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Date: Mon, 09 Jan 2006 23:06:15 -0500 From: Isabelle Lemée Subject: Women, Men and Language, 3rd ed.
AUTHOR: Coates, Jennifer TITLE: Women, Men and Language SUBTITLE: 3rd edition PUBLISHER: Pearson Longman YEAR: 2004
Isabelle Lemée, School of Applied Languages and Intercultural Studies, Dublin City University.
As the title suggests, Coates' book introduces the reader to the study of Language and Gender. This is the third edition, and the subtitle of this book informs the reader that it is a sociolinguistic account of gender differences in language.
'Women, Men and Language' is organised around four main parts and comprises a total of twelve chapters. Part 1 (Introductory) has three chapters and gives an introduction to the key area of language and gender. Coates focuses on linguistic variation related to the gender of the speaker and relates these linguistic differences to the social roles assigned to women and men in our culture. She exposes our society's preconceptions about gender differences in language through historical background.
In Part 2 (The sociolinguistic evidence), five chapters introduce sociolinguistic evidence of gender differences in language in the chronological order in which sociolinguistic research on gender developed. The chapters focus respectively on quantitative studies, the concept of social networks, women's and men's linguistic behaviour while communicating, as well as the way certain conversational strategies can be used to achieve dominance in talk, to conclude with single-sex talk.
Part 3 (Causes and consequences) examines three related areas: the development of gender-differentiated language in children, the nature of linguistic change and the role of gender differences in promoting changes, and finally the consequences of gender differences in language, looking especially at the use of language in school and the workplace. Coates attempts to understand to what extent women are disadvantaged in these two contexts.
Part 4 (Looking to the future) is the final part of this book and contains only one short chapter which provides an overview of recent developments in language and gender research, as well as an overall conclusion about the shape of language and gender research in the future.
In structural terms, the book is very consistent and all chapters are generally organised in similar ways. Thus each chapter starts out with a general introduction, very clear definition of terms, followed by general discussion of the studies presented. At the end of each chapter, Coates provides an overall conclusion and voices her opinion about the chapter. The author presents the studies conducted on language and gender in details and does not presuppose any previous knowledge of the field. Therefore this book is intended for readers with little or no background in this field and for experts alike. Students can read about early language and gender work at the same time as developing an understanding of new approaches to gender.
SUMMARY OF INDIVIDUAL CHAPTERS
Chapter 1 (Language and gender) opens with a general introduction where Coates expresses her intention to provide a coherent sociolinguistic account of the co-variation of language and gender. In this introductory chapter, she gives an overview of the way language and gender studies have developed within sociolinguistics, and also provides a brief account of the main approaches by linguists to the question of gender differences in language. The last section discusses the organisation of the book.
In Chapter 2 (The historical background (1) - Folklinguistics and the early grammarians) Coates looks at the cultural mythology associated with gender differences in language. The chapter concentrates on vocabulary, swearing and taboo language, grammar, literacy, pronunciation and verbosity. She presents her definition of the Androcentric Rule which states that 'men will be seen to behave linguistically in a way that fits the writer's view of what is desirable or admirable; women on the other hand will be blamed for any linguistic state or development which is regarded by the writer as negative or reprehensible' (p.10). This chapter reflects ideas of scholars from the Middle-Ages up to the beginning of the century. For example silence was synonymous of obedience for a woman in the 18th century.
Chapter 3 (The historical background (2) - Anthropologists and dialectologists) features a detailed survey of works done by anthropologists and dialectologists to illustrate respectively the kind of male/female variation in language that anthropologists commented on, and the weakness of traditional dialectology in its selection of informants which lead to the claim that women's speech was more standard than men's and therefore less worthy of researching on. Coates describes how women were often supplementing the dialectologist with information rather than being full members of the speech community.
Chapter 4 (Quantitative studies) presents classic sociolinguistic studies, with their analysis of linguistic variation in relation to social class of speakers and speech style. Sociolinguistic studies revealed clear social stratification and gave rise to the related concept of prestige and stigma. The studies presented have found that gender differences in language often cut across social class variation. For some community studied, use of non-standard, non-prestige forms seems to be associated not only with working-class speakers, but also with male speakers. This is contradicted though by Eckert's study (1988; 1990) where her high school (burnout) girls lead the boys in the use of vernacular forms. Women are found to use fewer stigmatised forms and more prestige forms than men in each social class.
In Chapter 5 (Social Networks), Coates presents work exploring the hypothesis that the level of integration of speakers in a community directly reflects in their language. She stresses the importance to accept vernacular norms as features marking a speaker's loyalty to a particular network. Milroy (1980) and Cheshire (1982) demonstrate that female speakers are less closely integrated into vernacular culture, that women use vernacular norms less consistently than male speakers. Cheshire's work clearly shows that women's loyalty to vernacular norms is not always marked with the same linguistic features that mark men's identification with vernacular culture. Women are generally thought to belong to less dense and multiplex networks than men, even though some research present counter-examples of this belief.
In Chapter 6 (Gender differences in conversational practice) Coates presents evidence from a range of studies which suggest that women and men differ in terms of their communicative competence. She describes how women and men pursue different interactive styles: women use hedges more frequently and pay more compliments to other speakers, they also appear to be more polite, while men talk and swear more and use aggravated directives to get things done. The evidence presented shows that both women and men accommodate to the perceived norms of the other gender. This chapter also describes misconceptions, showing for example that although gossip is part of female subculture, some aspects of men's talk can also be labelled ''gossip''.
Chapter 7 (Conversational dominance in mixed talk) focuses on how some conversational strategies are used to achieve dominance in talk. ''Sociolinguistic research into mixed talk exposes the fact that women and men do not have equal rights to the conversational floor'' (p. 124). In mixed talk, interruptions, talking too much or being silent are strategies mainly used by men to undermine the current speaker and consequently to reinforce male dominance. Studies suggest that gender overrides status.
In chapter 8 (Same-sex talk) Coates focuses on women's and men's talk in same-sex groups. Research suggests that linguistic characteristics of all female-talk and all-male talk differ. ''This difference has been labelled all-female talk 'cooperative' and all-male talk 'competitive''' (p. 143). This chapter stresses two important facts: firstly these different ways of talking may share the goal of creating group solidarity; secondly language is a way of DOING gender rather than just being women or men. In any case, this is constrained by dominant norms which are always open to challenge.
Chapter 9 (Children and gender-differentiated language) explains how differences in linguistic usage are mainly linked to the linguistic environment of girls and boys. Language is an important part of the socialisation process and children not only learn gender appropriate behaviour, but they also acquire a knowledge of culturally approved gender roles. Children adopt particular linguistic behaviour as part 'of their performance of masculinity/femininity, [thus perpetuating] the social order which creates gender distinctions' (p. 148).
In Chapter 10 (The role of gender differences in linguistic change) Coates tries to demonstrate the existing link between gender differences in language and linguistic change. To do so, she re- examines Labov's (1972), Trudgill's (1974), Milroy's (1980) and Eckert's (1990) studies, and also looks at Nichols' (1983) and Britain's (1998) studies. Coates finds it impossible to claim that linguistic change is associated with one gender or another. Women are sometimes innovative - as shown by Trudgill's, Milroy's and Nichols' studies - and sometimes conservative. All these studies underline the fact that women, like men, respond to local circumstances. They make linguistic choices in the context of particular speech communities.
Chapter 11 (The social consequences of gender differences in language) Coates examines the social, as opposed to the linguistic consequences of linguistic differentiation based on gender. She mainly focuses on the classroom and the workplace. The studies show that in school, boys' dominance is co-constructed by all participants - teacher and pupils included. Cooperative conversational skills brought to the classroom by female speakers are not valued. In the case of the workplace, this remains a decidedly unequal arena. However a growing body of research shows that the interpersonal skills that women bring into the workplace are beginning to be valued. What these studies demonstrate is that ''gender relations are changing and that we are living through a period of transition with changes going on in the everyday worlds of school and work'' (p. 210). These changes have an impact on cultural notions of masculinity and femininity.
In Chapter 12 (New developments in language and gender research) Coates gives an ''overview of some of the key changes that have taken place and some of the new ideas that currently hold sway in the academic community'' (p. 215), such as communities of practice, queer linguistics. Coates claims that ''the spread of language and gender research to non-English-speaking communities and the adoption of the communities of practice approach have led to more studies which emphasize the importance of looking locally'' (p 221). However she warns that by looking too locally it is very easy to lose sight of the big picture.
This revised edition takes the reader from an initial 'men talk like this; women talk like that' approach to a more nuanced idea of women and men performing gender in their everyday interactions. It covers a range of sociolinguistic research, looking at grammatical and phonological features a well as at aspects of conversation such as compliments or swearing. This book presents studies that contradict common beliefs like women talk more than men. It is written clearly and in a very accessible manner.
This is a very useful volume in which terms are very well presented and explained in relation to concrete studies. The small number of typos is further evidence of the author's attention to formal accuracy.
My only minor criticism concerns the fact that since this book is intended to students as well as teachers, it would have been useful to see in addition to author and subject indices a definition index.
Taken together this is a very well-structured informative book that fulfils all the objectives that the author set out to achieve. This book explores the idea that gender is socially and culturally constructed.
Britain, D. (1998). Linguistic change in intonation: the use of high- rising terminals in New Zealand English. In Trudgill, P. and Cheshire, J. (eds) The Sociolinguistic Reader. Vol I: Multilingualism and Variation, 213-239. Arnold: London.
Cheshire, J. (1982). Variation in an English Dialect. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Eckert, P. (1988). Adolescent social structure and the spread of linguistic change. Language in Society, 17: 245-267
Eckert, P. (1990). The whole woman: Sex and gender differences in variation. Language Variation and Change, 1: 245-68
Labov, W. (1972). Sociolinguistic Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
Milroy, L. (1980). Language and Social Networks. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nichols, P. (1983). Linguistic options and choices for Black women in the rural South. In Thorne, B., Kramarae, C. ad Henley, N. (eds) Language, Gender and Society 54-68. Newbury House, Rowley, MA.
Trudgill, P. (1974). The social differentiation of English in Norwich. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Isabelle Lemée is a Lecturer in Dublin City University and currently teaches Spoken French, French for Specific Purposes as well as Psycholinguistics. Her research interests include Second Language Acquisition, Sociolinguistics and Language Variation.