5.0189 Rs: Male/Female Speech/Language (2/85)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Wed, 26 Jun 91 21:43:59 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0189. Wednesday, 26 Jun 1991.

(1) Date: Wed, 26 Jun 91 8:44:31 edt (20 lines)
From: "Van Doren, Frederick L." <VANDOREN@DICKINSN.Bitnet>
Subject: 5.0185 Rs: Male/Female Speech

(2) Date: Wed, 26 Jun 1991 12:52:56 -0500 (65 lines)
From: Dennis Baron <baron@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: male/female language

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 26 Jun 91 8:44:31 edt
From: "Van Doren, Frederick L." <VANDOREN@DICKINSN.Bitnet>
Subject: 5.0185 Rs: Male/Female Speech

I've been considering Lakoff's 1975 book, but I haven't read it in a
couple of years. YOu may be right that some aspects of marked
"feminine" speech may be gone in this generation. Certainly I don't
hear a whole lot of finely nuanced color word. But her remarks about
rising intonation being perceived as an uncertainty signal (when in fact
it may signal cooperation, a kind of invitation to the listener) seem

The status of "feminine speech", if there is such a thing, is a good
question. It it, or has it historically been, a social dialect? Is it
a register, one of many speech styles that range from babytalk to
academic discourse? Or is it a fiction created by the listener? There
is some research to suggest we hear what we expect to hear.

Lakoff has, by the way, a new book, but I haven't read it yet.
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------77----
Date: Wed, 26 Jun 1991 12:52:56 -0500
From: Dennis Baron <baron@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: male/female language

The request for teachable male/female stereotypes makes me a
bit uncomfortable. Sarah Higley's suggestion of Lakoff's
book is certainly appropriate, though it is clear, as she
suggests, that it is way out of date. There is always
Deborah Tannen's recent book, _You Just Don't Understand_,
which is available in paperback. While Tannen does qualify
her contention that (many) men and women use language
differently because they have been socialized differently,
the reaction to the work too quickly lapses into
stereotypes: men do this, women, that; men are competitive,
women collaborative, men are ice people, women are people of
the sun (to allude to another insidious stereotype).

The cognitive psychologist Bill Brewer once told me that
after much effort he was able to isolate only two sex-linked
language differences: men (ie, undergrads at the University
of Illinois) knew more tool names than women and, if I
remember aright, knew more about different types (or maybe
it was different parts) of airplanes. Clearly something
learned and socialized, not something programmed into the
human genome.

However what seems interesting and pertinent is the article
Tannen wrote in last week's _Chronicle of Higher Education_
(June 19, 1991, pp. B1; B3) on different language-linked
learning styles of the sexes, and how this affects pedagogy.
While it has the ring of stereotype, it also has the ring of
truth (mustn't there always be a hint of truth beneath a
stereotype?). Perhaps this is what we ought to explore with
our students, not how literary characters talk like men or
women or fail to do so.

By the way, Tannen's claims in that article don't always
ring true, either. She says males approach most activities
with "adversativeness" or "agonism," "consider, for example,
the little boy who shows he likes a little girl by pulling
her braids and shoving her." Maybe so. In my experience,
however, this behavior occurs in the young of both sexes who
are shy or immature or not well socialized in terms of
making friends. Thus my then 7 year old daughter last year
was being pushed, shoved, even punched by a girl in her
class (a girl the other girls didn't like because she was so
aggressive, had tantrums, didn't play by rules, indeed
exhibited the very immature behaviors my daughter had been
exhibiting only months earlier). After a couple of weeks of
parent and teacher intervention it transpired that Katie was
trying to get Rachel's attention, and was jealous if Rachel
talked to anyone else. They wound up best friends for the
year. The other girls continued to shun Katie, however,
which doesn't say much for the collaborative stereotype
always being a positive thing.

Tannen also contends that men do not use language to show
grief. Specifically, she asserts that it is women, not men,
in cultures around the world, who engage in ritual laments,
producing spontaneous rhymed couplets to express their pain.
This sounds like she is coming close to asserting a
universal sex difference. Clearly this claim identifies her
as a linguist, not a literary type, else _Lycidas_ and _In
Memoriam_ would immediately have sprung to mind.