Monika Bagdonaitė and Jolita Lapienytė
Vilnius University, Lithuania

This article aims at revealing the differences between men and women in the way that they use language, as well as the reasons of these differences.

It is possible that some differences between the language of men and women arise from differences in anatomy and physiology. The view taken here, however, is that the more significant differences are socially constructed. For that reason the term ‘gender’ rather than ‘sex’ has been adopted to discuss the linguistic differences between men and women. Numerous studies of language have shown that the speech of women is different from that of men.

“Speech is an act of identity: when we speak, one of the things we do is identifying ourselves as male or female” [1, 161]. It is clear that men and women use different languages and take different roles in conversations.

First of all, one of the most obvious differences between the language used by men and women is the fact that men and women have distinctly different voice qualities. It means that if we are listening to a person we can guess whether a voice belongs to a man or woman: men’s voices are supposed to be low-pitched and more resonant than women’s voices. The explanation of this lies in physiology: the pitch of the voice depends on vibration of the vocal cords in the larynx and patterns of hormonal secretion.

What is more, there is no doubt that men and women can change the pitch of their voices. Men’s voices reflect their physical size; women, by contrast, are variable in their use of voice, both in the sense of using more expressive intonation and in differences between individual women.

Phonological differences are seen in a variety of languages as well. For example, in Gros Ventre, Amerindian language of the northeast United States, women have a tendency to palatalize velar stops where men have a tendency to palatalize dental stops: female kjatsa ’bread’ and male djatsa.

It is extremely important to emphasize that the difference is not only sex-related, but also age-graded. Likewise, it depends on education. It means that men and women of different ages and education may pronounce words differently, e.g., in Bengali men substitute /l/ for initial /n/, whereas women, children and the educated do not substitute; in the Eskimo language men drop /n/ and /t/ when they occur between vowels while women do not do it.

Besides, some clear differences can be seen in vocabulary. Women are less assertive (more attentive) in their speech then men. They are more conservative in their speech, and at the same time, more sensitive to the matters of corrections. Moreover, women use collar words like mauve, beige, aquamarine, lavender, and magenta and such adjectives as adorable, divine, lovely, and sweet more actively than men do. In addition, women use more accurate adjectives to describe colours, e.g., turquoise, beige, stell-grey, etc. Men think that such a precision is not important and make little account of this scrupulosity.

It is widely accepted that women tend to use more adjectives and adverbs than men do. What is more, observations of conversations between couples prove that wives use more interjections such as ouch! or par, whereas husbands use more directive and informative statements.

While talking about nouns in men and women’s usage of language, it is important to emphasize that men use more nouns in their language.

Man: Put this bowl inside the bigger bowl, which you find in the green cupboard.
Woman: Put that in the other one in there.

Conversations between the representatives of different sexes are defined as cross-sex conversations. The best examples of differences between men and women in the way they use language can be found in cross-sex conversations. Cross-sex conversations are the most obvious illustrations to show positions of men and women when they talk to each other.

Nearly in all conversations, women appear to be submissive to men. What is more, women do not use impolite language as often as men do. Men explain strong feelings with obscene words, whereas women try to avoid having such feelings!

Man: Shit, you’ve put the peanut butter in the refrigerator again.
Woman: Oh dear, you’ve put the peanut butter in the refrigerator again.

If to compare conversations held by men and women, it is usually noted that women speak less than men. When men talk to each other, they feel competition. When women talk to women, the equivalent categories are the self, feelings, family or home. Moreover, men talking with women tend to take the initiative in conversation, consequently, they speak less aggressively and competitively, and the women reduce their conversation about family and home. Besides, women are more ready to let other speakers into the conversation or to allow another speaker to dominate the discussion.

Interruptions are a device of dominating and controlling conversations. In cross-sex conversations, men tend to interrupt women, while women interrupt men less frequently:

Man: Both really. It just strikes me as too 1984ish y’know to sow your seed or whatever. An’ then have it develop miles away not caring if
Woman: Now: it may be something uh quite different. You can’t make judgements like that without all the facts being at your disposal…

The first speaker has begun a new clause when the second speaker’s turn begins, and his turn is classified as an interruption of hers. The interruption constitutes a deeper incursion into a speaker’s ongoing turn, penetrating well within the grammatical boundaries of a current speaker’s utterance. The easiest way to interpret interruptions is that they signal a lack of interest in or commitment to the topic at hand on the part of the men. When men are talking to women, they interrupt more, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, are less supportive of the previous speaker’s topic. This evidence claims that in cross-conversations women are less assertive and more polite than men are. This formulation takes male behaviour as its taken-for-granted reference point. It means that men are more assertive and impolite than women.

Another claim is that men tend to be leaders of conversation; they are used to suggest a topic; their speech is accurate, without vivid emotions or words expressing doubt. Women are used to speak employing a large amount of questions, signals of doubt, emotional words; they tend to accept topics that are suggested by men:

Man: I saw a black swan yesterday.
Woman: Did you?
Man: It took off about three feet from my side. I didn’t see it in the bush.
Woman: Mmm
Man: Later on the swan stepped up to me.
Woman: Very nice.

The conversation above conveys a women’s vocation for the maintenance of a warm conversation. They use more questions and words of astonishment and fancy. Women use such lexical units as mmm, mhmm, I mean, sort of, kind of, you know to support a topic of conversation. It is minimal responses, supportive overlaps, markers of sympathetic circularity. Men are the heart of conversations, whereas women are supporters of conversations.

For men and women questions have a different role. Women use questions as a part of conversational maintenance whereas men employ questions as requests for information. It has been claimed that women use more tag questions than men do. The evidence is somewhat mixed, owing to the fact that there is more than one type of tag questions.

Man: You like living in Glasgow, do you?
Woman: That was a good film, wasn’t it?

Men use speaker-oriented (checking) tags, whereas women tend to use addressee-oriented (facilitating) tags. The preponderance of facilitating tags in women’s speech offer some support that women are carrying out. It is called ‘the interactional shiftwork’. What is more, women’s more frequent use of facilitative tags could be explained as a marker of control over the conversation rather than that of responsibility for ‘interactional shiftwork’.

Furthermore, there are different attitudes toward problem-sharing and advice-giving. Women tend to discuss, share and seek reassurance, whereas men tend to took for solution, give advice and lecture to their audience.

These examples are the best kind of miscommunication, which occurs between men and women. The reason of misunderstanding could be explained as cross-cultural communication, which is very difficult. This difficulty lies in the upbringing of boys and girls, because boys and girls are brought up differently.

Furthermore, the English language has differences of a sex-based kind, e.g., actor-actress, waiter-waitress, master-mistress. Other words, which reflect similar differentiation, are: boy-girl, man-woman, bachelor-spinster, gentleman-lady. Sociolinguists cite a lot of examples and establishes the point that ’equivalent’ words referring to men and women have different associations in the English language.

particular ‘hit’ of sexism in languages is the gender systems: the he-she-it ’natural’ gender system of the English language as the le-la or der-die-das ‘grammatical’ gender system of the French and German languages. The connections between the systems and sex differences are various and create various problems searching for the right pronoun and sounding either natural on unbiased. He-she distinctions can be avoided; consequently, it does not mean that languages with gender differences are sexist. There are many sex differences choosing words in various languages.

In conclusion, we would like to emphasize that languages can be sexist. Women and men are biologically different. It means that this difference has important consequences for gender: women are predisposed to be mutually supportive and non-competitive, whereas men are predisposed to independence and to power rather than solidarity. Furthermore, social organization is understood as some hierarchical set of power relationships. This is a social rather than a physiological fact, which is explained by the fact that men have the ascendancy in such a system. Despite the fact that women can organize the conversation, they usually do not do it. Men are the ones who try to control, to specify topics or to interrupt.


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8. http://www.georgetown.edu/faculty/bassr/githens/tannen.html
9. http://research.haifa.ac.il/~jmjaffe/genderpseudocmc/gender.html
10. http://koti.mbnet.fi/neptunia/women/langw1.html
11. http://www.unc.edu/~tofu/ling30/2006spring/gender.pdf


This article speaks about differences between women and men in the way that they use language. The aim of the article is not only to introduce differences between male and female language but also to give reasons for this differentiation. The theoretical part presents the main differences between the language of men and women and explains the basic reasons of this phenomenon. The practical part covers the relationship between the theory and practice, which is illustrated by some examples.