on the topics of the tentative language in mixed sex language.

Newman et al. (2008) also noticed variances in use of language in different genders in a large heterogenous group irrespective of age. It was also found that women used language that was related to social and psychological constructs while men used language that was more objective and impersonal. This study proved the importance of social concepts and its impact on language of both men and women. While the difference can be seen in males and females, its effect resonated with their success. Thus, there are empirical evidence of the differences in different language use by each gender.

When the differences are studied in detail, there were considerable distinctions in the language use by men and women. The variances between males and females can be mainly seen in the use of language and its format along with some minor discrepancies in the use of non-verbal communication (Xia, 2013). When actual differences are seen in the use of language between men and women, it has been seen that there are variances in use of punctuation, intonation, vocabulary, syntax, attitude towards language, non-verbal communication, and topics (Xia, 2013). Glenberg et al. (2009) have also suggested that the language differences in the gender binary results out of different emotional system and a contrast in communication, especially in emotional expression. Moreover, there is also links between the language use and brain functions and the neural system. It has found that since women are more attuned to their neural and emotional system, they had more reactions to different language use.

Gender Differences in Language Use: Comparison and Contrast

While many theories have already claimed the relation between gender and language, the theories of same-sex studies also indicate the creation of stereotype of cooperative talk by women and competitive tone by men (Coates, 2016). Moreover, Gleason and Ely (2002) postulated the gender differences as the child develops. In the language system, the phonological aspects of the language, especially the intonation at the end of sentence is more expressive while men are monotonic. The use diminutives by women in the morphology of language is more baby-like towards by little girls and little boys (Gleason & Ely, 2002). Women use more intensifiers like really and very when compared to men in the use of lexicon and semantics. The syntax of the language also showed differences in women’s utilization of affirmations such as “isn’t it?” at the end of their sentences. Gleason and Ely (2002) also suggested that women were more polite than men. Lastly, compared to women who use direct speech more, men use more indirect speech. There is more than enough evidence to prove the finer details of the distinction between the male and female and their use of language.

Apart from comparison and contrast between different genders on the basis of their language use, there are also some notable differences and similarities in the language use by twins. When female with male co-twins and female and female co-twins are taken into consideration, there are notable difference in the language use through their development (Toivainen et al., 2017). Although each of them has variations in the use of non-verbal and verbal language abilities across development, each sex performs better at a particular stage (Toivainen et al., 2017). Females are more fluent in verbal and non-verbal abilities at age 2-4 while males have fluent verbal abilities at age 10 and 12 (Toivainen et al., 2017). Toivainen et al. (2017) also negated the Twin Testosterone Transfer Hypothesis which postulates that female with male co-twins showed better performance than the same-sex female twins on mental rotation.

Twin studies also indicate a correlation between current studies and later language use. While Coberly (2016) was more centred on the language use between twins, it gave way to many later studies. Coberly (2016) found that when twins engage in twin talk which is filled with jargon, it could lead to later language problems which are highly correlated with delays. However, it was found that same gender twins had more chances of twin talk which could later develop into further language problems (Kovas et al., 2005). Genetics and environment are important factors for the language difference of the twins (Kovas et al., 2005). Language aptitude and disability, which includes diction, phonology, vocabulary, grammar and verbal ability was also studied to understand the features of language use in 4.5-year-olds monozygotic and dizygotic twins of both same-sex and opposite-sex twins (Kovas et al., 2005).

Twin Studies and their Correlation to Language Use

Fraternal twin studies have also established that the prenatal influence the sex differences in cognitive abilities (Miller & Halpern 2014). Lange and Zaretsky (2021) studied sex differences of 4-year-old children in competence of using language, especially the phonological short-term memory (PTSM) (Lange & Zaretsky, 2021). They found that the performance of the girls was better than the boys even though the sample size was small using tests on articulation, grammar, speech comprehension, vocabulary, and phonological short-term memory (PTSM) (Lange & Zaretsky, 2021). Thus, there are notable differences in the language development of different sex in the array of twin studies.

Not only there are many differences in lingual expression when compared in males and females, there are also many similarities. For instance, Wallentin (2020) has observed that in neurodegenerative disorders, there were no gender difference. The gender differences are only high because the studies focused on the language deficits of genders rather than studying the whole population (Wallentin, 2020). Prewitt-Freilino et al. (2011) found that countries with gendered language have less gender equality in comparison of the other grammatical gender systems. Bigler and Leaper (2015) also noted that gendered language has led to cognitive bias about the usage of language in the bi-genders. It also affects the emotional, cognitive, and behavioural aspects of the individual (Bigler & Leaper, 2015). Moreover, countries with natural gender languages depict higher gender equality because of their existing ease with gender differences (Prewitt-Freilino et al., 2011).

To explain the similarities in language use by males and females, Gu (2013) has also pointed out that differences cannot only be credited to people because of their belonging to a certain group. The personal qualities of an individual along with their unique communication style and way of living can affect their language use (Gu, 2013). Further, language use should be studied in specific contexts to be more objective and conduct an in-depth study (Gu, 2013). Gu (2013) also suggested for a prejudice-free study to properly understand the paradigms of sociolinguistics. While many differences in language can be seen based on gender, it is imperative to step out of the gender differences in the modern times. This is the period when the umbrella of gender is encompassing each type of gender expression under its representation and the use of androgynous and gender-neutral language is at the all time high. Thus, it would be retrograde to study only the gender differences in two binaries of gender.

To conclude, gender differences in language use are the preliminary study of studies related to linguistics and gender theories. There is definitive evidence of the divide between the two genders. Studies have pointed out that the differences lie in the structure of language and the lingual expression by an individual. Further, when studied in depth, studies also point out the significance of the various neurological systems to explain the differences in language. Mainly, the affective system of the human body influences the expression in language. Twin studies are also important to understand the sex differences between gender. Twin studies have indicated that females use expressive verbal and non-verbal language between age two and four while males use expressive language in verbal component during age ten and twelve. Another important study also noted that female twins are more expressive in the language usage because of enhanced phonological short-term memory (PTSM). The similarities between different sex can also be seen in the language use, mainly in the natural gendered language. Studies have also pointed out the prejudicial thinking of researchers and asked a more gender-neutral approach, which is also the need of the hour. Thus, while there are many differences and contrast between language use by males and females, similarities can still be found.

References

Akhter, I. (2014). Differences in language use by male and female students in tertiary academia in Dhaka city [Doctoral thesis, BRAC University Dhaka City]. BRAC University. https://dspace.bracu.ac.bd/xmlui/bitstream/handle/10361/3938/Ishrat.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Bigler, R. S., & Leaper, C. (2015). Gendered language: Psychological principles, evolving practices, and inclusive policies. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 2(1), 187-194. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F2372732215600452

Carli, L. L. (1990). Gender, language, and influence. Journal of personality and social psychology, 59(5), pp. 941-952. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.59.5.941

Coates, J. (2015). Women, Men and Language: A Sociolinguistic Account of Gender Differences in Language (3rd ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315645612

Crawford, M. (1995). Talking difference: On gender and language. Sage Publications.

Gleason, J. B. & Ely, R. (2002). Gender differences in language development. In A. Lisi & R. Lisi (eds.), Biology, society, and behavior: The development of sex differences in cognition (Vol. 21, pp. 127-154). Greenwood Publishing Group.

Glenberg, A. M., Webster, B. J., Mouilso, E., Havas, D., & Lindeman, L. M. (2009). Gender, emotion, and the embodiment of language comprehension. Emotion review, 1(2), pp. 151-161. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F1754073908100440

Gu, L. (2013). Language and gender: Differences and similarities [Paper presentation]. 2013 International Conference on Advances in Social Science, Humanities, and Management (ASSHM 2013), Guangzhou, China. https://www.atlantis-press.com/article/10624.pdf

Lange, B., & Zaretsky, E. (2021). Sex differences in language competence of 4-year-old children: Female advantages are mediated by phonological short-term memory. Applied Psycholinguistics, 42(6), 1503-1522. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0142716421000333

Kovas, Y., Hayiou?Thomas, M. E., Oliver, B., Dale, P. S., Bishop, D. V., & Plomin, R. (2005). Genetic influences in different aspects of language development: The etiology of language skills in 4.5?year?old twins. Child Development, 76(3), pp. 632-651. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-8624.2005.00868.x

Newman, M. L., Groom, C. J., Handelman, L. D., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2008). Gender differences in language use: An analysis of 14,000 text samples. Discourse processes, 45(3), pp. 211-236. https://doi.org/10.1080/01638530802073712

Palomares, N. A. (2009). Women are sort of more tentative than men, aren't they? How men and women use tentative language differently, similarly, and counter-stereotypically as a function of gender salience. Communication Research, 36(4), pp. 538-560. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F0093650209333034

Prewitt-Freilino, J. L., Caswell, T. A., & Laakso, E. K. (2012). The gendering of language: A comparison of gender equality in countries with gendered, natural gender, and genderless languages. Sex roles, 66(3), pp. 268-281. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-011-0083-5

Toivainen, T., Papageorgiou, K. A., Tosto, M. G., & Kovas, Y. (2017). Sex differences in non-verbal and verbal abilities in childhood and adolescence. Intelligence, 64, pp. 81-88. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intell.2017.07.007

Wallentin, M. (2020). Gender differences in language are small but matter for disorders. Handbook of clinical neurology, 175, pp. 81-102. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-444-64123-6.00007-2

Xia, X. (2013). Gender differences in using language. Theory and practice in language studies, 3(8), pp. 1485-1489. https://dx.doi.org/10.4304/tpls.3.8.1485-1489

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