Men and Women in Conversation: Issues of Power and Linguistic Variation
Linguistic variations among the sexes are the result of social attitudes towards the behavior of men and women and of the attitudes men and women themselves consequently have toward language as a social symbol. Men and women speak as they do because they feel a particular kind of language to be appropriate to their sex. As the result of societal impositions and constrains usually transmitted in the process of socialization of individuals, language may be used as an instrument of power and dominance of one sex (usually male) over the other (female). This is expressed in the use of particular words, the different positions taken in a conversation, and other socially constructed influences. In this paper I discuss data from different studies which show that language plays an important role in the location and maintenance of power differences among the sexes. First, I address the issue of linguistic variations between the sexes within the context of the United States, followed by a discussion on its impact and the role of power in conversation. This is followed by a section on the relativity of conversational strategies and approaches to the explanation of language variations across the sexes. Finally, I include a section dedicated to the description of proposed language reforms.
Keywords: Linguistic Variations, Sociolinguistics, Men and Women in Conversation, Conversational Analysis, Language and Sex
Dr. Sandra Lopez-Rocha
University of Maryland Baltimore County