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The gender peculiarities of discourse

In the light of discussing the pragmatic compliment-making patterns in male and female discourse, it would be appropriate to outline some general gender peculiarities of mental spaces and discourse.

In the process of communication, both the speaker and the listener are considered as the subjects of verbal interaction. The category of gender, reflecting the social and cultural aspects of the biological sex fixed by the language, is one of the relevant parameters of communication subjects. The gender factor influences the processes of concept formation and interpretation in the language consciousness of a given individual (a man or a woman), thus having a great impact on their verbal behaviour. The gender-determined peculiarities of the speech behaviour of a language personality are conditioned by the differential characteristics of the mental spaces of individuals belonging to opposite sexes and fulfilling different social roles prescribed for women and men. Along these lines, it will be quite logical to assume that the structure and content of gender-marked concepts in male consciousness differ from the structure and content of the corresponding concepts in female consciousness, which naturally causes distinctions in the strategies and tactics of the speech behaviour of men and women (Harrington et al. 2008, Goddard and Mean 2009).

However, the formation of gender-sensitive cognitive structures cannot be analysed without putting them in the general context of the sociolinguistic mental representation of the world (mental space 1) that an individual has. In the process of socialization, the individual develops a certain vision of the world manifested in a particular language and, subsequently, in the discourse process. This vision of the world is traditionally termed the language picture of the world, or mental space 2, in our terminology. Both mental spaces inevitably include the gender dominants of consciousness which impact considerably the way the environment is perceived and result in certain gender stereotypes peculiar to each individual. Thus, the society attributes to men and women particular norms of behaviour, including speech behaviour patterns, typical of all communication registers, including compliment discourse.

For example, men’s speech is characterized by accuracy, explicitness and the frequent use of terms. Men strive for, and take advantage of, the length and frequency of speaking, especially in the conditions of formal group interaction in which men feel more confident. Men’s speech reveals the tendency to restrain positive emotions and to express negative ones, sing obscene words and expressions frequently and deviating from the established norms of conversation. Men perceive dialogue as an exchange of information that leads to the solution of problems, thus focusing on the informative function of the communicative message, whereas the interactive function of communication (maintenance of contact with the speech partner) is of secondary importance to men. Besides, dialogue in men’s realization is structured on the principle of intercepting the initiative in speech interaction (Spender 1985). In other words, the competing way of conducting the dialogue with the purpose of realizing one’s own communicative intention is peculiar for men. Men tend to hide drawbacks and to accentuate their advantages and high aspirations, thus men are more categorical in arguing and upholding their opinion (Harrington et al. 2008).

The common feature of the speech behaviour of many men seems to be the phenomenon of the so-called psychological “deafness”, which is reflected in men’s concentration on their themes and a lack of attention towards the interests and needs of their speech partners. In this connection, the male type of communications is characterized as more dynamic, but less flexible, than female communicative pattern (see some amazing examples of this in Rogers 2007).

Men are quite receptive of new language forms, owing to which their speech is rich in neologisms and terms. Their speech is less emotional, which is expressed in the limited use of stylistic means, whereas female speech turns out to be more conservative but quite a lot more emotional. In the context of our research special attention is given to the investigation of evaluative communication, namely, of appraisal. Some specifics of expressing the positive evaluation of a woman’s appearance by a man can be demonstrated by the following example:

(2) “Why haven’t I been told about her before? That’s what I call a girl! What a looker she is!”-“Oh, really?” she said. “That’s funny. I never heard of anyone that thought that. I’ve heard people say she was sort of nice- looking, if she wouldn’t make up so much. But I never heard of anyone that thought she was pretty.”-“Pretty is right,” he said. “What a couple of eyes she’s got on her!” (Ahern 2008: 24)

Using a number of exclamatory sentences, such as “that’s what I call a girl!”,what a looker she is!”,what a couple of eyes she’s got on her”, the speaker gives an expressive positive evaluation of a woman’s appearance. In the first and the third cases this evaluation is expressed only by means of syntactic structure, as no lexical units with positive connotation are used. In the second sentence the evaluative component of the statement is expressed both syntactically and lexically. The semantic component “attractive” is represented in the semantic structure of the lexeme looker explicitly: looker—someone who is attractive, usually a woman (LDCE 2001: 848). An attempt of the female speech partner to deny the man’s words “I never heard of anyone that thought she was pretty” results in a communicative failure. The man shows firmness in the upholding of his opinion, finishing by restating his point: “Pretty is right Г

The features potentially peculiar to men’s and women’s communicative styles, are represented in their speech stochastically, that is with a certain degree of probability. Therefore, the verbal behaviour of an individual man or woman does not necessarily reflect the whole set of male or female language preferences and discourse strategies. Moreover, under certain social conditions “domination”, for instance, can become one of the characteristic features of women’s speech behaviour. Frequently, the social role prevails over the gender factor, thus telling on the speech behaviour of an individual. It is obvious that under the influence of the social status gender characteristics of the speaker could fade. Due to the considerable changes in a society, gender-determined norms of behaviour (speech behaviour as well) change dramatically but not quite as rapidly. The dynamics of these changes leads to the redistribution of gender stereotypes. However, the sphere of compliment-making seems to be one of the most stable communicative spheres least susceptible to social changes, although readily reflecting them.

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