Male conversations

Male (single sex) conversations

Can you guess who is speaking in this transcript? Analyse the dialogue below.


Uh you know that really gay guy in our Age of Revolution class who sits in front of us? He wore shorts again, by the way, it’s like 42 degrees out he wore shorts again[laughter] it’s like a speedo, he wears a speedo to class he’s got incredibly skinny legs, you know


You know like those shorts women volleyball players wear?  It’s like those it’s like French cut spandex


You know what’s even more ridiculous? When you wear those shorts and like a parka on


He’s either got some condition that he’s got to like have his legs exposed all the time or else he’s got really good legs


He’s probably he’s he’s like he’s like at home combing his leg hairs


He really likes his legs


He doesn’t have any leg hair though


He really likes his legs


Very long very white and very skinny


Yes and oh those ridiculous Reeboks that are always (indecipherable) and goofy white socks always striped tube socks


He’s the antithesis of man

The point of reading this  transcript is that to any normal person they features and the nature of the transcript means that is appears to be a group of females However, actually this was a group of males. This research came from Deborah Cameron, who basically believed you can never know – males and females are very similar.

So what features did we find in this transcript?


  • Intensifiers ‘incredibly’
  • Fixed expressions ‘you know’
  • Filer ‘like’
  • Specialised vocabulary ‘French cut spandex’
  • Support 
  • Empty adjective ‘ridiculous’
  • Knowledge of female topic – apparel ‘Reeboks’
  • Initiation
  • Cooperative
  • Bitchiness 
  • Hedging ‘its like’
  • repetition ‘really likes his legs



Language and Gender Key Terms

All the following definitions have been taken out the textbook ‘AS AQA English Language B’. This is a textbook so I am sure it is ok to use this information however if you are stating these definitions anywhere other than an exam remember to source it – it is not your information! That is only some definitions – many are made by me.


Actor: the individual or entity responsible for the action of a verb process.

Affected: the person or entity affected by a material action process.


Boosting device: a linguistic device used to intensify the force of an expression for added emphasis or power e.g. ‘really’


Covert marking: marking that is understood e.g. in the antonyms young and old which can be used to ask someone their age so e.g. ‘how old are you?’ ‘how young are you?’ young is the marked and old is the unmarked.

Covert prestige: a form of high status given to non-standard forms.


Deixis: Context-dependant word.


Ellipsis: missing out words in a sentence.


Folklinguistics: attitudes and assumptions about language that have no real evidence to support them e.g. the assumption that women are generally more ‘chatty’ or prone to gossiping than men.


Gender: the differences in behaviours and roles that are a result if societal expectations.


Hedging device: a linguistic device used to express uncertainty e.g. ‘kind of’


Intonational emphasis: This is where we emphasis on words with the tone of our voice e.g. by making it go high or low.


Jargon: specialised lexis


Known-answer question: this is when the person asking the question already knows the answer.


Labov: William Labov put together six narrative categories which people follow when they are telling an anecdote.


Marked form: that which stands out as different from a norm.


Negative face: this is our right not to be imposed upon.


Overt marking: marking that takes place through affixation or modification.


Positive face: this is our right to be accepted and approved.



Representation: the projection of a certain way of thinking about a particular individual, group or institution through the use of language.


Semantic derogation: the sense of negative meaning or connotation that some lexical items have attached to them e.g. Mistress. 

Semantic deterioration: the process by which negative connotations become attached to lexical items.

Sex: biological differences between males and females.

Socialisation process: a process by which individuals’ behaviours are conditioned and shapes.

Stereotyping: assigning a general set of characteristics to a group as a whole, often with negative connotations.


Tag questions: a group of words that turn a declarative into an interrogative e.g. ‘It’s cold’ becomes ‘It’s cold isn’t it?’


Unmarked form: the measured norm, against which marked lexical items can be compared.


Vocative: adress e.g. ‘you’ ‘Ben’





Language and Gender: Semantic Derogation

Introduction to semantic derogation

As an introduction, we were a list of words to see if they were used mainly to refer to females or males. The point of this exercise was to be introduced to the sexist aspect of the English Language.

Word – (F) or (M) or (F+M)

Bitch – (F)

Chick – (F)

Cow – (F)

Crumpet – (F)

Honey – (F)

Kitten – (F)

Old biddy – (F)

Stud – (M)

Sugar – (F)

Sweetie – (F)

Tart – (F)

Wolf – (M)

What this exercised showed is that there are more gender specific words for women and as we will see later much of this are in the negative sense and put women down, making our beloved language sexist. 

Janet Holmes 1992

In class we were given an extract from ‘An introduction to sociolinguistics’ by Janet Holmes (1992). 

Summary of her points

  • English metaphors available to describe women in derogatory images are more than those available to describe men.
  • Animal imagery is a key area in which women are belittled compare bitch and cow to stud and wolf. For men at least they show some positive imagery such as wiliness or sexual prowess. However, for women even so called positive terms such as kitten and chick are sweet but helpless pets.
  • Food imagery is another key aspect where women are put down. Saccharine terms are now mainly used in reference to women whereas there is hardly any food imagery relating to men except the odd ‘honey’. Words which clearly has a negative sexual connotations such as ‘tart’ and ‘crumpet’ are solely used against women.

My response to these points

I think this points are valid because they are all backed up by evidence. It makes sense as well because the 21st century society has come a long way in creating equality between male and female social standing. Yet the history has reflected in our language making inequality between the two sexes clearly by the quantitive measure of derogative terms used for both sexes.

Any other evidence need to validate the information?

Personally I don’t think any other evidence is needed and I actually believe because historically all over the globe women have been put down due to various reasons such as religious texts that any language in the world can reflect this. I have some handle on my own language Punjabi and know that women and men use different forms of saying the same thing because gender affects your language use and for me this has always been distressing because I am a feminist and believe that language should be reformed with further equality. But this is a big dream…

Further history of language and gender

1553 – Wilson, grammarian, stated that male nouns should precede female nouns e.g. ‘husband/wife’ ‘brother/sister’ ‘son/daughter’

1646 – Joshua Poole agreed with this because he said ti was more ‘natural’ and ‘proper’ as males were the more ‘worthier’.

19th C – grammarians reinforced this idea by condemning the use of plural pronouns such as ‘they’ and ‘their’. They reasoned by saying words like anyone are singular and thus cannot be followed by plurals e.g. ‘Anybody can do it if they try!’

1976 – Empirical research by linguist Julia Stanley shows that there are numerically more words to describe men than women. Most of this words depict men in a favourable light. She found that 26 words were used to describe sexual promiscuity of men and many of these were complimentary e.g. stud, stallion. Conversely, for women there were 220 words describing female sexual promiscuity which were mostly derogatory e.g. ‘tart’ ‘slag’

Deborah Cameron

Deborah Cameron

Below are notes I have made on her ideas

Deborah Cameron, a linguistic, suggests in her book ‘The Myth of Mars and Venus’ that you can never tell the gender of someone through their language except in 2 situations: (i) women who speak on sex related chat lines and (ii) if someone is having a sex change then they will receive language advice.

She gives a lot of evidence for this and the one I believe really persuades you is the one where their are four boys discussing another boy. (This transcript is analysed in the earlier section ‘male talk’). All linguistic evidence points that it is a group of females when actually they are male. Examples of this include, firstly there is a semantic field of clothes which is stereotypically associated with females and the vocabulary is specialised too e.g. ‘French cut spandex’. Specialised lexis is something that Robin Lakeoff identified as a trade of women yet it appears that boys use it too.

Also, if we were looking at stereotypes then we would see that women are supposed to be bitchy so just by the nature of the conversation, we may just assume it is a bunch of girls when in fact they are boys.

She goes on disproving assumption, stereotypes and Robin Lakeoff e.g. she says how women according to Lakeoff should use intensifiers when yet this group of boys are. So none of these features can actual reveal the sex of the person except in the two situations mentioned above.

Language and Gender: Further Observations

Key terms:

Sex; biological facts about men and women

Gender; (1) grammatical groupings      (2) characters based on their sex

Representation; constructing stories from language (including images) about what people are like

Deficit model; It suggests that women need to change because their language is not good enough

Fun Facts:
  • According to research e.g. Fishman 1990, it is found that the average amount of time for which a man will speak has found to be approximately double the amount a women speaks, especially in mixed-sex conversations.
  • A women’s approach to conversation tends to be co-operative, whereas a man’s approach tends to be competitive.
  • American researchers Zimmerman and west (1975) taped several case studies. One of the big findings was that men interrupted 96% of the time whereas women only interrupted 4%. Analysis of parent-child conversations shows that fathers tend interrupt the mode and more to daughters than sons. I believe this is because our society still has stains of the old society where sons were more important and valuable than daughters.
  • Topical differences between men and women exist. Simply, women talk more about ‘feelings’ and men talk more about ‘things’