Gender differences in language

Discussion in 'Cultural Discussions' started by MarX, Apr 25, 2008.

  1. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia

    There is a whole article about "Gender differences in spoken Japanese".
    Doesn't this exist in every language?

    Just to take an example, in Chile, it's quite unlikely that females use the pronoun vos, whereas it's not that unusual for males, especially among youth, to say it in very informal situations.

    I'm referring to the language.
    There is already another thread talking about sexism in general.



  2. anothersmith Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    English, U.S.
    It used to be the case in English that men would curse more than women, but I'm not sure that's true now.
  3. Olcheyenne Member

    English-Midwestern U.S.

    I'm taking a sociolinguistics class right now, and we've actually been discussing gender and language. Yesterday, I listened to a presentation on the use of "like" to introduce a quote.

    eg. She just kept on talking and I was like "oh my gosh, when will this end?"

    There have been several studies, in Canada, the US and other English speaking countries, that measure how the use of "like" has increased in the past decades. The studies focus on why it and how it has increased: who uses it, in what kind of situation, etc.

    I don't find this very surprising, but the results (for now anyway, this sort of thing is constantly changing) show that females use "like" more than males.

    Gender differences in langauge are not unique to Japanese, although the morphology of the Japanese language may index genders in a more direct, or obvious, manner.

    I think it has a lot to do with specific situations and not just a culture in general.
  4. uioptvb New Member

    English - India
    Gender differences is hard to tell in some languages, such as German.
  5. sound shift Senior Member

    Derby (central England)
    English - England
    I've seen claims that women are more concerned than men about "correctness". I think there may be something in this - I think I hear men use non-standard forms (heavy local acents, slang, etc) more than women. I also think that women have been leading the move to a more frontal pronunciation of the vowels in words such as "food" amd "home". This fronting used to be virtually confined to elements of the upper classes.
  6. palomnik Senior Member

    This thread reminds of a line in one of Dashiell Hammett's novels about how you can tell whether a man is talking to another man or a woman on the telephone by his tone of voice and choice of words.

    Setting that aside, it is true that there is a wealth of sociological data on the difference between male and female speech in languages all over the world. However, there are relatively few languages where this sort of thing is actually recognized as a grammatical fact. Japanese is probably the most prominent example of this; in Japanese men and women use different pronouns and different syntactic particles in their speech, and linguists generally consider this to be exceptional compared to other languages.

    In fact, I'm only acquainted with one other language that displays this phenomenon to the extent that Japanese does, and that would be Lakota, which even has different words for "hello" depending on whether you're male or female. No doubt some other Native American languages display the same differences, since as a sprachbund Native American languages tend to have a lot of similarities even when they are not linguistically related.
  7. Olcheyenne Member

    English-Midwestern U.S.
    There are some languages in Australia (Yanyuwa) and North America (Yana and Koasati) that are said to have exclusive gender differences. Whats interesting about Japan, and I'm sure this is the case in a lot of languages, is that speech does not indicate if your are a man or a woman but rather if you are displaying what are seen to be masculine or feminine traits.
  8. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    This reminds me of what many Central American and Colombian (except from the North) guys said:
    Addressing another guy with sounds feminine.
    I don't know about girls addressing another girl.
    Perhaps in those areas is more prominent among females?
  9. Flaminius

    Flaminius coclea mod

    capita Iaponiae
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    This is most interesting. Okinawan, a language in the Japonic language family, has a similar feature. "Hello" by men is haisai and that by women is haitai. If the latter is an older form of the former, claims that women are more concerned than men about "correctness" gain some more support.
  10. anothersmith Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    English, U.S.
    That's so true! I had a Japanese teacher who lived in Japan when her daughter was only 6 or 7 years old. Her daughter wanted to play on the playground equipment, but the teachers wouldn't let her do it as long as she was referring to herself as "watashi" (I, fem.). Once she started referring to herself as "boku" (I, masc.), they started letting her play on the equipment.
  11. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    I thought "boku" was a no-no to girls. :confused:
  12. anothersmith Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    English, U.S.
    Her teachers didn't think so.
  13. Flaminius

    Flaminius coclea mod

    capita Iaponiae
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    So, a gender girl striking out into activity areas considered as sociologically masculine was more egregious an error for the teachers than a physiological girl assuming the social rôle of a boy? The whole thing makes perfect sense in terms of social theories but somewhat troubling to my simple mind.

    If the girl completely stopped using watashi and started using boku all the time, the teachers must have done something. If the switch was temporary, they might have understood it as a display of assertiveness or aggression that the girl can manage herself in the supposedly masculine scenes on the playground.
  14. anothersmith Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    English, U.S.
    I'm just relating an anecdote told to me by my Japanese professor. She didn't say whether the use of "boku" was temporary or permanent. I found the anecdote interesting, which is why I reported it in this thread.
  15. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Maybe the teachers were not sure whether she was a girl or a boy, and when she started saying boku they thought she must be a boy.
  16. avok

    avok Banned

    Sorry but if she is a girl, why can't she use "watashi" (I, fem.)?
  17. anothersmith Senior Member

    Los Angeles
    English, U.S.
    She could -- and did -- use "watashi." But as long as she used "watashi" they wouldn't let her play on the playground equipment. Only boys were allowed to play on the playground equipment. That's why she started referring to herself as "boku."

    I experienced something similar when I was very young. When I was young, girls were required to wear skirts or dresses to school. That didn't change until I was 11. As long as we were required to wear skirts and dresses, we weren't allowed to play on most of the pieces of playground equipment. They were afraid boys would see our underwear.
  18. Lugubert Senior Member

    For Swedish, the only difference I know of is in Southern Sweden. There's a word "kär" (which in standard Swedish means 'in love with') that means 'cute, cuddly, sweet' etc. You very rarely hear a man using it. There are similar cases in Standard Swedish for the same phenomenon ("gullig") that men seem to avoid, but to my ears not quite as consistent as in the South.
  19. Etcetera

    Etcetera Senior Member

    St Petersburg, Russia
    Russian, Russia (St Petersburg)
    In Russian, gender differences are quite serious - there are different pronouns for "he" and "she", and verbs acquire a feminine ending in the Past Tense.

    As for differences in speech - well, most women express their thoughts and feelings more emotionally than men.;) But I think it is more or less so everywhere. And it doesn't have much to do with the structure of a language.
  20. Olcheyenne Member

    English-Midwestern U.S.
    I think it's important to acknowledge that expressing thoughts and feelings "more emotionally than men" is not a charasteric of women's speech, but a feminine stance in speech. It reflects the role that a speaker has in society, so it may be true that a lot of women speak this way.
  21. Vale_yaya Senior Member

    Minnesota, USA
    Now that you say that I guess we (women) do say: Que lindo!!!!... How sweet!!!... cute!!!... pretty!!!... and you barely hear that coming out of a man's mouth. (Ecuador/Southamerica).

    But regarding slangs... nowadays "these young kids" I'm just amazed of how much "crap" they say... no matter gender anymore...

    Same with bad words, cursing... and beyond...

    On my times (hey!!! I'm not that old)... no way it would be allowed for a girl/woman to burp, curse, or do anything gross... it would be just bad behavior... it's always been different with men... you know... the "machismo" thing... everything is changing slowly...

    Of course, there's still "a lot of" men who think that conduct is not appropiate at all coming from a lady.

    Same here. Girls tend to express their feelings more than men... making faces... being loud...

    There's still people who "think" that men shouldn't cry, because "men don't cry"... ???. Same thing with playing with dolls... or even think about dressing pink... NO WAY!!!... not even as a kid...
  22. PABLO DE SOTO Senior Member

    Spain Spanish
    In Spain things are changing and young girls tend to speak in the same way than boys do, but some years ago there were slight differences, women did not curse, they used less slang and in certain areas with local accents, women tended to avoid some strong features of the local pronunciation, so in my hometown ceceo ( pronouncing s as z) was common among men, but rare among women.
    Of course, intonation is different , but I suppose that this is usual in every language.
    There are still some words that are tabu for men, like "mono" ( cute, pretty) but in Spanish there are no major grammar differences between the male and female languages aside from the gender differences of every romance language "estoy cansado, estoy cansada".
    In some areas, like Canary Islands , women tend to use more diminutives and some affectionate words when addressing someone like "mi niño", "mi cielo" (my baby, my heaven)
  23. Broccolicious Senior Member

    Glorious Devonshire
    English - England
    What an interesting thread!

    In Khmer, the word for 'yes' is different depending on the gender of the speaker: men say 'baht' and women say 'jas'.
  24. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    As far as I can remember, in Thai the word for "yes" also depends on the gender of the speaker.
  25. VivaReggaeton88

    VivaReggaeton88 Senior Member

    Santa Ana, Costa Rica / New York, NY
    US/EEUU; English/Inglés
    In Central America (except Panamá), two men would not be heard speaking to each other in the "tú" form (unless they were gay or foreigners). The women however do use "tú".
  26. avok

    avok Banned

    What?? Then what do you use??
  27. MarX Banned

    Indonesian, Indonesia
    Vos. With the same conjugation as in Argentina (except the subjunctive).
  28. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    Probably because there isn't any. At least I could not put my finger on words or constructions that would have be used differently by men and women. Except of course in words referring to themselves that have different genders, but that is a different story.
  29. avok

    avok Banned


    By the way, in Turkish there is no gender difference. We all talk the same way girls, boys, the confused :)
  30. elianecanspeak

    elianecanspeak Senior Member

    by Lake Michigan
    English - EEUU
    In Hebrew verbs are inflected differently in the first person depending on the gender of a speaker : מודה modah (female speaker), modeh (male speaker) [admit or give thanks].

    In Thai there is a gender particle that attaches as a sentence suffix: "-ka" (ค่ะ) when females speak, "-krap" ( ครับ) when males speak.

    In Costa Rica I noticed a tendency for women to speak in artificially high-pitched voices, similar to the long-standing norm in Japan.

    I had a friend who told me that during World War II he was among the American military trained in Japanese for interrogating prisoners. Because they used Japanese women as teachers, the Japanese prisoners were interrogated by American men speaking women's Japanese, which the prisoners found quite astounding.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2010
  31. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish
    That is really weird!!

    But it is analogue to what my old sensei told me: Sailors he knew, who had gotten off in Tokyo, found girlfriends and started learning Japanese from them, were laughed at by japanese men. Because they used words that were only appropriate for women.

    In Danish and in German there is hardly any difference any more. There used to be words in certain constellations that only women would use. Like using the equivalent of "sweet" to describe a person. Today that is ok for a guy to say too. He doesn't even have to be gay ...

    I have always wondered what caused this change - steadily increasing numbers of guys that grew up with single mothers maybe?
  32. Awwal12 Senior Member

    Moscow, the RF
    Japanese personal pronouns do not reflect the gender directly, afaik. They rather reflect social relationships between the speaker and the interlocutor. A girl can refer herself as "boku"; it won't be normal (well, in such a patriarchal and uniform society as Japanese one), but it won't be grammatically incorrect as well. (By the way "watashi" hardly can be called a feminine pronoun at all, it's just a normal, a bit formal pronoun expressing a respect to an interlocutor; "watakushi" and "atashi" are more "feminine" - afaik again.)
  33. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    The same is true for tu in Carioca (Rio city) Portuguese,
    women are not likely to use tu (unless they are from a favela), they seem to prefer você. On the other hand men are fine with tu (even many middle class men) in informal situations.

    Furthermore, Brazilian men use more EM with verbs of movement (like Eu vou na praia = I'm going to the beach) than women who seem to prefer more formal A: (Eu vou à praia = I'm going to the beach).
    There is a paper on it, but I cannot find it.

    It seems that in many societies women use a more formal variety of language. Labov says it's because the societies are more man-friendly (men have power) so women use the formal/standard language to compensate for this as they go up the power pyramid.

    I don't think this works. You may say language professors (90% of whom are woman) speak the ''most correct'' language, but their job does not seem that fancy at all and it's one of the least paid jobs (especially for 1st grade /basic school language teachers).

    Using dialectal/informal and relaxed speech is more forgiving in men.


    1. Men tend to use archaic forms even when they're not part of the standard anymore, so they're archaic ''colloquialisms''
    (as in the case of ''em'' (in) with verbs of movement in Brazilian Portuguese)

    2. Women tend to use new, innovative informal forms, for example
    Canadian Vowel Shift in Canada and Northern Cities Vowel shift in Chicago/Detroit/Cleveland/Buffalo:
    women tend to sound more regional because of their strong accent (shifts) while
    Canadian men and men from Northern Cities region tend to sound more General NorthernAmerican...

    It's said that the language change is lead by middle class women in their late20ies/early30ies,
    so if you want to know how your standard language will sound like in 50 years, just observe their speech ;).
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2010
  34. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    This is normal in India, a guy can say of his friend ''he is a sweet boy''
    and even tho' they're not gay.
    Furthermore, in India men are fine with wearing pink. ;)
  35. elianecanspeak

    elianecanspeak Senior Member

    by Lake Michigan
    English - EEUU
    I am having difficulty adjusting to the "valley girl" (San Fernando Valley, California" manner of speech for girls and women that is becoming more and more pervasive in the US. It is reinforced from earliest childhood by Disney animation heroines. I have always reacted negatively to the artificially high childish voices typical to women in areas of Mexico and Central America, but now I hear it all around me. I (unfortunately) saw the film "Letters from Juliet" and the contrast in the range and subtlety Vanessa Redgrave and the sex kitten voice of the young actress Amanda Seyfried telling. I could see why the male lead at first assumed her character to be unintelligent. I have had to train myself to look beyond the tone, inflection, and word choice before I make any judgments.
  36. Sepia Senior Member

    High German/Danish

    One couldn't when I was a kid, but it is OK now - I'd even say that the time where it really changed was during the Eighties.
  37. Slavianophil Senior Member

    I have read somewhere that in the Chukchi language, there are in fact two pronunciation standards - male and female. Men and women use different phonemes in the same words. For example, women say 'l' where men say 'r'.

    At least, this was the case before 1917, when Chukchi lived in their traditional way and their language was used only in oral communication. After 1917, a writing system and a pronunciation standard were set up for them, based on the male speech. Perhaps, the female way of speaking has disappeared. In fact, as far as I know, many Chukchi speak Russian today even among themselves.
  38. Istriano

    Istriano Senior Member

    In Portuguese, thanks is obrigado (by men) or obrigada (by women).
    But more and more women are saying obrigado these days. :)
  39. Schmizzkazz Senior Member

    Badischer Schwarzwald
    German - Southern German
    From what I know - in Arabic there are two different words for "you" - depending whether you speak to a female or a male person.
  40. chifladoporlosidiomas Senior Member

    San Francisco
    English (US)
    I know where I live (here in Northern California) a lot of girls (and gay boys) around my age use "that" to introduce reported speech.
    "That you were supposed to pick up John but you never went."
    Meaning that "X said…"

    Girls (and gay boys, again) do use "like" as a (more or less) direct quote:
    I was like, "Get out of my way or I'll move you myself!" And she was like, "I'd like to see you try!"

    Other words:

    Guys are more likely to curse, slur their words together, use HELLA, BRO/BRUH/BREH, GÜEY, CUZ more than girls, less tags (I'm tall, aren't I?), more slang, more conservative phonology (girls pronounce words in this weird way thats hard to explain; their short Us (put) almost sound like a short E (pet)). And I can't think of anything else at the moment.
  41. Aoyama Senior Member

    川崎市、巴里 (黎)
    仏(佛)法語צרפתית Clodoaldien
    That is an often told tale, but I don't think it is true (or, more precisely, it couldn't be true).
    It is very true that male and female speech are different (though that difference tends to diminish in contemporary Japan, where so-called "polite speech" is less respected by the young generation) in Japanese. But 1) someone teaching Japanese, male or female, will use "neutral Japanese", 2) the difference really appears in advanced speech and particular circumstances, and above all in "hierarchic" context. Daily speech and casual conversation won't make much difference.
    This being said, one of the big difference between male and female speech in Japanese is not so much the pronouns (though "boku" and especially "ore" -for I- won't be used by females) but the use of the honorific prefix (particle) "o" in front of nouns (uchi = house, o uchi = house said by a female), but "o" can also be used by men in front of superiors. But all this is probably much less important (though still present) nowadays then it was in the past.
  42. LilianaB Banned

    US New York
    The same is true about Slavic languages. There is a big difference between how you refer to women and how you refer to me. This is mostly a grammatical difference. In Slavic and Baltic languages there are different pronouns to refer to men and women - 3rd Plural, which would be expressed by they in English. The difference is big in Polish, especially, because of the use of Pan-Pani. Sir-Madam. The verb forms differ too. Re: 39
  43. Aoyama Senior Member

    川崎市、巴里 (黎)
    仏(佛)法語צרפתית Clodoaldien
  44. TheRock87 Member

    German - Switzerland
    It's the same situation in Swiss-German. There are girls who put diminutives everywhere.

    Mir sind go bade => Mir sind go bädele (We went swimming)
    Is Bett ga => Is Bettli ga (Go to bed)
  45. elianecanspeak

    elianecanspeak Senior Member

    by Lake Michigan
    English - EEUU
    In describing his experience during world war II my friend was referring principally to supersegmentals -- tone of voice and register, and conversational conventions (like "ano ne" introducing a statement of fact). The Japanese women who taught them were not necessarily professional teachers, so I don't know if they used neutral Japanese. My colleague demonstrated the hesitant, polite language he learned to imitate as he attempted to match his teacher's intonation, and then the curt military form for giving orders that heard male native speakers use.. This was his own experience, and not something he had heard second hand.
  46. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
  47. Aoyama Senior Member

    川崎市、巴里 (黎)
    仏(佛)法語צרפתית Clodoaldien
    The link is interesting.
    As for "ano ne" (in Japanese) "introducing a statement of fact", it is merely the equivalent of "well ..." in English. It can be used by both sexes and has no meaning as to "politeness level".
  48. terredepomme Senior Member

    Human Language
    This once happened to a French male who learned Korean. The female teacher seemingly told him that "-yo" is for women only and he should avoid it. While that might have been true in her lifetime, and for some machoist people maybe, in today's world it is commonly used by men, although it does sound much softer, more colloquial, more "feminin" if you will. In the army you are FORBIDDEN to speak in that manner.
  49. 涼宮

    涼宮 Senior Member

    Sbaeneg/Castellano (Venezuela)
    Is that use of ''like'' only from Northern California and not regarded like that in other places where English is spoken? Because that use of 'like' is very common in Spanish and I use it in that way in English too :D. Now I don't know if my spoken English is more girly or just neutral :D:D
  50. Explorer41 Senior Member

    By the way, there is a similar phenomenon in Russian too. Some use the word "такой"/"такая" ("such", "is such", "is like") to introduce a direct speech. It is used only in girltalk (I had to find a name for it ;) ): let's imagine a girl talks about her date to her friend, girl too: "а он такой 'ты не могла раньше прийти?', а я такая "нет, не могла", а он: "да где же ты была?", а я: "с Витькой гуляла". Разругались, конечно. Ревнивый больно!"
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2012

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