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A sex-related attitude study in word choice: the case of Turkish cypriots.


Language is a primary means of communication, however; the language use of individuals differs in many ways. The differences, in fact, con be related to the nature of language as well as to other variables such as educational background, age, power relations, social status and individual peculiarities. In Fasold's (1986) point of view, one of the significant peculiarities of an individual to be specifically taken into consideration in the analysis of language use is the sex variable.

Bir bildirisim acaci olan dilin kullanimi bireyden bireye degisebilmektedir. Dil kullaniminda bireyler arasi farkliliklarin ortaya cikmasinda yas, egitim durumu, sosyal konum, guc olgusu ye cinsiyet gibi cesitli bagimsiz degiskenler etken olmaktadir. Bu degiskenlerin en onemlilerinden biri de cinsiyettir.

Cinsiyet biyolojik bir degisken olmakla birlikte dil kullaniminda onemli farkhhklarin olusmasina yol acmaktadir. Bu farkhhklarin en onemli gostergesi bireyin dil kullanimi sirasindaki tutum ve davranis bicimleridir. Ornegin, kadinlar anadillerinde gerek sozcuk gerekse sozdizimsel baglamda daha duyarh davranirlarken erkeklerde bu duyarlik gorulmemektedir.

Bu calismada evrensel bir bagimsiz degisken olan cinsiyet olgusunun dil baglaminda yabanci sozcuklere karsi olan tutumun Kibris agzindaki yerinin saptanmasina cahsilmistir.

1.0. Theoretical Framework

Many researchers have studied the relationship between language use and the sex variable. Taylor's (1951) Caraib study is cited very frequently by them. In fact, gender differences in language farm have existed within linguistic studies since the early part of the 19th century. Sapir's study 'Abnormal Types of Speech in Nootka' identifies sex and rank as the two dimensions of social identity and language use (Philips, 1987). In a later study entitled 'Male and Female Forms of Speech in Yana', Sapir (1925) specifically noticed that unlike men, women chose native words while talking in their mother toungue. The cultural linguistic forms were either translated or explained by means of the mother tongue by the women of Yana. However, this was not the procedure men had followed. They used the foreign concept as in the genuine form. In the light of his findings, Sapir pointed out the relationship among mother tongue awareness, culture and sex.

Later in 1944, Haas carried out a study in Koasti language and he found significant differences between the language use of men and women. These differences were mainly related to the use of foreign concepts. While men preferred the use foreign concepts in their speech as a symbol of respectability, women showed the similar attitude to the purified form of Yana women as pointed out by Sapir in 1925. The findings of Sapir (1925) were supported with the fact that human psychology is indexed in language use and behavior (Hill, Ikuta, Kawasaki, Ogino, 1968).

The relationship between language and sex was pointed out by Lakoff (1973), too. In one of her studies, she expressed that various words which were not used by men existed the verbal repertoire of women. For instance, women never use the word bitch whereas men get a great deal of enjoyment from its use. Deck is another word that women do not use. In Lakoff's point of view, this was closely related to sex.

Another important finding can be seen in Yoichi's (1992) study in which she points out that Japanese women's mother tongue awareness is significant when compared to Japanese men. In her study, Yoici explored how men freely used foreign words and concepts in their daily speech without paying attention to the linguistic norms of Japanese language. According to Yoichi, Japanese people in general are very sensitive when it comes to their cultural values including their language which is also a part of that culture. However, the language use of men cannot be considered within the framework of this theoretical assumption. Another study was carried out by Kuniyoishi (1997)who stated that unlike women, men very significantly use foreign words - specifically the Dutch words like unschon/ugly, unreell/unfair - in their native tongue.

Another example related to this study is the Korean situation. In Shim's (1994) view, Korean people do not show any signs of loyalty to their mother tongue. However, when men's speech and women's speech are analysed on the basis of the lexicon, it can be seen very clearly that Korean women are very conscious about their language. In other words, the rate of frequency of the foreign words in women's speech is insignificant when compared to men's.

Baik (1993), also points out that Chinese people are very loyal to their culture. However, this cultural sensitivity and loyalty cannot be observed when language use is taken into consideration. In a way, his findings regarding the language use of the Chinese and the findings of Yoichi related to Japanese men correspond significantly.

Phillips (1980) states that British people do not reflect significant language loyalty; however, when language loyalty is questioned on the basis of sex, it becomes obvious that women are very conscious of their language use. The findings of Phillips are similar to Shim's (1991) and Baik's (1993).

The study of Ochs (1986) in Western Samoa reflects the difference in language use on the basis of sex. Ochs, like Trudgill (1982), investigates the social class differences, the place and the status of women in the society. According to Ochs, men in Western Samoa use foreign words in their speeh very frequently. Besides, they violate the syntactic rules of the language. On the other hand, women's speech is very close to the standard form.

In another study carried out in New Guinea, Moylan (1982) points out that men at the same social strata tend to use non-standard language full of foreign words specifically taken from French . On the other hand, women display a great deal of positive attitude towards their mother tongue. This type of positive attitude towards mother tongue can be clearly seen in the studies of Hill (1986) carried out in Mexico, and Gordon (1997) and Holmes'(1997) in New Zeland. These research findings are clear reflection of psychological sensitivity of women toward mother tongue (Hill, Ikuta, Kawasaki, Ogino, 1968).

As can be understood from the studies summarised above, the attitude of women towards the use of standard forms of mother tongue is virtually a universal tendency. This point is further supported by Cicero's view that women master standard speech forms better than men already put forward (Chambers, 1995).

To sum up, sex is a very important variable in the use of codified form - without foreign words - and it reflects a universal value. Is this universal variable effective in the Turkish case?

2.0. The Study

2.1. The Questionnaire (2)

This study was based on quantitative research principles. In this line of thought, an attitude questionnaire was developed. According to Fishbein and Icek (1975), the best design to be applied in attitude studies is bi-polar bi-regional scales. (1) In their point of view, bi-polar bi-regional scales precisely measure the attitudes of participants.

The questionnaire had two parts. In part one, detailed background information about the participants such as age, sex ,education, parents' education, foreign language competence, the occupation of their parents, the school they graduated from and so forth was requested. In the second part, 20 neutral statements were placed on a bi-polar bi-regional scale. The statements, although not directive, all sought attitude differences related to sex variable.

2.2. The Participants

In this study 2,700 university students took part. The main reason for selecting students was basicly related to the idea that students represent the social stratum significantly. In Kirbik's point of view (1977), if the social strata are not presented, than the reliability and the validity of the study can be regarded as insignificant.

Another theoretical point which was taken into consideration in the study is the sampling universe. According to Sankoff (1989), the sampling population should be representative. Thus, the sex ratio of the participants was balanced. In other words, 1350 male and 1350 female university students from 10 different universities (5 universities in North Cyprus and 5 universities in major cities in Turkey) took part in the study. All the participants in this study were Turkish Cypriots.

2.3. Statistical Evaluation

In the analysis of the questionnaire items, in fact, 20 questionnaire items in part B differentiated the attitudinal difference of the participants on the basis of sex in relation to the lexicon.

In this part, only five items will be evaluated since this will give us a significant sampling.

As it can be seen in Table 1, the frequency of the male students was 41.8 with a variance of 9.23146 and these figures were gathered on -1 on a bi-polar bi-regional scale, which reflects an insignificant L1 awareness. On the other hand, the statistical figures of the female students were significant. The point of attention was +2 on the scale. +2 is an ideal m point on the scale. This means the female participants are sensitive to their mother tongue.

The figures in Table 2 support the figures in Table 1. The male students' answers were placed on +1, which means they have a significant tendency to use foreign words in their speech. In other words, they reflect an insignificant mother tongue attitude. When the female results are observed, a clear difference is seen. Their answers to the question is on the ideal point with a significant variance. In other words, they are against the use of foreign words in their L1. (see Appendix 2)

The figures of the male students underline the fact that mother tongue use is not related to specific norms. In other words, male students do not consider the rules of their L1. The m point, which is 0, along with frequency and variance support the statement made above. On the other hand, the figures of the female students show a great sensitivity to the mother tongue norms, i.e. standard norms. (see Appendix 1 for non standard forms)

As can be understood from the table, male students display a neutral reaction towards the use of foreign words in L1 context. On the other hand, female students show a significant resistance towards the use of foreign lexical items. In other words, female students seem to be very sensitive to their mother tongue.


The statistical figures clearly show that sex in Turkish society is a very significant variable in language use. The mother toungue awareness or attitude is closely linked to sex difference. In the light of our statistical results, it can be said that female speakers reflect a very sensitive attitude towards their mother tongue. On the other hand, male speakers remain neutral towards the use of foreign words. The most important finding of this study is the tendency of female participants in using the standard Turkish. A tendency to use standard language means the avoidance of foreign words and borrowings (Osam, 1997). Another finding is related to human psychology. Female participants reflected insignificant individual language-related psychological deviation. This means that they are psychologically conditioned for significant resistance towards loan words. However, the same cannot be said for the male participants. They showed no significant mother tongue awareness according to the statistical results of th e study.

In conclusion, it can be said that standard language use is a psychological reinforcement for the process of language purification at every level-lexical, syntactic, morphological-, and sex is the main impetus in the whole process.

Appendix: I

Selected Examples from Loaned Words in Turkish Speech/Yabanci Kokenli Sozcuklerden Ornekler

....informal mahiyette ...

..bu alanda fidbekler aldim.

Fonmal bir gandem size dagitmadik.

....cok yuksek karrileysini var.

o sinifi elektronik klasrum yapacagiz.

Sozu X bey de lid edebilir.

.. eger cok regular bir is ise..

Bir sure sonra netvorkumuz asagi inebilir.

isterseniz o elektronik klasrumu derhal devreye sokalim.

Benim droftlarimi arada aliyorlar ve cok effisent oluyor.

...aitacmentler ve saire..

,,,server denen sey gitmistir.

...iki server arasinda bir bric var.

...yu pi es leri ogrenci serverine koyacagiz.

...treynink anlaminda mi ?

Bilgisayarda locin oluyor...

Arastirma gorevlisi arkadasin iyi treyin edilmesi lazim.

....administratif isler var ....

...bana assayin either..

..cok hat bir konu.

..kontaktpersan olsun...

X aslinda multifanksinal bir adam.

X onunla iyi kaminikeyin kuruyor.

Bazi siniflari dort seksin yaptik

Bizim seksinlari cogaltmamiz lazim.

Birkac sinifi partisinlarla bolersek belki ojur.

Olay cok triki. Gercekten cok triki bir konu

Sunu soylemek istiyorum, daha spesifik olmaliyiz.

Yazacagimiz kitaplar kontent yonunden iyi olabilir.

Cogunun bekravind. ELT de degil.

....hizmetici bir treynink ya da selfdevelopment gibi birsey yapilmali

...bir profesinal trek olsun.

..YOK'un durumu bariyer degil.

..YOK isi maynir goruyor...

...promosyonda sertifika onemli degil ... bu profesinal digri degil tabii..ama yuksek lisansta promosin var

..kayitlarda bircok gracuit goruluyor.

...projelere cok involv olmuslar..muhendislikte ogrenciler cok irregular...

..yonetim bakimindan reddetmek gibi bircok keyzler oluyor.

..konuyu USIS'in denote etme durumu var.

...elimizdeki meyin kaynaklari kullanmaliyiz..ogrencileri follovap etmeliyiz.

..bunlarin cogu kominikeysin sorunu...boylece effisent olamiyoruz.

..kontaktpersin olsun...

X aslinda multifanksinal bir adam.

X onunla iyi kominikeysin kuruyor.

Bazi siniflari dort seksin yaptik

Bizim seksinlari cogaltmamiz lazim.

Birkac sinifi partisinlarla bolersek belki olur.

Olay cok triki. Gercekten cok triki bir konu

Sunu soylemek istiyorum, daha spesifik olmaliyiz.

Yazacagimiz kitaplar kontent yonunden iyi olabilir.

Cogunun bekravindi ELT de degil.

....hizmetici bir treynink ya da selfdevelopment gibi birsey yapilmali

...bir profesinal trek olsun.

...YOK'un durumu bariyer degil.

...YOK isi maynir goruyor...

...promosyonda sertifika onemli degil ... bu professinal digri degil tabii..ama yuksek lisansta promosin var

..kayitlarda bircok gracuit gorouluyar.

...projelere cok involv olmuslar..muhendislikte ogrenciler cok irregular...

..yonetim bakimindan reddetmek gibi bircok keyzler oluyor.

..konuyu USIS'in denote etme durumu var.

...elimizdeki meyin kaynaklari kullanmaliyiz..ogrencileri follovap etmeliyiz.

..bunlarin cogu kominikeysin sorunu...boylece effisent olamiyoruz.
Table 1

Mother tongue awareness

sex n: 2700 m f v

 1 1350 -1 41.8 9.23146
 2 1350 +2 81.2 13.538112

1 male

2 female

Table 2

Tendency towards foreign words

sex n: 2700 m f v

 1 1350 +1 51.3 11.231461
 2 1350 -2 83.4 17.492412

1 male

2 female

Table 3

Application of language norms

sex n: 2700 m f v

 1 1350 0 53.3 12.000121
 2 1350 +2 81.2 13.538345

1 male

2 female

Table 4


sex n: 2700 m f v

 1 1350 0 50.1 10.9916
 2 1350 +3 84.1 18.651

1 male

2 female

(1.) The bi-polar bi regional scales are designed to measure the attitudes of the research precisely either in positive or in negative way. For details refer to A. N. Oppenheim, (1996). Questionnaire Design, Interviewing and Attitude Measurement. London: Pinter Publishers.

(2.) See Appendix II.


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Necdet Osam *

* Assist. Prof. Dr. Necdet Osam, Dept. of English Language Teaching, Eastern Mediterranean University, Gazimagusa, North Cyprus (via Mersin-10, Turkey)
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Author:Osam, Necdet
Publication:Kadin/Woman 2000
Geographic Code:4EXCY
Date:Dec 1, 2001
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