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Politeness and Females
Gender and its connection with linguistic behavior has been a major subject of debate and discussion in research circles for last many decades. How men and women differ in the speech is an interesting topic that has been shown to have direct correlation with societal influences and conditioning. Women are conditioned to behave in a submissive manner and research indicates that it is because of this factor than biological construction that is responsible for women being more polite than men. A large body of research on the subject reveals that women generally use more polite language than men because they are expected to behave in a submissive, timid and less aggressive manner. Pierre Bourdieu (1977, p. 662) argued, "Politeness contains a politics, a practical and immediate recognition of social classifications and hierarchies."
Females are more polite because people in any setting are expected to use more polite words if they are in a subordinate position. For example employees are always more polite than employers, it applies in classroom setting too where students are expected to use softer language than the teacher. In the very same manner, females are socially expected to use polite language with more frequent use of 'thank you' and 'please' combined with hedges. It has been found that women use more hedges when describing something negative than man would- showing their respective use of politeness. Hedges are words than soften the impact of an otherwise harsh comment. For example describing someone as 'mean' or 'rude', women would soften the blow by using words like 'sort of' 'kind of' rephrasing the comment to sound something like 'he is sort of mean'. This helps them remain polite while using negative or harsh terms.
Brown and Levinson's (1978) model of politeness was the first serious work in the field of gender and its connection to linguistic behavior. They maintained that politeness is a device used by people to avoid 'face threatening actions' or to least mitigate the impact of the same. Brown and Levinson explain that, "face is something that is emotionally invested, and that can be lost, maintained or enhanced, and must be constantly attended to in interaction.'(Brown & Levinson, 1978:66) Therefore when a person uses harsh language, it is seen as a face-threatening act. Women are more likely to avoid rude language in order not to risk face threatening. These two theorists divided politeness into positive and negative politeness explaining that the former 'anoints the face of the addressee by indicating that in some respects, Speaker wants Hearer's wants (e.g. By treating him/her as a member of an in-group, a friend, a person whose wants and personality traits are known and liked)," and on the other hand negative politeness "is essentially avoidance-based and consist(s) ... In assurances that the speaker ... will not interfere with the addressee's freedom of action.' (ibid, 75)
According to Janet Holmes (1995) politeness is used specifically to show concern, remain distant, and in some instance with a desire not to impose. Holmes observed the conversational patterns in one study in New Zealand. She measured amount of talk in both male and female TV interviewers as a measure of politeness and found striking differences. Male TV interviewers contributed for at least 50% of total conversation while women choose to speak only when it was necessary and gave interviewees more chance to talk.
Holmes (1995) also used Brown and Levinson's work to conclude that women avoid face-threatening acts more often than men and are thus more polite. She described 'polite people' as those who "avoid obvious face-threatening acts ... they generally attempt to reduce the threat of unavoidable face threatening acts such as requests or warnings by softening them, or expressing them indirectly; and they use polite utterances such as greetings and compliments where possible.'(Holmes, 1995:5) She further added that women are more polite than men as "Most women enjoy talk and regard talking as an important means of keeping in touch, especially with friends and intimates. They use language to establish, nurture and develop personal relationships. Men tend to see language more as a tool for obtaining and conveying information." (Holmes, 1995:2) Holmes also explained that women use politeness as "an expression of concern for the feelings of others.' (Holmes, 1995:4) and thus "women's utterances show evidence of concern for the feelings of the…[continue]
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