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Gender and Language: Sociolinguistics Perspective Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jun 11th, 2020


The role of women in society has been evolving as time progresses. In the late 19th century, many nations had imbalanced demographics. Men dominated virtually all social structures. However, in modern society, such dominance has changed. Women are acquiring a strategic role in society. The question of how gender has evolved attracts large scholarly research, which is often open to criticism. This paper summarizes two articles that discuss various gender and language issues from a sociolinguistics perspective.

Sex and Gender in Variationist Research by Jenny Cheshire


The article opens the debate on sex by identifying various ways of categorizing people in terms of demographic characteristics such as age, ethnicity, and social classes. However, it reckons that sex has been one of the most politicized issues. It has attracted problems in terms of its contextualization. For example, major political and social debates on sex arise due to feminist theoretical claims that have been raised in scientific and other collective studies. From a variationist viewpoint, the article reveals how a similar approach is followed in the process of gender differentiation, amid the evident variations of terminologies. For example, what is referred to like sex in science and humanistic studies is now termed as gender in variationist studies.

The article presents sex as the psychological difference between males and females. Gender means cultural and social elaborations of sexual differences. This process leads to the restriction of anticipations, opportunities, and various social roles while defining sex and gender. Although these two terms find application in variationist studies, the article presents gender as a more appropriate term for categorization compared to sex. In further discussions of the article, it uses the term sex to imply any simplistic way of classifying speakers as females or males. The term gender is used to refer to cultural and social stratification aspects.

It adopts a structure that is designed to demonstrate the manner in which researchers approach the issue of gender and sex with respect to language variations. It first investigates various studies that have deployed the terms ‘male’ and ‘female’ as variables that have not been analyzed when discussing different speakers. It also discusses the mechanisms in which gender and language interact within particular communities. Finally, it describes the place of gender and sex in quantitative studies using pragmatic and syntactic features.

Language Variations

The article discusses language variation with respect to speakers’ sex, sociolinguistic variables, and masculinity and femininity. It addresses the subject of gender from psychosocial and analytical discourses and beyond variations of phonology. From the context of speakers’ sex, the article identifies various studies that address a particular phonological variation among women and men. For example, it confirms a higher usage of the alveolar variant of ‘ing.’ While contextualizing this variation, one form may be normalized depending on its repeated usage of informal communication. The article identifies two principles of understanding speakers’ sex variation of languages. Under the sociolinguistic categorization, men deploy standard forms of language relative to women. From a different context, women depict a preference for the incoming prestige in relation to men.

Sociolinguistic variables cause disparities in language use. Indeed, the article confirms that the high prevalence of the usage of standard forms of a language under stable sociolinguistic variables has attracted interest among scholars. Such prevalence is considered the basic theoretical paradigm for discussing sociolinguistics. However, the article presents a one-dimensional explanation of a complex phenomenon that requires a multifaceted approach to its analysis. For example, Cheshire quotes Fasold’s work that was published in 1990, confirming how women deploy standard language form compared to men in a bid no avoid sounding local.

Men then use this variation to overcome traditional norms, thus treating women as inferior. The article holds that language standard variations occur in the quest to prevent certain associations such as social stereotypes, which also encompass a one-dimensional approach to a multifaceted issue in sociolinguistic studies. Upon examining different approaches that are deployed to analyze stable sociolinguistic variations, the article concludes that no single approach may explain completely any differences in the usage of standard and non-standard forms.

The article identifies various roles of women in fostering language change. Using Labov’s approach, women adopt different speech forms that are considered prestigious by communities. Such forms help to eliminate stigmatized language cases. Amid the contradiction of the two principles of speakers’ sex variations, it is possible to reconcile them by considering the mechanisms in which sound alterations occur via different speech communities. In the case of the US, the article identifies the variation of language forms based on social class structures. In the process of language form changes, Cheshire asserts that sex plays an insignificant role during the early stages.

However, its contribution becomes conspicuous as the change becomes a common phenomenon. Men play the role of localized variations in language. The article supports this assertion using the case of the Arabic language that is spoken in Cairo, Egypt. However, it confirms how men and women play a key role in leading the process of language change, such as the case of Martha’s centralization of /aw/ and the /ay/.

The variation of language with gender is one of the issues that have attracted immense scholarly debate, as discussed in the case of Los Western Suburb. Through the work of Eckert and McConnell-Ginet, which was published in 1992, the article underlines the importance of studying language from something that people practice in different social contexts, rather than an isolated identity of the society. To this extent, gender encompasses a set of values and beliefs as applied in language. Therefore, gender can be operationalized as a social practice that explains the patterns of change and the variations of societal artifacts, including language. Therefore, the complexity of relating gender and language variations does not permit generalization based on the grouping of people into males or females.

The social-psychological dimension explains linguistic variations by considering gender as a dynamic construct. Despite the challenges of integrating this dimension with quantitative analysis of linguistic variations, the article identifies researchers such as Takano, whose 1998 research endeavored to do so via a study on the Japanese people’s informal usage of ‘wa’ and ‘ga.’ Takano confirms how gender plays out in interactions that involve members of one sex in which speakers deploy gender-related language differentiation as a mechanism for adhering to the group norms. In mixed-sex settings, gender becomes less vocal in terms of influencing linguistic variations.

Therefore, the researcher suggests that by incorporating intra-speaker variations in quantitative research, it (gender) can potentially yield a more valid theory of sociolinguistic variations. Through this research and others, the article identifies the need for upholding gender as a dynamic concept into variationists’ analysis from a social psychological perspective.

The idea of gender from a discourse analytical paradigm emanates from the theoretical discussion that it plays a vital social role due to its patterns of spreading, regardless of the meaninglessness of sounds. It can be related to specific kinds of cultural, linguistic groups that often use it. Therefore, the frequent usage of a given linguistic variant by women underlines its association with femininity. Such usage can construct the ‘female’ stereotype identity. The article claims that this situation can occur in case of a silenced ‘female’ identity. Similar linguistic variations and associations may be found among working classes, which can define their culture.

The article reveals that the manner in which people construct or portray their identities of gender through social contexts expands beyond the binary classification of gender and linguistic variations. Hence, quantitative and qualitative aspects can be incorporated into one analysis.

The idea of phonological variation arises from the argument that despite sounds being insignificant, yet they acquire social importance, features that possess an in-depth meaning also gain social importance. For example, tags express tentativeness and assertiveness, among other meanings.

These meanings may vary depending on one’s sexual orientation. For example, the article notes that women can deploy tags to imply sentimental meanings, while men may use them to suggest reverential meanings. However, culture plays an important role in making this differentiation. For instance, among Indonesians where solidarity amounts to an important cultural value, sex variations in the field of linguistics forms, especially in English-speaking cultures, may not be available. Nevertheless, speakers may acquire gender identities by being associated with either ‘female’ or ‘male’ identities. The article notes limited research on syntactic differences with regard to gender and sex. However, upon analyzing the existing research on the same issue, the article does not reveal any need to presuppose that syntactic characteristics can influence variation patterns.


Cheshire’s identifies a trend in the research on language and gender based on the feminist contextualization of sex and gender. This trend is evident through the categorization of people based on their biological sexual characteristics, followed by the appreciation of cultural aspects of sex differentiation. Psychological and constructionist paradigms also define this trend. From Cheshire’s expositions, the place of gender in variationists’ research has improved from the previous ‘no inclusion’ situation to its inclusion as an important aspect that defines change and linguistic variations. This move has facilitated not only the increasing understanding of the relationship between language, sex, and gender but also the increasing future possibilities of the development of new sociolinguistic theories. Despite the points of parity and disparity between researchers, this enrichment is helpful in explaining sociolinguistic variations in a multidimensional context.

Gender and Language Use


The article begins by offering an overview of the evolution of gender and language. It traces the first attempt to relate gender and language in the 1920s. However, the main study on the subject began in the early 1970s. Despite the fact that early scholarly researches on the subject generalized gender variations, current studies contextualize the manner in which speakers use language during gender negotiations and construction of identity. The article associates this trend to the emergence and subsequent growth of the gender theory.

The article identifies gender and linguistic variation as an issue in the multidisciplinary area of research, which draws its empirical support from anthropology, sociology, and sociolinguistics, among other related disciplines. In its discussion, the article focuses mainly on spoken language as opposed to the written language. It examines different language structures that people experience during communication interactions that lead to gender construction. It first investigates different male and female linguistic forms in variationists’ studies. It then turns to the most recent studies that present gender as a dynamic multidimensional facet in sociolinguistic studies.

Language Variations

The article analyzes gender and language from two contexts, namely men’s tongue and women’s language. It investigates the attempts by variationist studies to quantify gender and its role in interactions. It also presents the link between politeness and gender. It also examines contextualization approaches in gender performance and performativity. The article reveals Carib Indian men who possess some peculiar language patterns that women understand. Women also use certain phrases. Although men comprehend them, they may be laughed at whenever they (men) use them. This observation suggests that men have a different standard language compared to women. The implication is a gender-based variation of language.

Upon considering various studies on sex-exclusive linguistic forms, the article reveals evidence of the variation of language-based sex differentiation. In particular, it identifies the Japanese as one of the languages that have elicited a debate on male and female linguistic forms. Variations in language-based matters may also be revealed in cultures. For example, the article cites the case of South African languages in which married women avoid syllables in the names of in-laws. This variation gives women and men different standard linguistics forms. Indeed, when citing the case of Koasati female coupled with male linguistic forms, the article holds that language may demonstrate a direct relationship with gender.

In variationist studies, the article presents research evidence of social stratification and gender variations in linguistics. While studies find that men and women deploy prestigious pronunciations, with women using more of the prestigious words, the article quotes Labov’s 1983 work, which claims that men are more likely to lead in the production of linguistic changes that involve the adoption of new vernaculars. Women dominate in change that involves new prestigious words. Language varies depending on class stratification. For example, among the working-class, linguistic canonization is associated with masculinity as a symbolization of toughness, which makes it (canonization) more appropriate for men.

In studies on gender and social stratification, the article presents methodological challenges that are witnessed in the process of classifying women, men, and social classes. For example, while allocating people to specific classes, economic criteria have to be deployed so that wives are allocated social positions below their husbands. However, using education and occupation as a stratification factor, women may be stratified such that they occupy class positions that are above their husbands. This challenge influences the findings of variationist studies. While conducting sociolinguistic interviews, challenges emerge due to research designs, which affect both male and female informants in different ways. Variations in the studies also occur due to differences in terms of interpreting diverse sociolinguistic patterns and other variables.

The article identifies different studies such as the work of Beth Thomas in South Wales’ settings, where she reveals the contribution of lifestyles in terms of influencing linguistic variations. The studies underline the importance of differences in gender while analyzing the lifestyles of both women and men with reference to linguistic variations in different communities. According to the article, through linguistic variations, gender enhances identity formation.

For example, quoting the work of Lesley in Belfast, the article posits that differences in linguistic variables among women and men help in expressing the process of incorporating a local community. Penelope Eckert’s study has the same findings. In Sydney’s context, a linguistic variation study finds a high usage of particular variables among ‘Anglo’ teenagers in helping to signal differences in gender. However, this finding is not the case among teenagers of Italian and Greek ancestry. It suggests that gender stratification studies mainly underline the tendencies of women speaking in one way as men speak in a different manner.

Gender interactions create deficit differences and/or dominance in linguistic variations. In this context, the article reveals how gender and linguistic studies dwell on the manner in which females and males interact with one another in a speaking context, including formal meetings, seminars, and informal ones. In these interactions, the article reveals that female speakers are thought to be highly disadvantaged in settings that involve mixed sexes. According to the article, different empirical researches document a particular style of conversation that helps to contextualize gender interactions among male and female speakers.

For example, it claims that male speakers exhibit more talks about informal settings. Gender interactions interrupt female speakers more than their male counterparts. This observation confirms gender-based dominance in speaking contexts. This reinforces an earlier assertion that women and men speak in a particular way. The article associates different dominance levels among men and women during conversations with structural power differences in which women offer more support and interest in their husbands’ selected topics.

The dominance of one gender during a conversation suggests gender-based deficits in speech. Although the claim is currently contested, Lakoff postulates that women’s deficit in speeches renders them infective in speaking contexts compared to men who possess high speech dominance. Indeed, the article associates such differences with the cultural contextualization of linguistic interactions of men and women, but not to cognitive deficiencies among women.

A different approach to the interpretation of linguistic variations between men and women entails gender and politeness. The article identifies the Mexican context research conducted by Penelope Brown in 1980 as one of the earliest models of politeness and gender in linguistic variations. The research presents two variations of politeness. Positive politeness depicts aspects such as responsiveness and tenderness, which are extended to other people during a speaking session. Negative politeness entails failing to impress other people, for instance, via threatening facial expressions. In the Tenejapan community, women portray both negative and positive politeness. Men speak in a more factual manner. The study relates these variations to the positioning of women as less powerful in social settings.

To understand gender and language, the article discusses contextualized approaches to performance and performativity. To this extent, the article identifies the changing conceptions of gender and language. For example, there is an increasing fluidity and context-specificity of meanings and language functions. Another change entails the interpretation of gender as a performed variable in linguistic variations, rather than a stratification variable. In this context, language encompasses a negotiated variable during interaction processes. The fluidity in gender and language studies implies that gender is silent while it dominates in other contexts.

Current researches focus on gender as entailing a categorization variable that influences the manner in which people speak and/or perform during a speaking process. This observation means that it is brought into speaking contexts and theorized based on performativity. The article asserts that gender is fashioned and synthesized via an unrelenting collective performance. In terms of the performance of gender in language, speech can be interpreted as means of stylization of people’s bodies. This claim presents gender and language variations in terms of feminine and masculine styles, as evidenced by bodily expressions during a speaking session.

Consequently, empirical researchers on gender and language concern themselves with linguistic features that characterize women and men speakers. This strategy not only reflects gender variations but also aids in gender construction. Amid the changes in the approaches to studying gender and language in the emerging empirical research, challenges remain in its contextualization. However, the article proposes that substantiating quantitative differentiation of gender and linguistic variations can be understood from future ethnographic qualitative researches.


From the article, gender and language emerge as interdisciplinary areas of research. They cover different aspects of linguistics. However, the article mainly focuses on important sociolinguistics issues that are of interest to variationists and scholars of interactional studies. Some empirical and quantitative variationist studies establish general gender-based patterns that depict differences in linguistics variation. Other studies regard to gender and language as aspects that require qualitative research designs to understand their interrelationships in terms of influencing linguistic variations in speaking contexts. From the article, more researches focus on contextualized studies of gender and language from the qualitative paradigm. Gender language variations elicit issues of power distinctions for men and women in contextualization approaches of the role of gender in linguistics variations. Although some researches that the article discusses an attempt to study gender and language from a neutral position, they interrogate language usage differences and inequalities between men and women.

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