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Gender and Hedges Essay

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Updated: May 6th, 2019


In its simplest sense, hedging refers to inversion of harsh statements involving sentiments, critics or strong voices of commands to sound polite to the hearers while still maintaining the desired massage to be conveyed at the right bandwidth just like Ayodabo (1997, p.257) notes that, “hedging involves the qualification and toning-down of utterances or statements.”

Utilization of hedges in speeches reduces the hostility of expressions that contains commitment, rigidity in speaker’s opinions and acute precision. Hedges increase the acceptability of utterances originating from a speaker in virtually every phenomenon.

Virtually all linguists advocate for incorporation of hedging not only in verbal communication but also in writing. Though people incorporate the use of hedging in every language across the universe, various discrepancies exist for example in the case of Nigerian people, where shouting of children to the seniors signifies a lack of respect unless in situations involving danger where the other way round is acceptable.

Reframing of both verbal and written statements forms of communication to make them sound less assertive increases the magnitude of respect towards an addressee.

Language scholars endorse use of hedges and therefore have particular interest in determining the factors that foster usage of hedges in speech and written materials among various groups of people.One of the ways of investigating variability of hedging use is looking at manner in which differing groups of gender, social classes and age use them.

Once segregated this way, the various differences in use of hedging during the communication process can be established and analyzed. A Scrutiny of the usage of deferring types of hedges on the bases of genders exposes amicable differences.

Analysis of gender and hedges

The position held by many language scholars about the existence of the differences in the usage of hedges based on the gender lured Dixon and Foster to carry out a study to establish the nature of the differences. “…Gender differences cause prejudice in the way people communicate which is further replicated in other aspects of life such as politics (Dixon & Foster 1996, p.89).

Linguists from America such as Lakoff were convinced that women’s femininity comes with an expectation to be satisfied through exploration of alternative phrases and expressions that make them less assertive while communicating as opposed to their male counterparts (Lakoff 1975, p.92).

Women therefore, adopt linguistic devices that help express themselves without use of declarative expressions that would give an implication of force in their utterances. Use of expressions “‘may be’, ‘possibly’, ‘you should’, ‘you know’, among others therefore, form an integral part of their speech” (Dixon & Foster 1996, p.90).

Taking such a stand has the effect of making language of women indecisive and uncertain particularly where bold personal decisions are paramount. The conclusiveness of existence of the differences in the hedges use amongst the different genders, as argued by linguists, depends on issues giving rise to the debate.

In such a context, Lakoff’s propositions: supported by personal observations, induces questions of missing links between his approach and results obtained by conducting actual measurements and then carrying out an analysis to deduce the differences.

Some studies confirm that groups of women while involved in discussions have a greater capacity to use politer expressions compared to men. One can attribute women and men varying frequency of hedges usage to “global sex differences” (Dixon & Foster 1986, p.91).

In linguistics, ‘sort of’ helps a speaker to convey aspects of epistemic, effectiveness, and totality or ambiguity. On the other hand, usage of the hedge ‘you know’ signifies existence of confidence, lack of confidence, ambiguity or totality in speaker’s utterances.

For instance, the hedge ‘you know’ finds a use that is more frequent in topics involving personal narratives as opposed to instrumental topics.

Men have fewer tendencies to use effective hedges (Holmes 1986, p.105) compared to women. This raises the argument on dependency of sex mixes in discussions to give birth to a climate that evoke different usage of hedges differently.

Studies conducted by Carli (1990, p.944) claim that “the gender differences in communication are more pronounced in mixed gender setting than in similar gender settings”. Research work such as the one conducted by Bilious & Krauss (1998, p.189) is to the conclusion that “…the differences decline immensely in conversions involving mixed genders”.

The functional purpose accomplished by hedges also affects their usage preference between different genders. Hedges such as sort of that give a sense of emotional affiliations in communication typically find more counts in their usage in conversions dominated by women rather than men.

Unlike Holmes and other language scholars, Dixon’s and Foster’s study did not reveal any much gender difference in the usage of hedges such as “sort of and confidence you know” (Dixon & Foster 1996, p.34). The two believe that cultural settings can greatly influence the manner in which people use language in relation to gender.

The geographical location of the place from where the data originates is therefore a big determining factor in drawing a conclusion regarding the existence of such differences.

Having chosen South Africa as the place of samples collection, as opposed to New Zealand where Holmes had based her studies, cultural forces can result in the differences in observations made by Dixon and Foster since as found by Bodine “cultural norms can influence relationship between gender and language use” (Bodine 1975, p.80).

Substantial difference in hedges usage in different gender based on situational competitiveness examined alongside the contribution of audience gender to the preference in the usage of hedges exists across the globe.

In competitive conditions, both genders employ less use of ‘sort of’ than in situations when the genders under study are controlled in such a way that they are maintained in uncompetitive condition throughout the period of study (Dixon & Foster 1996, p.101).

The usage of ‘Sort of’ occurs in situations involving casual talks confirming an earlier argument by Holmes. On the other hand, with regard to Dixon and Foster’s study, the usages of ‘you know’ is extensively found in informal conversations for the two genders: men and women (Dixon & Foster 1996, p.110).

The usage of epistemic sort of in communication is dependent on the audience gender with both genders using it more frequently when addressing males than females.

Generally speaking, the disparities in the usage of the various hedged statements among different genders can be clearly attributed to and enhanced by the glamour and enrichment of the language achieved from the purpose of their usage in verbal and written forms of communication: precisely, the functions of hedging.

“In their effective role, they express speakers’ uncertainty about the validity of particular statements

Holmes’ conclusion on ‘Affective’ and ‘Epistemic’ functions of hedges

Deployment of hedging devices in speech in an attempt to utilize their affective and epistemic functions depends on the gender from which the speech originates as well as the target gender. Holmes (1986, p.13) states that, “in their affective role, hedges express speakers’ desire to create and maintain interpersonal solidarity.”

Speakers achieve magnificent capacity to win the audience to their way of thinking without an indication of compromising the audience freedom to make personal judgments and hence determination of their takes in a given subject.

On the other hand, hedges achieve epistemic functions by enabling speakers express uncertainty and validity of certain statements used in utterances. Based on New Zealand people’s usage of hedges in communication, Holmes proposes that use of hedging to achieve either epistemic or affective functions has to do with gender differences.

In particular, women and men use hedges distinctively to attain the two mentioned functions mentioned above. Women have a tendency of using expressions that depicts their utmost concern for other people especially when challenges of pain and anger confront their addressee.

Holmes exemplifies such a situation noting that, “women use the hedge sort of to fulfill emotional functions” (Holmes 1988, p. 119). The hedge you know, like wise, finds employment in women language as a gate away to confidently woo audience into conversations.

Incorporation of the audience into conversation eases the speakers’ task of conviction. Consequently, the speakers keep at bay any possibility of dissatisfaction queries associated to a given speech from arising.

Hedging devices therefore, permit a speaker to deliver the intended message whether written or oral in the most precise and straightforward manner.

As opposed to women, men use ‘sort of or you know’ to give an implication of varying degrees of uncertainty or hesitation in verbal speech. Looking out for instances where men tend to use the hedge, you know and sort of indicates that men use hedges to accomplish epistemic functions of hedged statements.

Following men’s conversations critically, the hedge you know will almost in all scenarios appear when framing of wording in a speech falls out of order or when they have made a mistake that requires quick correction for argumentation consistency purposes irrespective of the topic under study.

Similarly, men use the hedge sort of in speeches to indicate uncertainty according to Holmes (1986, p.16).The above discussion gives an exemplification of how men portray their expertise at using hedges in such a way to serve epistemic functions.

In terms of the functional differences of usage of hedges between men and women: affective and epistemic, the nature of communication for the different genders gives indication of speeches being self complete or deficient in one way or another.

Holmes (1986, p.20) counters the argument that women’s language being dominated by hedges that depict use of hedges to achieve effective functions is insecure and hence suffers deficiency. She laments that, rather than subscribing to such an opinion, people should not see their language as sensitive but also caring.

Despite the fact that, men use effective hedges more frequently when addressing women than men, their use of ‘you know’ defies the pattern (Holmes 1990, p.200).

Gender and Hedges: From an Oral communication perspective

Even though the use of hedges seem greatly contributed by gender differences, their use in oral and written forms of communication is a dependent on cultural backgrounds inclinations, subject matter of discussions, circumstance giving rise to a debate, functionality of the hedges and the status of both the speaker and the recipient socially.

The notion that women employ hedging more in conversation than men as claimed by Holmes (1988, pp.85-121) fails to agree with the results obtained when samples employed in a study to determine and evaluate differences in the use of hedges are subjected to varying treatments rather than just being pegged on gender.

Gender and Hedges: from Email communication Perspective

Analysis of data gathered from emails formulated by different people raises doubts on the contribution of differences in gender in the manner in which hedges are used: be it in terms of frequency or selection of hedge types.

The justification of hypotheses that men utilize hedging less frequently in their conversations than women which is found to be consistent with the finding of the studies by Holmes (1988, pp.85-121) becomes contradicting bearing in mind the email conversations involves varying groups of people characterized by random mixes of men and women (Redeker & Igen 2003, p.1).

Crucial to note is the fact that, strangers dominate the groups that participate in online mail charting raising question whether hedging is a function of such factors rather than being dependent on gender differences.

The results of Redeker’s and Van Igen’s study which had involved analysis of 66 email from equal number of men and women (Redeker & Igen 2003, p.2) depicts hedges usage as being dependent on the characteristics of the recipients, sender and topic of discussion with men dominating in some instances and women in others.

For example, based on the criteria of beneficiary of the mail, where women are the beneficiaries, more counts on the numbers of hedges employed, indicate a clear difference on hedges usage based on mails beneficiary criteria. On the other hand, more hedging seem apparent in cases where men are the recipient beneficiaries of the online chart mails.

Reference List

Ayodabo, J., 1997. A Pragma-Stylistic Study of Abiolas Historic Speech of June 24 1993. Ilorin: Paragon Books.

Bodine, A., 1975. Sex Differentiation in Language. Language and sex: Difference and Dominance. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Carli, L., 1990. Gender, Language and Influence. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59 (2), pp. 941-951.

Dixon, A., & Foster, H., 1996. Gender and Hedging: From Sex Differences to Situated Practice. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 26(1), pp. 96-103.

Holmes, J., 1986. Functions of ‘you know’ in Women and Men’s Speech. Language in society, 15, pp. 1-22.

Holmes, J., 1988. ‘Sort of’ in New Zealand Women’s and Men’s Speech. Studia Linguistica, 42, pp. 85-121.

Holmes, J., 1990. Hedges and boosters in women’s and men’s speech. Language and communication, 10, pp.185-205.

Krauss, R., 1988. Dominance and Accommodation in the Conversational Behaviors of The same and Mixed-sex Dyads. Language and Communication, 8 (2), pp. 183-194.

Lakoff, R., 1975. Language and Women’s Place. New York: Harper Colophon.

Redeker, G., & Igen, V., 2003. Politeness and Hedging in email Requests among Males And Female Friends. Oxford: Oxford UP.

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