Language and gender [Archives:2006/984/Education]

September 25 2006

Mohamad Khoshafah
Teacher of English

Males and females use the same language in the same community, but they have some differences in respect of the language they speak. The linguistic forms used by women and men contrast to different degrees- in all speech communities. It's claimed that women are more linguistically polite than men.

Women and men in general share language, but particular linguistic features occur only in women's speech or only in the men's speech. These features constitute usually small differences in pronunciation or word-shapes. Among -the Gros Ventre American tribe, the women say [kja tsa] for 'bread',but the men say [dga tsa] for the same thing. In this community , if a person uses the other sex's word, the members of this community will laugh at him/her and consider him /her bisexual. The same thing happens in some places in Yemen, men say 'ana' which means 'I' while the women say 'ani' for ' I'. If a woman uses the word of the man, people will laugh at her although 'ana' is used for both in standard Arabic.

The word-shape in some languages contrast because women and men use different affixes. For instance, in Yana language some words used among men are longer than the equivalents by women. Men add the suffix 'na',i.e, women say 'ba'for 'dear' whereas men say 'ba-na' for the same word.

In some communities the differences between men's speech and women's speech happen when one of the pairs dominates the other. In Bengali society, the wife doesn't call her husband with his first name, but she addresses him with a term such as 'suncho' which means 'do you hear?'.

The difference between men's speech and women's speech reflects the social role of man and woman. For instance, men in Yemen use formal style and standard Arabic more than women. The reason is that men stay out most of the time in official places with important persons, whereas most of women in Yemen stay at homes and interact with children. The result is these women use Yemeni dialects and informal style more often.

Some say women's language is less powerful than men's language. The reason is that in some communities women consider themselves less than the men in most of life's aspects. We notice that, the man often interrupts more than the woman. Men in our society are the first to give orders, advice, demands, commands and requests more than women in particular when they are in the same situation and this is a part of our culture. This is because of the biological make up of the two sexes, and circumstances of growing up. Girls usually grow up in groups in which heavy emphasis is placed on sympathy and emotion.

Gender is shown also in using words. Many languages have gender like Arabic and French. In fact, English is more flexible than several languages in the world. Most of the words are used for both men and women, but gender is clear in some vocabularies, such as, 'horse – mare', 'lion – lioness', 'headmaster- headmistress', 'an actor – an actress', etc.

Thus , men and women don't use completely different forms , but they use different quantities or frequencies of the same forms. If a society treats women as unequal, then language will alter.