Female language, whether spoken or written language has its own unique characteristics. The following tries to describe the major features of female language from these perspectives: phonology, vocabulary, grammar, conversational topics and styles.
A. In Phonology
Famous phonetician O‟Conner (1973) has pointed out that pronunciation was once a marker of social status and Kuwabara (1984) also stated that verbal signal is a complex acoustics activity and it conveys not only the content of language, but also the information regarding the speaker’s identity, personality and feelings.
In Phonology, features of women’s language are mainly present in pronunciation, pitch and tone.
Pronunciation provides the best evidence of gender-based language forms. In general, women’s pronunciation tends to be more “correct”, more standard than men’s. This idea can be illustrated with the following examples.
Example 1.The suffix-ing has different pronunciations in male and female usage. In Norwich (east England), women pronounce-ing, phonetically transcribed as [η] while men pronounce [n].Women pronounce the word working as [‟wз:king] while men pronounce this word as [‟wз:kin].
Example 2.Men and women’s pronunciations are different when they pronounce the initial [h].As for the word home, women pronounce [hзum] while men pronounce [‟зum]. In a word, many studies have shown that women’s pronunciation generally approximates more closely to those of the standard language than do men’s pronunciation of the same social background, age and so on.
Numerous documents have shown that high pitch is one of the distinguished features of women’s language and women usually speak in higher pitch than men. Robin Lakoff asserted that women use “a peculiar sentence intonation pattern—which changes a declarative answer into a question”.
Sometimes women are inclined to use the rising pitch to answer the general questions. For example, when the husband asks his wife, perhaps the wife answers: When do you want to go to the store? /Oh…about four-thirty?
Obviously the intonation, which the wife uses, contains hesitance and inquiry.
Women’s changeable tone can express their rich emotions and sounds more gentle and affectionate. Especially in
British and American society, women usually use reverse accent, which greatly shows the gentleness of women’s tone.
They often use rising tone when answering men’s questions. This speech style will make people feel at ease and comfortable. For example:
Husband: When will dinner be ready?
Wife: of…around six o’clock↑?
In this example, obviously wife is cooking and she knows when the dinner can be ready, but she answers her husband with rising tone, thus this tone has shown the wife’s gentleness.