Earliest Discussion of the Existence of Women's Language
An excerpt from "Men and Women in Conversation: An Analysis of Gender Styles in Language"
by SUSAN GITHENS
In 1922, Otto Jespersen published the very first piece in modern linguistics concerning "women's language." In his book he devotes an entire chapter entitled, "The Woman," to describing differences in women's compared to men's speech and voice pitch. He describes women's vocabulary as less extensive, keeping them in what he refers to as the central field of language -- the "indispensable small-change of a language" (Frank, p. 48). He claims that the periphery of language and the development of new words is only for men's speech. Jespersen attributes these differences to the early division of labor between the sexes. In his conclusion he claims that the social changes taking place at the time "'may eventually modify even the linguistic relations of the two sexes'" (Frank, p. 48). Perhaps Jespersen was predicting the very speech styles that sociolinguists today are studying.
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