Gender and Language

Seminar Paper, 2008

20 Pages, Grade: Sehr gut



1. Introduction

2. Language Socialization

3. Communication between men and women

4. Women’s language

5. Misunderstandings between men and women
5.1 Independence
5.2 Orders
5.3 Questions
5.4 Giving advice
5.5 Silence

6. Saying and implying

7. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Language is the most important method of communication. It can be defined as

a system of finite arbitrary symbols combined according to rules of grammar for the purpose of communication. Individual languages use sounds, gestures and other symbols to represent objects, concepts, emotions, ideas, and thoughts.”[1]

For many years linguists and sociologists have studied the patterns of communication between the genders. Language differences emerge at a very early stage of learning to speak.

These differences are passed on to the young by the men and women who are around them. As children learn the language of gender differences they also learn the culturally proscribed behavior that is appropriate to their sex.

In this paper I want to explain that women and men have different conversational styles.

Language differences begin to emerge at the earliest stages of speech development. In this paper I will identify these differences and explain them.

The paper is organized in the following manner: The concept of language socialization will be explained. I will also discuss the impact that one’s peer group has on language development.

Next I will examine the way in which men and women communicate. Following this discussion of gender differences I will focus on the language patterns that women use.

After the discussion of women’s speech I will contrast the manner in which men communicate and how these differences may result in misunderstandings between the genders.

Finally I will distinguish between “saying and implying”. The focus will be what people actually say as they talk to each other.

2. Language Socialization

Sociolinguists say that the use of language has a major influence on what children learn about gender. The gender of the caretaker seems to be a relevant influence on the way children learn about gender. And gender has been linked to the way children use language in everyday life.[2] Moreover, it has been noted that during the socialization[3] process children learn to use language in a way that is considered a culture’s norm of woman’s “typical” feminine and a man’s “typical” masculine behaviour. This process is called language socialization[4].

Basically children get influenced by the adult models of women and men discourses with each other or when they to talk to children. In addition to language socialization by adults, children become socialized by other children, called peers or peer groups. Whiting and Edwards (1988) noted that

“…patterns of interpersonal behavior are most influenced by the company that one keeps and the organization of activities performed with the company. If girls and boys frequently engage in different activities, which evoke different forms of social organization, then there will be differences in their behaviour.”[5]

The question is, how do girls´ and boys` groups differ from each other and, what influences the development of different behavior and speech patterns?

Jennings and Suwalsky (1982) made the observation that three-year-old girls in dyads spent more time in sustained, mutual play, whereas boys spent more time in solitary play. Among the boys consistent playing with others were not sustained. Instead boys preferred interactions in which they pursued their own activity or attempted to impose their own ideas upon the other children.[6]

Maccoby (1986) mentioned that, although there are noticeable similarities between boys and girls on individual social characteristics, being part of a group leads boys and girls behave very unequally.[7]

According to Deborah Tannen (1990) boys tend to play in large groups that have a leader who tells the other boys what to do and how to do it. Boy’s games are characterized by “winners” and “losers” during the game and by arguing who is the best at what.[8]

Girls, according to Tannen, in contrast, oftentimes prefer to be in pairs or smaller groups. They like to have a best friend with whom they share everything. Within these groups intimacy and closeness are more important. They play games such as family games and they do not have a dominating leader, and the groups are not divided into winners and losers. Girls mostly don’t give orders by a special leader, but rather make suggestions like: “Let’s do this,” or “How about doing that?” Instead of challenging each other directly, they sit together and talk. Tannen notes that

“Girls are not accustomed to jockeying for status in an obvious way; they are more concerned that they be liked.”[9]

And she concludes that

“If adults learn their ways of speaking as children growing up in separate social worlds of peers, then conversation between women and men is cross-cultural communication. Although each style is valid on its own terms, misunderstandings arise because the styles are different.”[10]

3. Communication between men and women

Though men and women seem to speak the same language, scholars have determined that men and women use language differently. As already mentioned the different use and understanding of language is due to the fact that language is socialized.

In her essay “Weiblicher Stil-Männlicher Stil” the linguist Senta Trömmel-Plötz describes the style of dialog between genders in the following way: feminine communication is labelled through a cooperative, supportive talk. Women emphasise common senses and experiences, and they make sure that there is a comfortable atmosphere when they speak to others.[11]

This communication style has been contrasted with a “male communication style” that is said to be competitive rather than cooperative.[12]

It appears that already during the first minutes of communication, men are trying to establish a dominating position which leads to a kind of competition.[13]

According to Strodtbeck and Mann (1956) about male and female communication behavior in mock-jury deliberations, females were found to give significantly more positive reactions than males. Men used more aggressive language than females. In addition men were found to originate more speech acts than women.

Furthermore, men “proact” by suggesting how to solve the problem, while women “react” to the contributions of others, agreeing, understanding and supporting.

Deborah Tannen (1990) describes women as most interested in promoting intimacy with others, in strengthening afflictive bonds among people, in promoting solidarity.

Men, in contrast, are seen more interested in establishing their independence from others, their autonomy.[14]

Tannen constitutes their attitudes with stereotypes[15] that represent some kind of norm that men and women probably ought to fit.

It is not only interesting to analyze the conversational styles of men and women but also to determine the main topics they use in their daily life because focusing on difference can also have the affect of erasing similarities.

Aries and Johnson (1983)[16] accomplished a study to this kind of theme and asked male and female adults to reflect on the topics they discussed on a regular basis with their same-sex best friends:


[1] ( 20.03.06)

[2] Tannen, Deborah: Gender and Conversational Interaction. New York: Oxford University Press 1993, p. 83-85.

[3] Socialization: Learning the customs, attitudes, and values of a social group, community, or culture. Socialization is essential for the development of individuals who can participate and function within their societies, as well as for ensuring that a society's cultural features will be carried on through new generations. Socialization is most strongly enforced by family, school, and peer groups and continues throughout an individual's lifetime.

[4] Tannen, Deborah: Gender and Conversational Interaction. p. 84-85.

[5] Tannen, Deborah: Gender and Conversational Interaction. p. 85.

[6] Tannen, Deborah: Gender and Conversational Interaction. p. 85.

[7] Tannen, Deborah: Gender and Conversational Interaction. p.86.

[8] Tannen, Deborah: You Just Don´t Understand; Women and Men in Conversation: New York: William Morrow 1990, p. 43-44.

[9] Tannen, Deborah: You Just Don´t Understand, p.44.

[10] Tannen, Deborah: You Just Don´t Understand, p.47.

[11] Trömmel-Plötz, Senta: Gewalt durch Sprache. Die Vergewaltigung von Frauen in Gesprächen. Franfurt a. M.: Fischer 1984.

[12] Edelsky, Carole and Adams, Karen. 1990. Creating inequality: breaking the rules in debates. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 9: 171-190.

[13] Trömmel-Plötz, 1984.

[14] Tannen, Deborah: You Just Don’t Understand; Women and Men in Conversation: New York: William Morrow 1990.

[15] Stereotypes: A stereotype is a preconceived or oversimplified generalization about an entire group of people without regard for individual differences. Even when stereotypes are positive, they always have a negative impact and can lead to discrimination.

[16] Aries, Elisabeth and Johnson, Fern l.1983: Close Friendship in adulthood: conversational content between same-sex friends. Sex Roles. 9: 1185-1196.

Excerpt out of 20 pages


Gender and Language
Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg
Sehr gut
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ISBN (Book)
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Gender, Language, Seminar
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Alexandra Köhler (Author), 2008, Gender and Language, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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