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Some researchers have argued that men and women have distinctive styles of conversation - How far do you agree with these claims?

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Language and Gender Essay Question: Some researchers have argued that men and women have distinctive styles of conversation. How far do you agree with these claims? Many researchers have claimed that there are distinctive gender specific language features in conversation. A major supporter of this belief was Robin Lakoff, who devised what has since come to be called The Deficit Model, when comparing the two sexes. Her thesis stated there were many differences in conversational style one of which was the use of special lexicon by females. Lakoff believed that women, used subject specific language such as colour terms more frequently than men in everyday conversation. She said that they used empty adjectives such as cute and tag questions more regularly. Other language features females use more frequently according to Lakoff are intensifiers instead of absolute superlatives, hedges such as you know, superpolite forms, hypercorrection and indirect request forms e.g. Would you mind closing the door?


Dale Spender (1980) believed that differences within speech were as a result of sex-role socialisation. The Dominance Model is based on similar beliefs to Spender and it states that men have a more powerful role within society and this is reflected in their language usage. A later thesis expanding on Spender's was proposed by Deborah Tannen (1990) and suggests that differences in the use of language were the result of different purposes. Most theories on gender differences within language have viewed male speech as the 'norm' and based their conclusions on female speech on the belief that it is deviant. Tannen considers differences to be culturally ingrained within society and so treats both forms of speech as a separate style. These contrasting conclusions show the difficulty in interpreting data definitively. For example, Lakoff stated that the use of precise colour terms by women was an example of the triviality of their vocabulary. Dale Spender however considers the fact that in our society women are more frequently involved in interior decorating and so the use of such terms would be anything but trivial.


Belgian linguist Patricia Niedzwiecki research supported this belief, showing that women treat conversation as a cooperative activity with supportive interjections however men are more competitive and use verbal support far less. She found that women tend to immediately digress but male speech was more linear. There are many pronounced differences in terms of the language usage of men and women however the number of similarities is far greater. As a result of the drive for equality by the feminist movement the roles of both genders are changing to the extent that many men are now staying at home to look after their child whilst the mother is the 'breadwinner' for the household. This convergence of sex-roles within society has I believe greatly reduced the number of linguistic differences such as the coarseness of profanities. So therefore I believe that men and women use a slightly different style of conversation to achieve the same aim but as social roles come closer together I believe they will merge into a single entity. Sanjay Odedra

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