January 5th, 2008

ozarque figure

Linguistics; gender and language; genderlects...

I had a question recently from labelleizzy, wondering if I had any thoughts about the idea [raised in another LJ blog] that there is a way of speaking English that could be called "WomanSpeak" and another way of speaking English that could be called "ManSpeak," with those two varieties of English having distinctive identifying characteristics.

This idea -- which most linguists would describe as the claim that English has "genderlects" -- is one that we've discussed before in this journal, and that I can refer to without having to do any unauthorized quoting from someone else's LJ. It's a very common and popular claim in nontechnical books and magazine/newspaper articles and radio/television stories, as well as in media reports on research studies.

My own position, with my linguist hat on, is that American English doesn't have genderlects at all. Rather, I believe there is a dominant way of speaking AE and a subordinate way of speaking AE, both of which are spoken by all genders -- with the choice between the two being made according to the circumstances the speakers encounter in particular language interactions. [The binary division into dominant AE versus subordinate AE is of course just a device of convenience for discussion; in actual fact, it has to be described as a continuum from least-dominant/most-subordinate AE to most-dominant/least-subordinate AE.]

The reason I restrict what I say to American English isn't that I'm not interested in the topic of how "women" talk and how "men" talk and so on; it's because American English is the limit of my expertise as a linguist. I'm not familiar enough with British English or Australian English or any other variety of English -- much less familiar enough with languages other than English -- to say anything useful about their language-and-gender characteristics and practices. Those of you who are native or near-native speakers of other Englishes and other languages are very welcome to add information to the discussion that goes beyond American English.

I think the posts that are most relevant to answering the question from labelleizzy -- and doing so without introducing confusion -- are these four:

1. Linguistics; gender and language; part 1,
at http://ozarque.livejournal.com/210424.html

2. Linguistics; gender and language; part 1 -- leftovers,
at http://ozarque.livejournal.com/210440.html

3. Linguistics; discourse analysis; Professor Deborah Tannen's work,
at http://ozarque.livejournal.com/206752.html

4. Linguistics; pragmatics; Deborah Tannen; clarification,
at http://ozarque.livejournal.com/209903.html

Over to you...