Language and gender
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Delivery guides are designed to represent a body of knowledge about teaching a particular topic and contain:
- Content: a clear outline of the content covered by the delivery guide
- Thinking Conceptually: expert guidance on the key concepts involved, common difficulties students may have, approaches to teaching that can help students understand these concepts and how this topic links conceptually to other areas of the subject
- Thinking Contextually: a range of suggested teaching activities using a variety of themes so that different activities can be selected that best suit particular classes, learning styles or teaching approaches.
Language and gender
Students will analyse a text in terms of language and gender for both the AS Component 2 (Exploring contexts), Section B where it would be 50% of the mark for this component and also this analysis will also play a central role in the the A Level Component 2 (Dimensions of linguistic variation), Section B. Students will need to be familiar with concepts relating to the idea of language and gender in society. This includes the ways in which language and gender are represented in the media and literature.
Language in use
This delivery guide will also support teachers in delivering approaches to responding to the section on topical language issues, which is in Component 1, Section B of A Level English Language and in Component 2, Section A of AS Level English Language. The knowledge and skills acquired through the analysis and understanding of concepts relating to language and gender can be used across all answers in all components.
As society changes, so too does the language we use to communicate. The study of language and gender has been an area of interest for researchers over the years. From the language we use to address each other, the ways in which the sexes communicate with each other and the language used to represent gender in society, students find it an interesting topic to study as they find it is relevant to them.
In the AS and A Level examinations, students are required to produce either a written or spoken text arguing for or against a statement regarding the effect of gender, technology or power on the use of language (when responding to the question on a topical language issue). Encouraging a sense of debate regarding language and social contexts is therefore important in class and engenders the skills of independence of thought that will help them in the exam.
One of the best ways to begin the topic of language and gender is to start with a discussion of the perceived differences in the ways in which men and women communicate. In pairs or small groups, give students a list of statements: for example (see Learner Resource 1, which is included as an example of a way to generate debate) women talk more than men, women talk about feelings more than men do, men swear more than women, women are more polite than men, men interrupt more than women etc. The whole group can then discuss what they think about the statements they have been given.
Teachers should also note that the Andrew Moore Language and Gender guide is available online and, as well as being a useful teaching companion for teachers, is an accessible resource for students.
Representations of gender in the media and the ways in which males and females are perceived form an interesting area of study. Show students the websites Drive Like a Girl and Sheila’s Wheels. Ask students what they think about the language used. A useful focus is also representation of gender, i.e. how is gender being represented in these websites? This may be being done through ideas and attitudes being expressed explicitly or it may be more subtle: for example, through what is implied rather than what is stated directly. Are underlying assumptions about masculinity or/and femininity being made? Do the texts challenge stereotypes or reinforce them?
Students can then source their own adverts to look at the ways in which gender is represented through language in advertising with a focus on the lexical choices and a discussion of pragmatics.
Marked language is often considered to have less prestige associated with it than unmarked terms. For example, the male unmarked term ‘major’ has the suffix ‘ette’ added to it in order to become ‘majorette’. There are many more examples of marked terms and their connotations: ‘steward’ and ‘stewardess’ for example. Students can also discuss terms that are used to describe males and females and the various connotations they have. Ask students to make a list of the marked and unmarked terms and their connotations.
It could be worth asking students to read the extract in The Guardian which is by the Oxford University Professor Deborah Cameron, from her book The Myth of Mars and Venus, which explores how important gender differences are in speech.
Gender identity is something that should also be discussed in the context of language and gender. An interesting TED talk by Scott Turner entitled “Ending Gender” can provide a basis for discussion about gender identity. The talk raises interesting questions about language and the way in which we discuss both gender and sexuality. This powerful talk examines gender identity in modern society and also examines the language we use.
The Full Story - Gender Identity documentary also raises some interesting ideas about language and gender identity and links well with the talk by Scott Turner.
Ask students to think of animal imagery that is used to describe men and women. What types of animals are attributed to women and which are attributed to men? Some ideas might be ‘bird’, ‘chick’, ‘bitch’ and ‘cow’ for women and for men ‘stallion’, ‘wolf’ and ‘silver fox’. Ask students to consider the connotations that these words have and to consider other terms used to refer to males and females. For example ‘crumpet’ and ‘tart’ for females. Share the following chicken metaphor which has been taken from Janet Holmes’ Learning about Language:
“The chicken metaphor tells the story of a girl’s life. In her youth, she is a chick, and then she marries and begins feeling cooped up, so she goes to hen parties and cackles with her friends. Then she has her brood and begins to hen peck her husband. Finally, she turns into an old biddy.”
Holmes, Janet (1994) Learning about Language: An Introduction to sociolinguistics. London: Longman p. 337
Ask students if they remember what toys they played with when they were younger. This can act as a catalyst for a discussion on gender and socialisation.
Ask students to examine and analyse a range of adverts aimed at children. Students can look in catalogues and investigate the ways in which language is used to advertise games and toys for boys and girls. Is there a difference? This can lead to an interesting discussion about advertising in general and adverts which are aimed at males and those that are aimed at females. Show students examples of adverts that are aimed at men and of those aimed at women. Ask students to consider whether stereotypes are being reinforced or whether certain assumptions about gender are being made.
The newspaper article about a Swedish toy firm that was forced to create a gender-neutral Christmas catalogue shows the ways in which attitudes are changing towards gender.
Overt prestige (the prestige that attaches itself to behaviour that is considered more socially desirable) and covert prestige (the prestige that comes from behaviour that goes against what are considered the conventions of respectable society) are key terms relating to language and gender. A lesson discussing these terms will enable students to explore ideas surrounding gender behaviour and in particular, language use.
Non-standard forms are often attributed to male language use, and researchers such as Peter Trudgill and Jenny Cheshire found that women used more standard speech forms than did men.
Ask students to consider why this might be the case. Are women more status-conscious than men? What are society’s expectations of women? Do they differ between the sexes?
Click on the link for a summary of the work of these theorists.
Approaches to teaching the content
There are a number of ways in which the content for language and gender can be taught and, because this is a higher level of academic study, students should be encouraged to source and analyse a variety of materials, ranging from transcripts to novel extracts, in order to help them develop their confidence. This will also prepare A Level students for when they have to source their own data and materials for their language investigation. Students should also be encouraged to discuss theories and concepts in class, noting the limitations and flaws within them.
A brief guide to some theorists is included in Learner resource 2, although this guide should not in any way be regarded as listing the only theorists worth studying, but rather as a starting point.
Common misconceptions or difficulties students may have
Students sometimes struggle with some of the theories relating to language and gender and sometimes regard them as ‘discoveries’ rather than outdated theories. For example Robin Lakoff’s theories are based on investigations that were undertaken in USA in the 1970s. A discussion about research methodology can help students appreciate its limitations. Students should therefore be encouraged to enter into debates regarding the limitations of these ideas, for example regarding the theories of Robin Lakoff and Deborah Tannen. What are the issues with these investigations (aside from the fact that they are outdated)?
Ask students to consider how they would conduct a language and gender investigation today if they had unlimited resources.
Conceptual links to other areas of the specification – useful ways to approach this topic to set students up for topics later in the course
The topic of language and gender links to language change, language and power, language and technology and child language acquisition. Therefore, students should not regard these topics as being self-contained and should understand that there are many links between them all. For example, a computer-mediated conversation between a parent and child could highlight some interesting ideas about language and technology, language and gender and language and power.
Etiquette guides are also useful when examining language and gender. Gender roles have changed in society and it’s sometimes difficult for students to appreciate this, so looking at etiquette guides from the past can give students an insight into gender roles and how they have changed over the years. The following guide, The Ladies Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness, was first published in 1875 and was written by Florence Hartley. It can be can be found online by clicking the first link.
The debate regarding sexism in society and in the media is something that appears time and time again. There are some interesting articles that students can read and which can form a basis for discussions about the topic of sexism and the language used.
Click on the link for an article about sexism in the media, which is taken from The Guardian and can be used as a basis for discussion and further investigation (Guardian Newspaper Article: Wives and Grandmothers First? It’s time to fight this insidious sexism). The article about is about both sexism and ageism in the media and the language used in newspapers.
The study of language and gender is inextricably linked with the study of the position of men and women in society and how this has evolved over the years. Language and gender, therefore, remains a popular topic for student investigation and often students can use their own investigative skills, accompanied by their knowledge of language, to see if these theories hold true in their immediate sphere of influence and beyond.
When it comes to examining language and gender, there are many possible sources of information. From books to magazines to TV programmes, films and websites, the possibilities are endless. Discussions about language and gender should also be considered alongside other contextual factors such as age, class and occupation.
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