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  • Level: GCSE
  • Subject: Maths
  • Word count: 5161

I believe that women are less threatening and more polite in conversation with members of the opposite sex than men. Discuss

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Hannah Moore                Language & Gender Coursework


        I believe that women are less threatening and more polite in conversation with members of the opposite sex than men. I believe that the female ‘host’ of the television show in my study, will exhibit more sympathetic speech by using parataxis, which is the use of connected main clauses, and other features that researchers such as Deborah Tannen have associated with female speech.


I decided to study the differences between male and female speech because I am interested in gender differences that I have studied in my course.

        This investigation is intended to prove my hypothesis, to do this I have decided to take two television talk show hosts, one male, and one female. The shows are aired at around the same time and would attract the same audience. By analysing the conversations of the talk show hosts I can define if the female host is more polite and less threatening towards her guests and audience than her male counterpart.

        The topic of language and gender is and has always been an important part of the English language. It reflects quite significantly on the way men and women communicate at the particular period in time, for example thanks to literature from the past we know that females, when married still called their husbands sir. However, due to movements such as the suffragettes and the women’s rights movement the gender and language gap have decreased. The topic has been greatly researched and I intend to refer to some of these researchers within my study. Robin Lakoff (1973) contended that conversations in general were controlled by politeness principles. These were:

  • Don’t impose/ negative politeness, e.g. ‘I’m sorry to bother you’.
  • Give options, e.g. ‘It’s entirely up to you’
  • Make your receiver feel good, e.g. ‘Id really appreciate your advice on this’.

Lakoff (1975) also commented on this in the way women speak she said that because of the females social position, they are more likely to be tentative in speech than males. Lakoff (1975) went on to say that not only women more likely to be polite but there are other features of their speech that are quite characteristic. These include:

  • Hedges, using phrases like ‘sort of’
  • Using super polite forms, ‘would you mind’
  • Overuse qualifiers ‘I think that…’
  • Avoid coarse language or expletives
  • Use more intensifiers ‘so, very’
  • Apologise more
  • Use ‘wh-’ imperatives

Don Zimmermann and Candace West also did research around this topic in 1975. Zimmermann and West said that men were more dominant in their conversations, and after studying this; they found that in eleven conversation men interrupted forty six times, and women only twice. This information agrees with that suggested by Lakoff, that women’s approach to conversation is more cooperative than the male competitive approach.

        Deborah Tannen has also done extensive research into the language and gender area of the English Language. Tannen has created six contrasts to represent male and female language they are:

  • Status vs. support
  • Independence vs. intimacy
  • Advice vs. understanding
  • Information vs. feelings
  • Orders vs. proposals
  • Conflict vs. compromise

In each occurrence the female characteristic is the later, and the male is the first. This would also be the one judged to be the most stereotypically male. Tannen’s division of information from feelings is also known as report talk (male) and rapport talk (female). The differences can be summarised as they are below.


  • Talk too much
  • Speak in private contexts
  • Build relations
  • Overlap
  • Speak symmetrically


  • Get more talk time
  • Speak in public
  • Negotiate status/avoid failure
  • Speak one at a time
  • Speak asymmetrically
...read more.


        Similarly to transcript one, transcript two shows that the women do not interrupt as the male within the conversation, even though they are being verbally attacked. Female participants only interrupt three times, where as the male participant interrupts eight times. This reflects precisely Deborah Tannen’s theory on the six contrasts of men and women’s speech (1992). In this transcript the women are being challenged yet they do not rise to the conflict, as the male does and prefer to compromise by not interrupting as much.

Female Characteristics & Male Characteristics

        As there are numerous characteristics that both men and women display I decided to put them under a collective heading. I assume that whatever women are stereotyped to do then men should be stereotyped to do the other. Lakoff (1975) listed the characteristics used for women’s speech.

         The first line of transcript one starts with one of the feminine traits, however it is made by a man. Kilroy, the male host, apologises for no real reason other than to make the participant in the conversation feel safe in what they are about to discuss. The woman continues this theme of apologising in the second line of her first speech sequence. “And Im very sorry about that”, this also shows another characteristic listed by Lakoff (1975) the intensifier, here it is ‘very’ and precedes the apology connoting that this woman is sympathetic to what the other participant has said. The woman also uses a hedge in her first dialogue another characteristic listed by Lakoff (1975).

        Moreover, throughout the woman’s first passage of speech, there are many false starts, this suggests that nerves play a part in what the woman is saying, or that she wants to get the correct information across.

...read more.


T: but where does the cheating come in?

M: the cheatin (.) //the cheatin

//audience shouting

T: oh wow just a minute//


M:// oh I do

W: listen it ahs been fine for men to demean women for hundreds of years so we aren’t aloud to say some things?

M: look at your attitudes man!

W: EXCUSE ME (.) I have a husband I am happily married // I take care of him o.k.

M:// oh (.) that’s fair enough

W: You know what maybe there’s something wrong with you (.) maybe there’s something wrong WITH YOU

M://one thing you’ll never hear me say is all women (.) you’ll never hear me say all women I know some brilliant women

T: o.k. Thank you (.) thank you (.) wow (.) wow (.) wow (.) I haven’t got the mic on you what were you going to say?

W2: All right then (.) on the camera there (.) yeah (.) you said me and my friends look pathetic (.) do you know me? // do you know me?

M:// no no no what I said was

W2: you basically said //that we look pathetic

M:// I didn’t what I actually said (.) I didn’t say you looked pathetic you said he looked of pathetic


Gardiner, A (2003) English Language A-Level Study Guide, Revision Express, Pearson Education Ltd.

Lakoff, R.T (1975) Language and Woman’s Place  , Longman Higher Education Ltd.

Zimmermann, D.H, West, C (1975) ‘Sex roles, interruptions and silences in conversation’. In B. Thorne, N, Henley, (eds). Language and Sex: Difference and Dominance. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Tannen, D. (1992) You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation Virago Press.

Cameron, D (1985) Feminism and Linguistic Theory Palgrave Macmillan.

http://www.shunsley.eril.net/armoore/lang/gender.htm          23/03/04

www.heatonmanor.newcastle.sch.uk/ jls/TheoriesofLanguageandGender%5B1%5D.doc                23/03/04

...read more.

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