This paper assesses the claim that language is gendered, that is to say, that there is a significant difference between the way language is used by men and women. Discussion about gendered patterns of communication frequently appear in both the popular press and in psychology literature (Basow & Rubenfeld, 2003, pp. 183-187).
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This paper explores both the more anecdotal discussions of the subject in the popular press, and the more sophisticated discussions in academic works. During the course of this paper, it is argued that sex is not the determinate factor influencing the use of language. Instead, the use of language is much more dependent on individual differences and personalities, the social structure, and the context in which language is being used. However, before proceeding, it is worth exploring the term “gendered” and similar, associated terms. Gender is to some extent a performative and iterated social construct. Thus, gender is the characteristics attached to the male and female sex (Butler, 2002). This lacuna between sex and gender causes some problems when assessing whether language is gendered since much of the literature on the topic is not precise about whether what is being discussed is a difference between the two sexes (Men and Women) or a difference between the gender performances of the two genders (Male and Female). However, this paper does not have the space to discuss this complex area. Therefore, the focus of the paper is whether we can establish a claim that language is used differently by men and women. It will be concluded that such a claim cannot be proved or substantiated, and differences in language use are determined by the individual’s personality/idiosyncrasies, temporal-socio-cultural location, and the specific context/situation in which language is being used. This paper assesses two distinct claims (“myths”) about the differences between how men and women use language. The first commonly held “myth” that shall be considered is the claim that women talk more than men. This is a commonly held “myth” within society, and one which is explored in much of the literature about language use in men and women (see: D Cameron, 2007; J Holmes, 2007, pp. 299-305; T Kornheiser, 2007, pp. 305-307). The second “myth” considered in this paper is the claim that men and women use language for different purposes/goals. Specifically, I shall examine Rossetti’s claim that: ‘the main distinction between the way boys and girls communicate is that girls generally use the language to negotiate closeness [â€¦ whereas] boys generally use language to negotiate their status in the group (competition-oriented)’ (Rossetti, 1998, pp. 1-6). I also consider Tannen’s similar and related claim that men use language to impart knowledge; whereas,
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