LINGUIST List 9.155

Tue Feb 3 1998

Sum: Women's Language

Editor for this issue: James German <>


  1. Hiroaki Tanaka, Sum: women's language

Message 1: Sum: women's language

Date: Mon, 2 Feb 1998 16:15:02 +0900
From: Hiroaki Tanaka <>
Subject: Sum: women's language

Dear all,

	I posted a query on women's language about a month and half
ago, on behalf of my student who is working on her graduation paper.
I received 31 responses. The original query and the summary/comments
are the following:

(i)Please choose the best expressions between the two/three phrases
below. Which do you use off-handedly, in everyday conversation? If
possible, I'd like to know if you are male or female. Please check *
mark from which you choose. If you have any comments, please don't
hesitate to male them.
 (1) Which do you use off-handedly, in everyday conversation ? 
 A. I have two tickets for the movie "Air Force One". Do you 
have time on Saturday ?
 B. Yes, I'd ( love / like ) to.
 love to 15 ( Male:4 Female:9 ?:2 ) 
 like to 3 ( M;1 F;2 $B!K(B
 either 4 ( M;4 )
 neither 2 ( M;1 F;1 ) 
 (2) a. Everyone has ( his / his or her / their) off days.
 his 2 ( M:1 F:1 )
 her 1 ( F:1 )
 his/her 4 ( M:1 F:3 )
 their 19 ( M:9 F:8 ?:2 ) 
 These includes multipile answers.
 b. Someone knocked at the door but ( he / he or she / they ) 
had gone when I got downstairs.
 he 2 ( M:1 F:1 )
 she 1 ( F:1 ) 
 he/she 3 ( M:1 F:2 )
 they 19 ( M:9 F:8 ?:2 )
 The results of question (1) show that most of respondents who
chose "would love to" was women. But male respondents also chose
"would love to." Considering that all respondents who chose either are
men, it is impossible to think that "would love to" is exclusively for

 The followings are some of the comments from them: 
 A: "love" is too strong, "like" is too unenthusiastic. 
 B: "love" suggests more enthusiasm.
 C: Even among females, "I'd love to" sounds like airhead/bowhead
The followings are the comments about the question(2):
 D: It's always "they" for such cases in my speech, but
occasionally "he or she" in formal writing. I find it very awkward and
 E: I use their/they in everyday speech but "his or her", "he or
she" in formal speech, e.g.job interview.
 F: I know "they" is grammatically incorrect, However, in
conversation, it is what I would most likely say and what I definitely
most generally hear from others, educated or not.
 G: For me personally this is a deliberate choice, I believe that
the third person is a viable nongendered pronoun. I do know other
educated speakers of English(both genders) who deliberatelly use
it(like me), and similar speakers who avoid it and who disapprove of
its use as a "third person neutral".
 H: Usually I avoid these constructions and use plurals like
"people" or "some people". I don't use "he". I sometimes use "they".
The second question was like the following:
 (ii) The following example are from the real, quoted examples. Do 
you think that "sort of" in (1) and (2), and "isn't it" in (3) are 
spoken by women? 
 (1) A: What was the nature of your aquantance with the late Mrs.
E.D ?
 B: Well, we were , uh, very close friends. Uh, she was even
"sort of" like a mother to me.

 male 7 ( M:4 F:2 ?:1 )
 female 7 ( M:2 F:5 )
 either 6 ( M:4 F:2 )
 ? 5 ( M:1 F:3 ?:1 ) ?= impossible to choose 

 (2) A: You know what? Arbitrage has put out this, "sort of"
"Introduction To Tape" for the business schools. Why don't we put it
in, and if you have any comments....

 B: That would be great, thanks. 

 male 3 ( M:1 F:2)
 female 9 ( M:3 F:6 )
 either 8 ( M:3 F:4 ?:1 ) 
 ? 5 ( M:2 F:1 ?:1) ?: impossible to choose

 (3) A: David? Is his name David? 
 B: Yes, it is.
 A: That's funny. My name's David, too.
 B: That is funny, "isn't it"? 
 male 2 ( M:1 F:1)
 female 11 ( M:4 F 7 )
 either 8 ( M:6 F:1 ?:1)
 ? ( F:2 ?:1) ?: impossible to choose
	 One person did not answer.

 Considering the comments, most respondents do not think that tag
questions and hedges are exclusively used by women. The respondents'
choice seem to be based on the contents of sentence, not on tag
question and hedges.

 The following are some of their comments:
	A: I don't think that "sort of" sounds like a woman. 
	B: The "sort of" does't sound like a man or woman,
	C: While "isn't it" in (3) is a stereotypical usage assigned
to women's speech, however I do not hear it among women unless they
are being sarcastic.
	D: I wouldn't be surprized if women might say these "sort of"
and "isn't it" phrases more than men, but certainly don't have a
feeling that they do or even probably do from my own experience.
	E: "Isn't it" is found in both sexes. "Sort of"(or"sorta") is,
I would say, more "male".
There were respondents who commented about tag question and hedges:

	F: Using the tag question "isn't it" indicates a willingness
to continue the conversation, to invite further commentary. It seems
more female to want to share more information, to be polite enough to
keep a conversation going.
	G: These "sort of" expressions indicate tentativeness, which
is more of a female than a male trait. However, all (1)(2)(3) could
easily be spoken by a male. For example, I know a male university
lecturer who frequently says "sort of" to students in order not to
appear too much of an expert and narrow the distance between himself
and his students. So this type of expression is certainly not
exclusively female.
 Thank you very much for all your help. She is eargently working on
her paper now.
	Best wihses,
Hiroaki Tanaka

Associate Professor
Faculty of Integrated Arts and Sciences
Tokushima University, Japan
1-1, Minamijousanjioma,
Tokushima, 770,

phone & fax: +81 886 56 7125
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