New feature – Men and women: are we really worlds apart?

// 13 March 2011

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Do women and men talk differently? And, if they do, why? Kitty Sadler explores the theories

Everybody knows men are from Mars and women are from Venus. Everybody knows that we women whine and hint, that we always want to talk about our feelings, while men command and state facts, right? But why do we speak differently? Three explanations have emerged in the last century, each with its pitfalls. Which is most likely, or is the gender language debate no longer really relevant in society today?

There’s no denying it: no education or social conditioning has succeeded in erasing the differences between the language of men and women. The reason for this, however, is far more contestable, the issue having provided a medium for blatant sexism, rampant feminism and a whole lot of self-help books (How To Tame That Beast In Your House Who Leaves The Toilet Seat Up and Communicates In Grunts, among others).

For Otto Jespersen and other linguists from the early 20th century, a woman is not a man’s counterpart; she is his wife. In Jespersen’s words, women are the “deficient gender” and their linguistic deviation from the (male) ‘norm’ reflects this.

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