Differences in the usage of finite adverbial concessive clauses. A replication study of "Gender Differences in English Syntax" by Britta Mondorf

Term Paper 2015 16 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Linguistics




1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Preliminaries
2.1 Definition and Semantic Function of Adverbial Concessive Clauses
2.2 Interpersonal Meaning and Epistemic Meaning
2.3 Hedges and Boosters
2.4 The Positioning of Adverbial Concessive Clauses
2.5 Lone Adverbial Clauses

3. Methodology
3.1 The Data
3.2 The BNC
3.3 Classification Procedure
3.4 Chi-Square and Significance Levels

4. Results
4.1 Frequency of Concessive Clauses According to Sex
4.2 Position of Concessive Clauses According to Sex
4.3 Semantic Position of Lone Adverbial Clauses

5. Discussion




This paper is a partial replication of Mondorf’s (2004) study on Gender Differences in English Syntax and combines quantitative corpus data and methodology with the framework of functional grammar to analyse gender-differences in finite adverbial concessive clauses headed by although and whereas. The internal factors of semantic-type and position were examined and the result suggests a strong influence of sex onto the usage of finite adverbial concessive clauses, with an overall result of concessive clauses being the marked domain of men.

1. Introduction

Correlations between sex and language are often taken for granted, but empirical studies on this topic, especially in the area of syntax, are surprisingly rare. One of the main studies of the past two decades, about the correlation between sex and language, which investigates sex-differences in specific syntactic constructions, is Britta Mondorf's (2004) work Gender Differences in English Syntax. Using the London-Lund Corpus (LLC), Mondorf empirically explores "two areas of marked gender difference in English syntax" (2004: 1), namely tag questions and finite adverbial clauses. For the purpose of this replication study, only finite adverbial concessive clauses will be considered. Mondorf’s (2004) study demonstrates "the existence of gender differentiated syntactic behaviour in the LLC of spoken British English" (197f.) and shows that women are “prolific users of those syntactic constructions that signal a low degree of commitment towards the proposition expressed” (1). Due to the extend of Mondorf's (2004) study and the restricted length of this paper, this paper will only be concerned with the extreme points found in Mondorf's (2004) study: concessive clauses instead of causal, conditional or purpose clauses because "[t]hey are the only type of finite adverbial clause that is used more frequently by males than by females" (Mondorf 2004: 86) in the LLC. This unique position makes them most favourable for examination. Further, this paper restricts itself to concessives introduced by the subordinators although or whereas since they are, as will be elaborated on in the following chapters, the semantically most opposed concessive subordinators. Breaking down the data into the sex of the speaker and the position of the concessive clause the objective of this paper is to explore men’s and women's differing usage of finite adverbial concessive clauses. With the spoken part of the British National Corpus (BNC) as database Mondorf's (2004: 31) results will be reassessed regarding three hypotheses:

Semantic Type: “1B: Men score higher on concessive clauses than women”

Position: “2A: Women use more postposed clauses than men”

“2 B: Men use more preposed clauses than women”

Hypothesis 1B was for the LLC confirmed, in that Mondorf found out that concessive clauses “are the only type of finite adverbial clauses that is used more frequently by males than by females [and] [t]he overall result for concessive clauses is a chi-square value of χ² = 7.48**” (Mondorf 2004: 86). Hypothesis 2A was dismissed for the LLC, since “for postposed concessive clauses and those without main clause there are merely minor differences” (Mondorf 2004: 99). Hypothesis 2B was confirmed for the LLC because it was found that “concessives produce statistically highly significant sex differences for preposed […] clauses” (Mondorf 2004: 99)

2. Theoretical Preliminaries

2.1 Definition and Semantic Function of Adverbial Concessive Clauses

To examine adverbial concessive clauses we have to define them first. Finite adverbial clauses are defined as in Mondorf (2004: 76ff.):

“A grammatical unit will be considered a finite adverbial clause if it fulfils the following conditions:

- it is introduced by a subordinating conjunction (…)
- it has a subject and a finite verb
- it could not function as subject or object of the main clause verb.”

“Semantically, concessive clauses signal that the situation in the main clause is contrary to the expectation in the light of the content of the subordinate clause” (Mondorf 2004: 80f.). Preisler (1986) hypothesized that concessive clauses signal structural tentativeness and are therefor expected to be used more by women than by men. He did, however, not find any positive data for this hypothesis. This paper agrees with Mondorf (2004: 86) arguing that concessive clauses reinforce “the speakers point in the sense of ‘even if things were different my point would still hold’”.

2.2 Interpersonal Meaning and Epistemic Meaning

Interpersonal and epistemic meaning are closely linked and crucial when analysing sex differences in language, for they are both linked to a speakers’ achievement of interpersonal purposes. As Mondorf (cf. 2004: 7f.), this paper follows Lyon’s (1977) classification of meaning into descriptive meaning (also termed “propositional”), social meaning and expressive meaning (also termed “affective” or “emotive”). While descriptive “meaning can be asserted or denied and, in general, objectively verified” (Mondorf 2004: 8) social meaning contains social aspects such as gender, ethnicity or social standing in language and expressive meaning contains the speakers’ attitude or mood towards the content of a proposition expressed or the listener (cf. Besnier 1990: 419). Social and expressive meaning are interrelated and will, as in Mondorf (2004: 8), be taken together as interpersonal meaning.

Epistemic modality and epistemic modal meaning comprise the speakers’ commitment towards the truth of a proposition expressed (cf. Mondorf: 2004: 8). In Gender Differences in English Syntax (2004) it was argued, and for the data of the LLC proven, “that women’s use of adverbial clauses […] reflects their intention to signal low epistemic meaning to the truth of a proposition expressed” (Mondorf 2004: 7).

2.3 Hedges and Boosters

Following Mondorf (2004: 11), hedges will be defined as “linguistic units which, in certain context, can signal epistemic modal meaning by expressing speakers’ limited commitment to the truth of the proposition expressed.” Hedges give the speaker the possibility to withdraw or alter the proposition afterwards, “to avoid appearing too knowledgeable” (Mondorf 2004: 13) or to distance themselves from the proposition expressed for reasons of politeness or fear. While hedges serve as downtoners boosters serve to reinforce speakers’ commitment to the truth of a proposition expressed. As “Holmes (1984:58) points out […] positioning is relevant to the meaning signaled by downtoners” (Mondorf 2004:12). “Postposed expressions of epistemic meaning often have a weakening function, while preposed expressions of epistemic meaning have a strengthening function” (Mondorf 2004: 32). Thus the default location for hedging devices appears to be the final position i.e. postposed (cf. Mondorf 2004: 12).

Adverbial clauses can usually serve as hedging devices. Concessive adverbial clauses, though, are the only ones which can serve as boosters because in their need to contradict the main clause lays “a denial (as is implicitly expressed in a concessive clause) [which] conveys very strong commitment” (Mondorf 2004: 136) to the proposition expressed. It can thus be derived that preposed concessive clause serves as an even stronger booster than a postposed concessive clause. In other words, while postposed concessives can signal a high commitment towards a proposition expressed, preposed concessives can signal an even higher commitment towards a proposition expressed. Following the assumption that women use more constructions signaling low (or in this case lower) commitment towards the truth of a proposition expressed i.e. epistemic meaning, while men use more constructions signaling a higher degree of commitment, it can be expected that women use more postposed clauses than preposed clauses and men use both more postposed clauses and more preposed clauses than women.

During this research for this paper it was observed that postposed concessives introduced by the subordinator whereas do not serve as hedges. This maybe attributed to them requiring a strong antithesis between the situation in the main clause and the subordinate clause. While whereas is most restrictive in requiring an antithesis although “can relate clauses in which the situations described are quite similar” (Mondorf 2004: 80) and thus may be used as subordinator introducing a hedge. No previous research on the ability or disability of whereas to function as subordinator introducing a hedge has been found. It would though be an interesting topic for further research.



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Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz – Department of English & Linguistics
differences gender english syntax britta mondorf




Title: Differences in the usage of finite adverbial concessive clauses. A replication study of "Gender Differences in English Syntax" by Britta Mondorf