Language in Society: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics

By Suzanne Romaine | Go to book overview

4
Language and Gender

The first non-sexist Bible to be published in Britain was launched yesterday. The revisers have systematically changed expressions such as 'any man' to 'anyone', but have kept the masculine, especially for God, on the grounds that this is faithful to the original. ( Guardian, 4 Oct. 1985)

IN Chapter 3 we saw that one of the sociolinguistic patterns established by quantitative research on urban social dialects was that women, regardless of other social characteristics such as class, age, etc., use more standard forms of language than men. In fact, one sociolinguist has gone so far as to say that this pattern of sex differentiation is so ubiquitous in Western societies today that one could look at women's speech to determine which forms carry prestige in a community, and conversely, at men's to find out which are stigmatized. While many reasons, such as women's alleged greater status consciousness and concern for politeness, have been put forward to try to explain these results, they have never been satisfactorily accounted for.

For the most part, however, women's speech has just been ignored. Although one widely quoted linguist writing in the early part of this century actually devoted a chapter of his book on language to 'The Woman', in his view women had a debilitating effect on language and there was no corresponding chapter on 'The Man'. He believed there was a danger of language becoming languid and insipid if women's ways of speaking prevailed. While practically all linguists would regard these ideas as sexist, even some of the early work of the 1970s prompted by the women's movement proposing the existence of a 'women's language' has been recently criticized by feminists for its sexism. One particularly influential book tried to identify a number of characteristics of

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