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language and gender

language and gender

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Published by: princebabar9 on Jun 15, 2010
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The question ³What is language?´ is comparable with ± and, some would say, hardly less profound than ± ³What is life?´, the presuppositions of which circumscribe and unify the biological sciences. Of course, ³What is life´ is not the kind of question that the bioliogist has constantly before his mind in his everyday work. So it is for the linguist in relation to the question ³What is language?´ Language is the unique possession. It is God¶s special gift to mankind. Without language human civilization as we now know it would have remained impossibility. Language is ubiquitous. It is present everywhere²in our minds, thoughts and dreams, prayers and mediations, relations and communications and in rituals. Besides being a means of communication, and a store house of knowledge, it is an instrument of thinking as well as a source of delight for example singing. Language is also the maker or unmake of human relations. It is the use of language that makes our life bitter or sweet. Without language man would have remained only a dumb animal. It is our ability to communicate through words that makes us different from the animals. language is an omnipresent phenomenon. It is not only the concern of linguists but also of logicians, philosophers, scientists, critics, psychologists and of many others. Since linguistics is the study of language, it is vital for a linguist to know what exactly language is? Language is a very complex human phenomenon; all attempts to define it have proved inadequate. In a nutshell, a language is an µorganized noise¶ used in actual social situations. That is why it has also been defined as µcontextualized systematic sounds¶.


In the Encyclopedia Britannica, vol.13 language is defined as ³a system of conventional, spoken or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, communicate.´ Some other definitions are cited below: ³Language is a primarily human and non-instinctive method of communication ideas, emotions and desires by means of a system of voluntarily produced symbols.´ Sapir, Language, 1921 ³Language in its widest sense means the sum total of such signs of our thoughts and feelings as capable of external perception and as could be produced and repeated at will.´ A.H. Gardiner, Speech and Language 1935.




³Language may be defined as the expression of thoughts by means of speech-sounds´. Henry Sweet, The History of Language. According to Transformational Generative linguists like Noam Chomsky, language is the innate capacity of native speakers to understand and form grammatical sentences.


Anthropologists regard language as a form of cultural behavior, sociologists as an interaction between members of a social group, students of literature as an artistic medium, philosophers as a means of interpreting human experiences, language teachers as a set of skills. Truly speaking language is such a complex phenomenon that to define it in terms of a single level as knowledge, skill, behavior, habit, and an object will not solve the problem of its definition. None of the above definition is perfect but each of them just hints at a certain characteristics of language.


The word Linguistics is derived from Latin lingua (tongue) and istics (knpwledge or science). Therefore, etymologically, linguistics is the scientific study of language. The central object of linguistics is language. But it is not the study of one special language but of human languages in general. Linguistics is that science which studies the organization, origin, nature and development of language descriptively, historically, comparatively and explicitly, and formulates the general rules related to language. Diachronic linguistics studies the development of language through history, through time, for example the way in which French and Italian have evolved from Latin. Synchronic linguistics investigates how the people speak and use language in a given speech community at a given time. Comparative linguistics, the comparison with two or more different languages is made. So linguistics is a new science relatively as compared to the natural sciences and its very dynamic field and a lot much work is being done in this dynamic field.

Language is a very dynamic and ubiquitous phenomenon. It is the part and parcel of a society and culture. So it is a geographical-social-cultural phenomenon. Language has a deep routed relation with society. ³The study of language in relation to society´ can be said as sociolinguistics, (cf. Hudson, 1980 I). Human beings use language in society and they acquire it from society and its application is widely used in society. The study of language with relation to society is called sociolinguistics. And this is a challenging and dynamic and fascinating field of linguistics. It studies the ways in which language has its interaction with society. The social aspects of language in the modern sense were first studied by Indian and Japanese linguists in the


1930s, and also by Gauchat in Switzerland in the early 1900s, but none received much attention in the West until much later. The study of the social motivation of language change, on the other hand, has its foundation in the wave model of the late 19th century. The first attested use of the term sociolinguistics was by Thomas Callan Hodson in the title of a 1939 paper. Sociolinguistics in the West first appeared in the 1960s and was pioneered by linguists such as William Labov in the US and Basil Bernstein in the UK. Broadly speaking, Sociolinguistics is the branch of linguistics which studies the relation between and society. It may be defined as the study of variation in language, or more precisely of variation within speech communities.

Language variations
³The existence of observable differences in the way a language is used in a speech community´ is called variation. And it is very common observation that speakers of a same language living within the same sppech community donot speak uniform language, there exists certain

differences always. Language is not a static phenomenon. It has a lot of variations in it. Language varies on the basis of variations such as according to age, ethnicity, politeness, power, status and gender. Older people don¶t speak the same way as the youngsters speak. Men don¶t speak like women. This variation was long neglected by linguists but in the 1960s, the sociolinguists, led by William Labov, began to make variation a central object of investigation, and this effort revolutionized in the field. Variations show strong correlation with social variables like social class, sect, status and gender.





Sex is a biological term refers to the biological differences based on chromosomes, hormonal changes, internal and external body structure. The sex of every individual is determined in the womb of his/her mother.

Gender is not something we are born with, and not something we have, but something we do (West and Zimmerman 1987) ± something we perform (Butler 1990). In the famous words of Simone de Beauvoir, µµWomen are not born, they are made.¶¶ The same is true of men. Gender is a social phenomenon and it is determinded by the societ. Society assigns different roles to gender. In sociolinguistics role of gender si defined by the society and culture, so a real man in a society would consist of male sex and masculine characteristics. It is important to realise that grammatical gender has nothing to do with sex. ³In english we don¶t have any gender, but we have a few sex-marked pronouns like he and she, and a few sex-marked nouns like duke and duchess, but we have no grammatical gender´. Gender is an old term in linguistic discourse used to designate whether nouns are masculine, feminine, or neuter. It was not normally used in the language of social or natural sciences or in sexology until 1955, when John Money adopted the term to serve as an umbrella concept to distinguish femininity, or womanliness, and masculinity,


or manliness, from biological sex (male or female). Though the term was quickly adopted in studies of transvestism and transsexualism, it did not receive widespread circulation until 1972 in a book coauthored by Money and Anke Ehrhardt. Its popularity became firmly established in the 1980s as the feminist movement increasingly adopted the term gender studies as a replacement for women's studies. In a sense by using a new term to describe a variety of phenomena, Money opened up a whole new field of research since it implied that genitalia were not the only factor involved in being a man or a woman. Gender is a social phenomenon. It is socially identified and given notion to the members of the society. the wide set of characteristics that are seen to distinguish between male and female entities, extending from one's biological sex to, in humans, one's social role or gender identity. We are surrounded by gender lore from the time we are very small. It is ever-present in conversation, humor, and conflict, and it is called upon to explain everything from driving styles to food preferences. Gender is embedded so thoroughly in our institutions, our actions, our beliefs, and our desires, that it appears to us to be completely natural.

Language and gender Language is having variation on the basis of gnder too. Language of males and females is not the same although they live in the same society, in the same family even under the same roof, but there are certain vivid differences on the basis of this phenomenon; gender.



In sociolinguistics the gender was ignored till 1970s, but the the other variation in language were studied and this aspect was totally ignored because academic research was dominated by the white, well educated males who were busy in the variations such as social class, status, age, power, and ethnicity. But the gender was invisible to them because the role of women in the society was also invisible. So up till 1970s it was totally invisible on the map sociolinguistics. Males were the dominating and leading figures of the society as well as in the field of research. So they did not even bother to take female speakers¶ language and their differences seriously. How gender was focused? The explosion of interest between language and gender is in use for the last 3 decades. And at this present time, it looks odd and queer that gender as a social variable was ignored at all in the infant sociolinguitics. The change was brought by the a female member of the ignored community, who published her article and a book later on


³Language And Women¶s place´ in 1975. She belonged to the University of California, her name is Robin Lakoff. According to Lakoff, who drew her attention to the gender as a social variable, all the gender differences in language use were firmly attached with the social powerlessness of female speakers. As they were powerless, they were ignored by the powerful i.e. the male speakers. Her publication proved to be the turning point in the field fo sociolinguistics. Now her work seems dated, and the notion of powerlessness of female speakers is out of tune in modern times, but her book proved to be the first stone in the lake of sociolinguistis and it influences hugely the subsequent research.
Research into Gender Differences This area is now the center of attention in sociolinguistics, and a vast work has been done in this scenario. The early researchers focused on mixed talks, core features of language such as pronunciation and grammar. Thus early work was done on quantitative bases because large groups were used as sample and results were shown diagrammatically to show the differences between male and female speakers.


The researchers focused on glottal stops and counted the incidence of multiple negations (sentences that contain more than one or two negative words, such as I have not seen nothing). Peter Trudgill, in 1974, was the first British sociolinguist who made an impact with quantitative sociolinguistics approach. He showed that in his native city male speakers were inclined to use frequently the local vernacular as compared to the standard English. Jenny Cheshire in 1982, conducted a research to know the linguistic behavior of three groups of teenagers who used to play in grounds and were quite familiar with her. She observed that males used to speak non standard grammatical forms more as compared to the female speakers. In the other findings of quantitative research it is proved that linguistic change is often led by the female speakers who were more inclined to use the innovative forms. In high rising terminal, where the coive of a speaker goes up towards the end of a clause is associated with the young male speaker but female speakers use this HRT three times more than males. In 1980s, the area was broadend. Now some conversational strategies were taken into consideration, for example minimal responses (e.g. yeah, mhm),hedges (e.g. I mean, maybe, you know), tag questions (e.g. Isn¶t it), questions, commands, swearing, directives, taboo language; compliments and turn taking patterns. The research in this area showed that folklinguistics beliefs are not always true. The notion that females are chatterboxes is not right. Male speakers in mixed groups talk morfe as compared to the female speakers. Then the researchers have started to look at single-sex interaction. Now the women¶s and men¶s talk was analysed on separate platforms. Now the females were not considered as powerless.


Now the women¶s conversation at practices are being investigated in a range of communities² African, whit, brirish African, hearing, deaf, lesbian, gay, teenage, adults and straights. In the last decade the issues of male, men and masculinity have been studied before this they were sidelined and ignored Now the research is being conducted on both the genders simultaneously. Different Approaches towards language and gender Linguists have aporoached gender and language from different perspectives. These approcahces are as under.


Queer linguistics

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