King Edward VI School student Daniel Sillett, 16, looks at the links between language and gender
Have you noticed your partner growing odd green slime all over their skin? Looking somehow sick, or worse still, alien? I am not surprised. Because it seems that some commentators and ‘experts’ still believe men and women are from different planets.
Remember all that 1990s waffle about men being from Mars and women from Venus. Well, it persists, if only to sell newspapers and as click-bait.
I study English Language A-level, which is my interest in this topic. A fascinating area of knowledge, covering as it does the whole area of how our language is shaped by our world and how in turn, the words we use influence the society around us.
Many linguists have tried to crack the link between language and gender.
If we believe some theories emanating from the 1970s onwards, it is surprising that we ever get to understand each other at all. It is as if we are indeed aliens. Here are a few of them: women associate with women as they grow up and develop their own ways of speaking; men swear a lot more; men interrupt more; women like to gossip; men talk about football and cars all the time; women talk about relationships, children and embroidery. I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the idea. Most of these theories, we find as the A-level course unfolds, were created several decades back and seem suspiciously to confirm what the stereotypes of the sexes were back then. Dig a little deeper and you find some of the research was a bit dubious anyway.
Here is an example. If I ask you whether men or women interrupted more, I bet most of you are already leaping to conclusions, based on who you know and I hate to say it, your own prejudices. What about the research? Many ‘experts’ based their views on a couple of experts who discovered the ‘fact’ that 95 per cent of interruptions when men and women talk are by men. The trouble is, dig a little deeper, and you find that in the 1970s, research techniques were not as rigorous as we might like. They based their theory on just 11 conversations between couples and one of the men happened to ‘manterrupt’ a lot.
These old theories – call them ‘folklinguistics’ – are now challenged and a good thing, too.
On the other hand, last week I came across another commentator who riled me by talking about the existence of what sounded like a whole alien language: Menglish. Apparently, Menglish creates, catastrophic, communication breakdowns.
The trouble is that all these theories, while getting us all talking, just don’t hold water. The lovely person behind the checkout in Sainsbury’s the other day had a perfectly reasonable chat about the weather, what should happen to Piers Morgan… usual British stuff… and she understood me enough to sell me the bread rolls. At no point did we relate to staring at each other and waving our green arms around in a fruitless alien attempt at understanding.