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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: August 2013

3 - Gendered speech: sex as a factor of linguistic choice


In the eighteenth century, when logic and science were the fashion, women tried to talk like the men. The twentieth century has reversed the process.

Aldous Huxley, Two or Three Graces

You can’t really know a person until you have heard them speak.

Anne Karpf, The Human Voice

Outline of the chapter

Inequalities between women and men pertain to biology and culture. This chapter starts out from physical differences between male and female vocal tracts and the resulting differences in pitch. It then goes on to consider the question of how biological distinctions are culturally modulated to produce female and male ways of speaking. Two theoretical approaches to the analysis of observed linguistic differences between men and women, labelled respectively ‘difference’ and ‘dominance’, are reviewed. Recent developments in the field of language and gender that, taking notice of sexual minorities, question the utility of fixed binary categories f vs. m are also introduced. The connection between the feminist movement and linguistic gender studies is discussed with a view on deliberate changes in gender-related speech practices.

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Mainichi Shinbun, 12 May 1995
Further reading
Cameron, Deborah (ed.) 1990. The Feminist Critique of Language: A Reader. London and New York: Routledge.
Cooper, Robert L. 1984. The avoidance of androcentric generics. International Journal of the Sociology of Language 50: 5–20.
Eckert, Penelope and McConnell-Ginet, Sally. 2002. Language and Gender. Cambridge University Press. Second Edition
Hellinger, Marlies and Bußmann, Hadumond (eds.) 2001/2. Gender Across Languages, vols. I–III. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
Holmes, Janet and Meyerhoff, Miriam (eds.) 2003. Handbook of Language and Gender. Oxford: Blackwell.
Stokoe, Elizabeth. H. 2005. Analysing gender and language. Journal of Sociolinguistics 9: 118–33.