Is There a “Women’s Language”?

Recently, the world lost the last speaker of a “women’s language” in China.  This language was one created and spoken exclusively by women so that they could discuss their lives with one another.  Is there also a “women’s language” here?

While, obviously, women and men both speak English, the ways in which women use language can express qualities that some associate with “being female,” and these can be very positive.  Some of these ways women speak have been derided as being passive and weak and women have, for years, been told to speak more like men, especially if they are in, or seeking, positions of power.  But, perhaps some of these ways can be looked at differently.  For example, women tend, the experts say, to make statements into questions.  This, they claim, makes it sound as if women aren’t sure of what they are stating.  Or, could it be that they are inviting dialogue, that they are creating relationships rather than simply declaiming facts?  That they are acknowledging that no one can be sure of just about anything and they want to know what others think and believe?  That they value the opinions of the person to whom they are speaking and not only their own?  

Women are also criticised for speaking softly.  But, does not nature so often speak powerfully in just this way in the opening of a rose bloom or the quiet gurgle of a river that has flowed for thousands of years or the cascade of a leaf onto the ground in the fall?  When we speak softly, we invite others to tell us how they truly feel, knowing that we will listen and not overshout them.  As long as we also know when to speak loudly and make our voices heard, speaking softly can bring gentleness into a world where almost nothing is needed more urgently.

When I edit women’s writing or listen to women speak, I will frequently find that women are more likely to express themselves in a way that brings ideas together rather than separating them.   Could this not be a way of communicating wholistically, showing the greater whole when one does not divide and classify?  How much more  do you taste a sundae when you read “vanilla ice cream with hot fudge sauce and nuts and whipped cream and a cheery on top” than “vanilla ice cream, hot fudge sauce, nuts, whipped cream, and a cherry”?   How much more do you feel the flow that is how life is actually expressed when you read “Today I witnessed the sunrise and counted the geese flying across the noontime sky and then lay in the field and sang to the stars” than “Today I watched the sunrise, counted geese, and sang to stars”?

Women’s writing, especially when they are communicating casually with one another, may have lots of !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and other indicators of emotion.  Some may call this hysterical; I call it enthusiastic and expressive of feeling, giving a sense of the person behind the words and how she perceives what she is writing about.  If I had to choose a lunch companion with whom I knew I could discuss real issues in my real life and who would show compassion and understanding, I would much rather go with a “!” than a “.”.

The differences in the way women and men speak and write are important.  Language is important and shapes how we view the world.  If we want a world that has balance; that values women and the way they think, then we must also value those aspects of communication that present and foster those human qualities that we associate with women.

6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. motherwintermoon
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 20:51:38

    This is a wonderful and constructively empowering post.

    Hmm…this is an example of my womanly mode of communication…I always put “constructively” in front of the word “empowering” or “empowerment” due to my awareness that self-empowerment can be destructive and hurtful, not always constructive or beneficial.

    Thank you! (Notice the exclamation point 🙂 Love what you wrote about women’s proclivity to pose questions as opposed to statements.

    I’m so glad you stopped by to visit me, allowing me to find your beautiful blog and join you in celebration of women’s spirituality and the everyday Goddess. I look forward to reading more. Adding your link, with pleasure.

    Reply

  2. carolynlboyd
    Sep 16, 2007 @ 21:38:27

    Thank you so much! I’m delighted you stopped by and enjoyed the blog. I will also gladly add your link!

    Reply

  3. motherwintermoon
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 18:53:07

    I posted today about Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes and had to drop by here to leave the quote from it below. It resonates with the spirit of this post and your place here in cyberspace…

    “Because women have a soul-need to express themselves in their own soulful ways, they must develop and blossom in ways that are sensible to them and without molestation from others.”

    Reply

  4. carolynlboyd
    Sep 19, 2007 @ 20:40:57

    I will definitely come over and read your post because I love Women Who Run with the Wolves and that quote also. The “without molestation from others” part is so important; once you start looking, it is amazing how many ways women’s voices are silenced. Once you are determined to speak anyway, powerful things happen. Thank you!

    Reply

  5. Suzanne Reynolds-Alpert
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 14:30:32

    Great post! Important topic. I am also very interested in women’s language. Language in general has so much to say about the prevailing culture and values within a society.

    If you have not done so yet, read Native Tongue by Suzette Hagen Elgin. An amazing exploration into what “women’s language” may look like. The author actually created the language, Laadan (sp?) for the book and it has published the rules of grammar and pronunciation.

    In any case, the book is a classic of women’s dystopian fiction. I am hoping to write about this and other classics of women’s dystopian fiction in an upcoming article for The Beltane Papers, focusing on how women’s religion is conceived of.

    It’s on my to-do list 🙂

    Reply

  6. carolynlboyd
    Sep 26, 2007 @ 14:36:42

    Thank you! I will definitely find that book – it sounds fascinating! I actually got the idea for this post when I was proofreading the last issue of the The Beltane Papers. So often I would come across a non-standard sentence construction or use of a word and scratch my head wondering if I should change it or leave it. Then I realized that if The Beltane Papers is going to be a voice for women, we need to honor women’s language choices when they are intentionally made and add to the meaning of the piece.

    I will also pass along your hope to write that article to the other members of TBP’s production team so that we can all be looking for it!

    Reply

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