LINGUIST List 2.337

Friday, 5 July 1991

Disc: Gender-Based Language

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  1. , Re: Queries: Gender-based Language
  2. Celso Alvarez-Caccamo, Re: Gender-based Language

Message 1: Re: Queries: Gender-based Language

Date: Wed, 3 Jul 91 22:35 CDT
From: <>
Subject: Re: Queries: Gender-based Language
In regard to the idea that what Tannen (and others) call "sexual"
(actually gender) differences in talk can better be described as
"register differences, my question is: "What factors determine the
Amy Sheldon
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Message 2: Re: Gender-based Language

Date: Fri, 5 Jul 91 03:13:32 PDT
From: Celso Alvarez-Caccamo <>
Subject: Re: Gender-based Language
Mary-Lynn Cosgrave asks, with respect to Deborah Tannen's work,
	"I'm bothered by the idea that we can deal with different verbal
	interactions on the basis of sex. Yes, I think men and women do
	talk differently; but is this difference best dealt with in terms
	of sexual difference, or simply in terms of differing registers?"
Tannen's and others' work deals with language and gender as a social
category. Insofar as socialization patterns for men and women differ
in all societies I know of, I don't know why we can't deal with
gender-based linguistic differences as we deal with ethnic- or class-
based differences. Treating such differences in terms of registers
doesn't really take us in another direction -- unless we assume, of
course, that registers don't have a socio-interactional basis, in which
case we wouldn't be doing sociolinguistics, but stylistics... in which
case it doesn't really matter whether we focus on gender, class, or hair
color. In other words, registers, as part of a repertoire, do have a
social distribution, along gender, class, ethnic, etc. lines.
Talk produced by women appears to differ in some aspects from that produced
by men under comparable circumstances. The problem is, of course, to isolate
the most relevant identity (gender, ethnic, etc.) invoked through the use of
a given marker, or, viceversa, to assign a given social meaning to a cluster
of markers.
It is not legitimate for me to say whether women gain or lose something by
looking at what appears to be gender-based variation in talk.
There may be an ample margin of uncertainty in determining *what* specific
features or overall forms of talk can be said to mark gender, etc. A
more crucial question, in my view, is the treatment of interactional
power and powerlessness as a *direct* function of the display of a given form
of talk, which is what some research (e.g. on interruptions) has done.
But, in principle, I personally see no sociolinguistic rationale for
treating gender differently, or for leaving it untreated.
Celso Alvarez-Caccamo
U.C. Berkeley
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