“Gender and Sociolinguistic Variation” by PENELOPE ECKERT
There is more to language than its referential function; language is something which makes us who we are and reveals our identity. Variation in language is not accountable to gender; other factors influence how we speak. Eckerts suggests that we need to accept and explore these other factors including class, the topic of conversation and the participants of conversation, rather than just looking to gender as the cause of all variation.
Examples used by the author
- Comparing Jocks and the working class by looking at the phonological variant sounds ‘ae’, ‘uh’ and ‘ay’, it appears that the working class are typically closer to the vernacular language, whilst Jocks use more standard forms. Also, both female and male findings for both Jocks and working class suggest that language variable use has more to do with our social grouping.
What Theorists does she use?
- Labov’s study of Martha’s Vineyard is commented on. Martha’s Vineyard looked at a fishing community who stuck to the local vernacular English form as they were proud of it and didn’t want it to be infected with the more standard form which the tourists spoke. By using Labov’s work as supporting evidence, Eckert is saying that vernacular language is also associated with local issues, not just location.
- Peter Trudgill is mentioned as he refutes Eckert’s claims. Trudgill states that in his Norwich study; generally women did use more formal language. However he thinks this is because women tended to be less involved with the rest of society and generally didn’t work, whilst men were at work, subject to greater language variation. Women tended to stay in the confinement of their homes in the day and didn’t mix as much as the men did and therefore as a result used a more standard form of language. This suggests that gender may be linked with language variation, but suggests that this is because men tend to be the breadwinners of a family and are more likely to go to work, therefore they pick up a vernacular English form as they hear it more often.
“has led many researchers to treat gender as secondary”
Gender is not the only reason for language variation.
“But women are vernacular speakers as well”
It is not only men that use vernacular forms, therefore other gender stereotypes regarding language may be incorrect or overgeneralised.
Downfalls with/Evidence against her argument
Men are more likely to use double negatives it seems, such as “I didn’t do nothing”. We cannot disregard these findings and examples as they do suggest that conservatism for women over men is a fair argument, however we just cannot completely attach them specifically to one or the other gender.
It does appear, from the use of the vernacular and standard form “talkin” and “talking” that women are more conservative and use the standard forms walking and talking, and it appears men are more likely to use the non standard vernacular forms.