Sunday, 8 March 2015

Women leading language change

Hello there!
Being the International Women's Day, it seemed just fair to remember women's role in language change. Actually, historical sociolinguistics tells us that, the vast majority of time, women are curiously the ones who had led linguistic change. Are you interested in reading some facts and debate about this? 
  It is not my task here to investigate whether women lead language change since it has already been studied thoroughly by very prestigious linguists, such as William Labov, and it has already been proven, as well. Instead, I will first very briefly summarised Labov's findings, then provide my own reflection and, hopefully, read yours in the comments section bellow!
  As I mentioned above, Labov described this and called it a paradox since, whereas women are usually the first to adopt and spread linguistic change, they are also the ones who avoid stigmatised variants. This means that women are rather reluctant to adopt realisations which differ from the standard forms which, because of various reasons, are stigmatised by society and seen as commonly adopted by, among others, uneducated people. Apparently, Labov states that, rather consciously (change from above the level of social consciousness), a woman adopts prestige forms at a higher rate than a man, meaning that it will probably be women who introduce new forms resulting from hypercorrection in everyday language. However, the most important way of linguistic change is by introducing innovative forms: women are unconsciously  pioneers in bringing new elements into language.

  Now, the most interesting part of this in my opinion, is debating about the reasons why women and not men are leading linguistic change. Without going into much detail, there are three possible explanations, which have also been fairly questioned: (1) women have inherent biological verbal advantage, (2) women have more open social networks than men, and a third one, which I personally support out of the three. 
  I find that the third explanation is the closest to reality, since it argues that women are more aware of social status than men and thus, are motivated to use prestige forms to escalate, from the linguistic point of view, in the social paradigm. This comes from the gender inequality issue which women suffer in terms of education and work (salaries, opportunities, etc). It has been questioned whether this explanation can be accepted since there are already countries in which gender equality is a reality nowadays and still, those countries do not make an exception when it comes to women leading the change. 
  I strongly feel though, that being treated as equals in a job setting does not mean that women living in these more culturally developed countries cannot perceive other kinds of discrimination, hence still beeing in the vanguard in their language. One would have to live in another world to avoid seeing sexist publicity on TV,  on the Internet, or even not being exposed to subtle ways of presenting women as the weak sex, such as old sayings and expressions (ways of talking ultimately) which, unfortunatly lingers in our speech, probably unconsciously, and which would entail a whole dictionary/ folklore wash much harder to carry out, don't you agree?

Would you argue differently or defend one of the other two possible explanations? Could you otherwise think of an explanation not considered until now?

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