Language and Gender: The Difference Model

In previous posts, I have uploaded resources on ‘The Deficit Model’ and ‘The Dominance Model’. Another common approach to exploring how men and women communicate is known as ‘The Difference Model’.

One linguistic often associated with the difference model is Deborah Tannen. According to Tannen, many misunderstandings, arguments and disagreements between men and women could be down to these gender differences. There is a really nice summary of these differences here. It’s important to remember that these gender differences are put forward as socially constructed, so are not down to biological differences between men and women. There is a downloadable summary of Tannen’s position here.

Other linguistics have explored differences in men and women’s language based on specific language features. Janet Holmes explored how tag questions were used differently by men and women. Holmes categorised tag questions into ‘Modal Tags’, which are requests for information and may show uncertainty, and ‘Affective Tags’ which are addressee orientated. Rather than showing uncertainty, affective tags are designed to not upset the addressee. They show concern rather than weakness.

Whilst Holmes may not strictly be identified with ‘The Difference Model’ her research does conflict with The Deficit Model. Affective tags, according to Lakoff might show weakness. For Holmes, their usage is more about care and consideration. Remember, To do really well in paper 2, it’s important to be able to assess explicitly the weaknesses of different models. Holmes’ research and the discussion of it in this paper will be really useful to help achieve this goal.

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