LINGUIST List 5.70

Thu 20 Jan 1994

Sum: Women and diminutives

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  1. ursula.doleschal, Summary: Women and diminutives

Message 1: Summary: Women and diminutives

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 1994 14:15:41 Summary: Women and diminutives
From: ursula.doleschal <>
Subject: Summary: Women and diminutives

Some two months ago I posted a query regarding the correlation between the
use of diminutives by and in address to women. I firstly want to apologize
for delaying the summary, and secondly thank the following people for
sending me an answer:

Petra Steiner <>, Stavros Macrakis
<>, Daniel S. Jurafsky (jurafskyICSI.Berkeley.EDU), Salem
Ghazali (GHAZALItnearn.bitnet), Leanne Hinton
(, Cathy Ball (CBALLguvax.bitnet), Robert
Hoberman (rhobermansbccmail.bitnet).

My hypothesis was that the obvious link (in morphology and semantics)
between the feminine gender and diminution in many languages should have a
correlate on the "performance level" such that women either use diminutives
more often than men or are addressed more often by diminutives than men (or
both).Therefore I wanted to find out if there were any empirical studies on
this subject and sent out a query to the list, since I was unable to find
any hints in the standard literature on women and language easily available
to me at that time (mostly Pusch, Troemel-Ploetz, Cameron). Now, the
"excessive use of diminutives by women" seems to be something like a myth
of linguistics, easily observable by anyone. But there were few suggestions
of concrete studies of this topic, especially contrasting it with men's
speech. These are:

Hinton, Leanne. 1992: Sex differences in address terminology in the 1990's,
in: Locating Power: Proceedings of the second Berkeley women and language
conference, ed. by Kira Hall, Mary Bucholtz, and Birch Moonwomon. Berkeley
Women and Language Group, Univ of California, Berkeley, CA, vol1.: 263-71
(light prevalence of women using and being addressed by diminutives)

Sutton, Laurel. 1992: Bitches and skankly hobags: the place of women in
contemporary slang. ibid. Vol 2: 560-72

Brown, Roger & Marguerite Ford. 1961: Address in American English. Journal
of Abnormal and Social Psychology 62: 375-85

Kramer, Cheris. 1975: Sex-related differences in address systems.
Anthropological linguistics 17(5): 198-210

(The latter three were referred to as "other references of use to this
issue", so maybe are not direct studies of the issue in question, sorry for
not checking this)

and an article in Language in Society 8 (a study of people buying train
tickets in Amsterdam, which again I apologize for not getting hold of until

I myself found in a recent study by Kitajgorodskaja & Rozanova on
colloquial Russian (1993) that there was no difference to be observed in
the frequency of use of diminutives between men and women on the whole,
although there are differences caused by the sex-specificity of speech
situations, such as interaction with children.

I wonder if this bibliography is the whole story. Has nobody out there ever
set out to study the frequency of diminutives used by and to women in
contrast to men in a language with a rich diminutive system? Wouldn't
somebody want to do that, at least in order to bring together
sociolinguistics and grammatical theory, if it is not a question by itself
interesting to sociolinguists (which I cannot judge being more concerned
with "Systemlinguistik"). Thanks again to everybody for making the effort
to answer, I did use these hints in my dissertation, they were all very

Ursula Doleschal
Institut f. Slawische Sprachen
Wirtschaftsuniv. Wien
Augasse 9, 1090 Wien
Tel.: ++43-1-31336 4115
Fax: ++43-1-31336 744
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