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Rühlemann, Christoph (2010): Conversational Grammar- Feminine Grammar? A Sociopragmatic Corpus Study. In: Journal of English Linguistics, Vol. 38, No. 1: pp. 56-87 [PDF, 523kB]


One area in language and gender research that has so far received only little attention is the extent to which the sexes make use of what recent corpus research has termed “conversational grammar.” The author’s initial findings have suggested that the majority of features distinctive of conversational grammar may be used predominantly by female speakers. This article reports on a study designed to test the hypothesis that conversational grammar is “feminine grammar” in the sense that women’s conversational language is more adapted to the conversational situation than men’s. Based on data from the conversational subcorpus of the British National Corpus and following the situational framework for the description of conversational features elaborated in the author’s previous research, features distinctive of conversational grammar are grouped into five functional categories and their normed frequencies compared across the sexes. The functional categories distinguish features that can be seen as adaptations to constraints set by the situational factors of (1) Shared Context, (2) Co-Construction, (3) Real-Time Processing, (4) Discourse Management, and (5) Relation Management. The study’s results, described in detail in relation to the biological category of speaker sex and cultural notions of gender, suggest that the feminine grammar hypothesis is valid.

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