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Schour studies language differences between genders and how to better relate

By Sally Jongsma

Rebekkah Schour hopes to use her love and knowledge of languages to help people better understand one another.

Rebekkah Schour hopes to use her love and knowledge of languages to help people better understand one another.

Rebekkah Schour took her education into her own hands this semester by doing an independent study that she believes will benefit her career in languages. A Spanish major, Schour is interested in working for the government as a translator, or in some position that allows her to bring people together through language.

Schour loves languages. In addition to English and Spanish, she has learned some Latin, Russian, and German and is teaching herself Greek at present.

“I want to learn as many as I can,” she says. “When you’re able to communicate with people you make them feel at home even if they are not in their own culture.” And knowing the language when you visit another culture shows that you respect their traditions, she believes.

“Each language is so rich and carries with it so much of its culture,” she says. That’s why she was prompted to study linguistics and chose to do an independent study researching language differences between men and women.

The idea for the research paper came while she was studying socio-linguistics in Linguistics 201 taught by Dr. Leen van Beek. He is supervising her research this semester.

“I’ve always been fascinated by how language works in relationships between men and women,” she says. She is studying and observing ways men and women use language and looking at how stereotypes and miscommunication come about.

Admittedly generalizing, she says she’s found that most literature agrees that men use language as an instrument, a means to an end, while women use it to nurture relationships. Quoting Deborah Tanner, who has done much work in this area, she says men use language to “report” while women use it for “rapport.”

“Stereotypes are learned, and they can also be unlearned,” she says. That’s one of the things she hopes comes from her work. By being more conscious of how men and women use language she hopes that it will help her both communicate better and better understand others. She believes her research will remind her to ask herself “What are they really saying?” and “Am I reading them right?”

Raising awareness of differences also raises awareness of similarities. Schour believes that differences can be used to complement rather than cause conflict if people respect one another and are conscious of how people are actually communicating.

Schour presented a summary of her research under the title “A Tale of the Barking Cat and the Meowing Dog: A look at language differences in gender communication” to van Beek’s linguistics class and to the campus community during Ideafest, the annual two-day academic on-campus conference.