Gender and language differences are integral field of study in sociolinguistics that accounts for the way language is used in the society and the choices people make when speaking. This is usually complemented by pragmatics. A number of studies have been done on gender and language differences, however, there appears to be inadequate research on the socio-pragmatic investigation of gender and language differences in these African literary texts; Ama Atta Aidoo’s Change and Chimamanda N. Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun and applying Speech Acts and Mood system as analytical tool of study. Therefore, the study investigated the language differences of both genders and how they relate to context in the selected texts.
The study employed both the qualitative and quantitative methods of analysis to foreground the differences in the language choices of both. Using the purposive random sampling technique, a total of twenty inter-gender dialogues were selected from Ama Atta Aidoo’s Changes and Chimamanda N. Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. For data analysis, the research employed Speech Acts by J. L. Austin and J. Searle and Mood Systems tool as propounded by M.A.K Halliday.
Findings showed diverse language features in utterances made by male and female interlocutors in the selected African texts. It was discovered that within the socio-cultural context of love, marriage and family events, men and women language differed. In Changes, male interlocutors used more indicative interrogatives, directives, tag questions and minimal responses while female interlocutors used more indicative declaratives, imperatives, assertives and expressives hedges, polite expressions and intensifiers. In Half of a Yellow Sun, male interlocutors used more indicative declaratives, commissives, expressives, intensifiers, vernacular, polite expressions and hedges while female interlocutors used more indicative interrogatives, assertives, directives, tag questions and minimal responses. Within physical, socio-cultural and psychological contexts as identified in the texts, it was discovered that socio-cultural context dominates the texts in form of marriage and family events.
The study concluded that males interrogate more while females expressed more of simple, polite but emphatic sentences. However, the study discovered that context is the ultimate determinant of human language choices.
Keywords: Gender, Speech Acts, Mood System, Inferior Language and Superior Language
Word Count: 475
1.1 Background to the Study
A crucial distinction between human beings and animals is to a large extent the way we communicate with one another. Human beings use words to express emotions, thoughts and information of any kind. In each language use, words are constructed in a particular way and it is inspiring to know that when studying written or verbal words, it is quite possible to ascertain whether a word belongs to one gender or another even when the person has no clue about the gender of the one communicating.
Language, according to Osisanwo (2008:1), is human vocal noise or the arbitrary graphic representation of this noise, used systematically and conventionally by members of a speech community for purposes of communication. It is important to know that language is a human attribute. It has a graphic representation which is in form of text, used in different ways by members of a society to communicate their feelings, intentions, fears, anger and roles.
Language is a means of communication used by people of the same sex or opposite sex to accomplish such functions as ordering, promising, arguing, and so on. In essence, any communicative function needs to be carried out within a context, which may either be situational, interpersonal or social and cultural. In the process of communication, language users are expected to be in possession of two sets of capabilities: They should have knowledge of the forms of language they use and must know how to use this knowledge in negotiating meaning. In order to clarify meaning, the speakers and hearers or writers and readers should be able to interact meaningfully as context influences meaning.
Gender and language have become an interesting topic which linguists have investigated over time. Early studies in linguistic anthropology see Lakoff (1973, 1975) J. Coates (1988), Fishman (1980), Zimmerman (1975) and many others looked at the differences between women’s and men’s speeches across languages to identify distinct female and male language features. Focusing on the findings by Lakoff (1975), among speakers from similar social class, women tend to use more standard and formal language forms which are characterized by, intensifiers, hedges, tag question sentences, minimal responses, exclamation remarks, polite expressions and indirect expressions. While men use more of vernacular, taboo words, proverbs, command expressions, interruptions, strategic language in order to control conversations and less minimal responses to mention but a few. Lakoff in his book Language and women’s place concludes that women’s language is inferior while men’s language is superior. According to the findings, the difference in men and women’s language features reflects a power imbalance between the sexes
However, according to Lakoff (1975), there are different views why men and women possess different language features. To him, women belong to the minority group which is oppressed and marginalized and women belong to different subcultures, and their differing conversational styles reflect these subcultures. Also is the view that women’s language is weak, hesitance and lack confidence. As a result, women’s language features present women as powerless, incapable of holding power and of presenting their point of view forcefully.
Holmes (1992:16) posits that “the aim of sociolinguistics is to move towards a theory which provides a motivated account of the way language is used in a community, and of the choices people make when they use language”. Dong Jinyu (2014) states that the main content of sociolinguistics is the study of the relationships between language and society that is; it majors on the study of language structure and social context.
Bucholtz (1999) in his own view emphasizes that what is needed in the study of the differences in gender language is a form of analysis which is less focused on the individual woman or man and trends of speech in the society as a whole, but more focused on the way context and individual mutually shape the manner in which the interaction takes place. This study therefore, investigated the differences in gender language use of interlocutors as it relates to context in the selected text – Ama Atta Adio’s Changes and Adichies’ Half of a Yellow Sun.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Different scholars have recognized and taken interest in the language use and creative prowess of Ama Atta Aidoo’s Changes and Chimamanda’s Half of a Yellow Sun. However, most of the studies available on these literary texts are mostly on theme, creative processes and aesthetics; little attention is given to linguistic studies like socio-pragmatic investigation of the language difference of genders and how it relates to context. This study investigated the different language features of the interlocutors, contexts, speech acts and mood types of male and female characters in the selected texts, hence the question, do women in all contexts truly reflect powerless language as opposed to their male counterparts? The study adopted insights from Wardhaughs’ theory of “difference” in the language differences of genders.
1.3 Objectives of the Study
The main objectives of this study is to investigate the gender language differences in Changes by Ama Atta Adio and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adichie. The specific objectives are to:
- examine what context influenced the language use of men and women in Changes by Ama Atta Adio and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adichie;
- investigate the predominant gender language features employed by men in Changes by Ama Atta Adio and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adichie;
- examine the language features of women within their sub-cultural settings in Changes by Ama Atta Adio and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adichie and
- investigate the predominant mood types and speech acts implored by men and women in Changes by Ama Atta Adio and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adichie.
1.4 Research Questions
- What is the influence of context on the language choices of men and women in Changes by Ama Atta Aidoo and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adichie?
- What predominant gender language features were employed by men in Changes by Ama Atta Aidoo and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adichie?
- What predominant gender language features were employed by women in Changes by Ama Atta Aidoo and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adichie?
- What predominant mood types and speech acts are employed by women and men in Changes by Ama Atta Aidoo and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda N. Adichie?
1.5 Scope of the Study
This study focused on the socio-pragmatic features of gender language differences as it relates to context in the selected texts. Two gender based texts have been selected as the data for this study, both by female authors; Changes by Ama Ata Aido, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda. The choice of texts arose from the need to do a thorough and unbiased study on issues around gender language differences (language features of men and women) reason being that only a detailed analysis will enable useful understanding of this study.
1.6 Significance of the Study
It is evident that many studies have been on the difference in the language of men and women and many studies have also been carried out on Changes by Ama Atta Aidoo and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie, few studies have investigated the issues of gender and language differences using these two literatures as a case study to find out the impact of context on language use of both genders.
Bucholtz, (1999) states that what is needed is a form of analysis which is less focused on the individual woman or man and trends of speech in the society as a whole, but more focused on the way context and individual mutually shape the way interaction takes place. This study bridged the gap by investigating the gender language differences as it relates to context in Changes by Ama Atta Adioo and Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie.
1.7 Justification for the Study
Sociolinguistics is concerned with language in social and cultural contexts and it focuses on how we use language to accomplish acts (e.g. apologies, declarations, etc) in our different settings. Speech act is a theory propounded by J.L.Austin (1962) and J. Searle (1975) who believe that we cannot account for the use and meaning of language in the absence of context. In Pragmatics, speech act conveys the actual intention of a language user. Hence, the investigation of gender language differences as it relates to context becomes vital and necessary.
1.8 Theoretical Framework
The theoretical framework for this study is J. Searle’s and J.L. Austin’s Speech Acts theory. Speech act focuses on language use in a particular context. This theory explains the role of utterances in shaping the attitudes of the individuals in different forms of interpersonal communication which has to do with the actual intention of the speaker and the effects it has on the hearer. According to them, in every utterance (Speech Act), the actions of promising, requesting, predicting, confirming, etc. are performed.
This study also adopted M.A.K Halliday’s Mood Structure, which is an aspect of Systemic Functional Grammar. Mood is a system through which interpersonal meanings are realized within an exchange. Eggins (2004) posits that language involves interactions where we initiate or respond to the act of giving or demanding for goods-and-services or information Eggins (2004). Therefore, Halliday and Mathiessssen (2004) regard this function of giving or demanding for goods and services or information as one of exchange. Within mood is a choice between imperative and indicative. If indicative is chosen, there is a choice between declarative and interrogative and if imperative there is a choice between jussive and non-jussive.
There have been some discussions on the sociolinguistic approaches applied in the study of gender and language so far. According to Coates (1988), the research on language and gender is divided into studies that focus on dominance and those which concentrate on difference in language features of men and women. The first to pioneer this field was Lakoff (1973) whose work confirmed that women’s speech had some features that were different from men’s speech. Women have tendency to use forms which help them express uncertainty related to what they are talking about. In Lakoff’s view, some language aspects consisting of lexical distinctions, tag questions, strength of directive speech acts, strong versus weak expletives, question intonation with statement syntax are more associated with women than with men. Women who use these features are not only considered to be weak, but also inferior and powerless.
1.9 Synopsis of the Selected Texts
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi’s novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2007), is a prose work about the Biafran war in the 1960s. Adichie draws from a page of modern African history and writes about the traumatizing effects of the civil war on the lives of several individuals. Having their privileged lives swept up by the war, Olanna, her lover, Odenigbo, and Ugwu, are obliged to flee to the villages of Eastern Nigeria, where they must endure the chilling violence of war and have their values and morality challenged under dire circumstances.
Undoubtedly, Half of a Yellow Sun is the master piece of a devoted female African writer about the experiences of women and their multiple struggles that reflect their roles in the gender circle more especially is their language use. Her work made it clearer to scholars that as much as men have their roles in social, political, and economical privileges just because they are men, women in their individual and domestic corners also play roles through language to reflect same or even more roles. Therefore, Adichie’s novel is dominated by women from different social classes with the determination of surviving the test of life and the hope of improving upon it. An example is aged mothers keeping the village tradition, female lecturers, with some contradicting cultures by living together with the same boyfriend under the same roof as in the case of Olanna and Kainene. Some others out rightly changed their gender roles like Mrs Muokelu who would “have been better off born a man” (p: 270). Other expressions such as “do you not have your own flat and your own job? You must never behave as if your life belongs to a man, do you hear me? Your life belongs to you and you alone” (p: 203) and many other expressions.
Changes by Ama Ata Aidoo
The Ghanaian author; Ama Ata Aidoo in addition to addressing a wide range of issues of concern to Feminist/Womanist thought like the ways female children become women, the meaning of marriage for women, where women‘s work fits into their lives, or women‘s sexuality, the author remarkably gives a sense of structural and linguistic irony which is functional signifying a couple of things like no language is powerless or inferior but contexts determines what we say and how we say it.
Changes as a love story is a novel that explores the changes that working women in Africa must face in their marriages and families while men’s lives remain unaltered. After Esi divorces Oko, she has more time to focus on her career, but after she remarries to Ali Kondey, she must find a balance between being a career woman, a wife, and a friend to Opokuya who encounters problems in her marriage of a different nature.