Gender Pattern: Language and Sex

The gender pattern is a typical sociolinguistic pattern, a characteristic type of sex-graded linguistic variation. It results from the occurence of a particular linguistic variable with the non-linguistic variable of sex and gender the biologically defined distinction between females and males and the social distinction between feminine and masculine.

The gender pattern describes phonological differences in overall female and male speech behaviour.

A formulation of the gender pattern:

There is a relationship between the biological and social sex or gender of a speaker and the use of a particular phonological variant in the form that:

  • In stable variables women use more standard variants (= prestige variants, socially accepted variants) than men of the same social class and age under the same circumstances.

  • In stable variables men use more non-standard variants (= non-prestige variants, socially less favoured variants) than women of the same social class and age under the same circumstances.

(Adapted from Chambers 1995: 112)

According to Meyerhoff (2006) a variable can be considered stable if there is no evidence that one of its variants is the preferred variant and is pushing out the other one. (ng) is a typical case of a stable variable which is not undergoing change with regard to the use of its velar and alveolar nasal variants.

(ng) in Norwich

The gender pattern was illustrated by Trudgill (1974) for the variable (ng) in his study of Norwich speech. (ng) has two variants in Norwich: the standard pronunciation [ɪŋ] and the non-standard pronunciation [ən]. In each of the socioeconomic status groups men score higher than women in their use of the non-standard variant [ən]. The class pattern is also shown: the higher the socioeconomic status, the less [ən] is used.

(Source: Chambers 1995: 110)