Gendered Usage of Sentence-Final Particles in Mandarin Chinese

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James C. Wamsley

Abstract

Linguists often reference the contextual features of an individual’s speech to investigate the ways in which they represent their identity. Previous research on the links between language and gender has found that differences in the speech of men and women primarily manifest themselves in terms of pragmatics as opposed to phonological features or the lexicon. Sentence-final particles are non-obligatory particles which are appended to the end of sentences to convey extra pragmatic information. Research on sentence-final particles in Japanese (Uyeno 1971) and Cantonese (Chan 1999) has found correlations between the gender identity of the speaker and their usage of sentence-final particles. This study uses data from four men and four women to examine the ways that sentence-final particles are utilized by native speakers of Mandarin Chinese. The results of this study show that overall, men and women use sentence-final particles at a comparable rate. However, the two groups differ in that men more frequently use ma, a particle which signals insistence that the addressee be committed to the state of affairs, while women more frequently use ba, a particle which signals that the speaker seeks to solicit agreement from the addressee. The results of this study provide further information on real-world usage of sentence-final particles and contribute to future research related to the links between language and gender.

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