AS AQA English Language B - Language & Gender Revision notes

Condensed notes on the social context Language and Gender for AS Level English Language B with AQA.

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  • Created by: Rory
  • Created on: 22-01-13 16:15
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Language and Gender
Robin Lakoff wrote Language and a Women's Race (1975) , a book recognised by linguistics
for the study of language and gender.
Nobody actually thought of studying spoken language in terms of gender until 1975. Aspects
of her study have been criticised since, it was ground-breaking at the time.
Her theory in a nutshell is that all children's first language is women's language, learnt from
their mothers before they go to school. Once there, the boys learn "rough talk" and by the
time children are about ten, there are two languages. Boys have "unlearned" women's
language and begun speaking the language of power, whereas girls continue to use the
weaker women's language.
Women's Words
"women's work words" ­ words related to women's specific interests eg sewing
terms. Supposedly, women's vocabulary includes trivial words like this because they
are relegated to decisions about such unimportant subjects, whilst men have need
of vocabulary to do with "real" work and the "real world".
Adjectives of approval ­ according to Lakoff, there are two types of groups of these,
neutral and women-only. Neutral ones (like "great", "terrific" or "cool") may be used
be men and women. The women-only adjectives include "adorable", "sweet", "lovely"
and "divine". For a man to use these could be damaging to his reputation.
Weak expletives ­ instead of swear words (eg "oh dear" instead of "shit") According
to Lakoff, women are forbidden to display anger and to express opinions forcefully,
reinstating male power.
Using the intensifiers ­ eg "I like him so much". This is again supposed to be a way of
avoiding strong statements or committing yourself to an opinion.
Women's Grammar
Use of a rising intonation ­ (usually associated with a question) in the context of a
Speaking in italics ­ women use exaggerated intonation and stress for emphasis
which is currently another way of expressing uncertainty.
High Levels of Uncertainty
Women are careful to use polite forms and to uphold social conventions.
Use of implication rather than directness.
More frequent use of euphemism ­ to avoid indelicate subjects.
Women use less taboo language than men.
Women don't tell jokes!
Criticisms of Lakoff's work
Rory Sheridan

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Firstly Lakoff has been criticised because her theories were not based on controlled
experiments or hard evidence, but on personal diservations.
Women's Words
Women's work words:
Obviously it is inevitable that a person's interests and occupation will reflect their
vocabulary: doctors use more medical terms than most people.
As long as women are under-represented in traditionally male occupations and areas
of interest, their vocabulary will reflect this.…read more

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However, Lakoff's claim that hedges are linked with uncertainty and unassertiveness
has been challenged. Fishman said it could be another indicator that women were
doing the conversational work. Men were rejecting the topic and not responding,
women were attempting to keep the conversation going to get some kind of
Women's Intonation
Biological basis for women's voices being higher pithced than men's. Research
suggests this difference is too get to be explained by physical differences alone.…read more

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Fishman Tags Based research on 52 hours of taped conversation
between men and women in their homes. Found that
women used tags 2 1/2 times more than men.
According to Fishman, they were used not to show
weakness but to facilitate conversation. She says
women are doing the interactional shitwork of the
Holmes Tags Tags are multi-functional.…read more

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They usually give polite, indirect orders and try to show
understanding by compromising and tend to offer support rather than solutions.…read more


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