Gender differences in young children's speech: The acquisition of sociolinguistic competence

Hans J. Ladegaard, Dorthe Bleses

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Many sociolinguistic studies have found that female speakers prefer standard speech forms while male speakers prefer vernacular forms. This article addresses two questions: (1) when does this split between male and female language occur in the language of young children; and (2) how do little boys and girls come to prefer linguistic features which are predominant in the language of adults? Two hypotheses accounting for the mechanisms of transmission are presented – the frequency hypothesis and the role-model hypothesis – and data from a study of Danish children's acquisition of past-tense morphology is presented. The study found gender differences in the past-tense morphology of the 4-, 6- and 8-year-old participants, and it is argued that the role-model hypothesis would most adequately explain these differences. Furthermore, it is argued that early institutionalisation of children in Denmark may lead to increased peer group influence and help explain why gender differences occur at an earlier age compared to studies from the UK and the USA.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-233
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Applied Linguistics (United Kingdom)
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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