English Language Theories

These cards will have a list of all the relevent theories and how they can be applied to questions.


Robin Lakoff

Robin Lakoff wrote the book Language and Women's place. This was written in 1975, so has to be taken with a pinch of salt with regards to how true it may be today. Belwo is a list of the things she highlighted that women do frequently:

  • Hedge: Using phrases like "sort of", "kind of", "it seems like", and so on.
  • Use (super) polite forms: "Would you mind...", "I'd appreciate it if...", "...if you don't mind".
  • Use tag questions: "You're going to dinner, aren't you?"
  • Use empty adjectives: divine, lovely, (very common today), adorable, and so on.
  • Use direct quotation: men will paraphrase (reword) more often 
  • Have a special lexicon: women use more words for things like colours, men use more words for things like sports.
  • Use question intonation in decaratice statements: women make declarative statements into questions by raising the pitch o the voice at the end of a statement, expressing uncertainty. i.e. "What school fo you attend? Eton College?".
  • Women will speak less frequently (not so common today - women are more likely to speak up).
  • Overuse qualifiers: i.e. "I think that..."
  • Women will often apologise more i.e. "I'm sorry, but I think that..."
  • Women often avoid coarse language or using expletives.
  • Use indirect commands and requests i.e. "My, isn't it cold in here?" - actually asking for the window to be closed.
  • Use mor intensifiers: especially so and very i.e. "I am so glad you came!".
  • Lack a sense of humour: women do not tell jokes well and often dont understand the punch line of jokes.
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Zimmerman and West

Zimmerman and West's Investigation involved using a very small study from a single area in America. This immediately means the results are going to have to be taken with a pinch of salt, and that the results will have a very low ecological validity (which means they cannot be applied to the rest of the population appropriately).

During Zimmerman and West's Investigation they took a number of participants, and recorded 11 coversations between them. In this occaision, they recorded that then mean interupted 46 times, compared to the women interupting only twice. This theory needs to be used lightly as it used an old study and very few participants. It's difficult to compare it to anything, but knowledge of it is good.

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Geoffrey Beattie

Another theory that revolves around whether male or females interrupt more is Beattie. He investigated the same thing as Zimmerman and West, however his results showed that men and women interrupt on a more even basis than what Zimmerman and West said. 

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Pamela Fishman

Fishman focused on how conversations run between men and women. She argued that although the conversations do fail between them sometimes, its not because of anything the women has done, its how the man responds to the conversations. Fishman argues that women aren't asking the questions because of a personality weakness, but because they are just trying to get a response from the man. She says this (tag questions) is a part of conversational work. i.e. "you love this, don't you?".

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Deborah Tannen

Deborah Tannen focused on how male and female language is represented. She did this in a series of six contrasts:

  1. Status vs. support
  2. Indepencdence vs. intimacy
  3. Advice vs. understanding
  4. Information vs. feelings
  5. Orders vs. proposals
  6. Conflict vs. compromise.

The male characteristic (meaning the one that is more likely to be judged as typically male) comes first out of the two.

  1. In this characteristic the male is seeking to achieve the upper hand and be dominant, whereas the woman is seeking confirmation and support of their ideas.
  2. Women are often trying to preseve intimacy and think in terms of closeness and support. However men are more concerned with status and are trying to achieve independence. 
  3. To most men a complaint is a challenge to find a solution, i.e. when a women complains of feeling ill her husband will tell her to go to the doctor - she just wants sympathy not a solution.
  4. When a young boy makes a phone call and is asked about it he gives the facts and things are made clear and simple. Whereas the when a young girl makes a phone call as is asked about it she will brush over what was spoken about due to the emotions displayed in the phone call. (However this is neither better or worse in any absolute sense)
  5. Women will suggest how to do things in an indirect way i.e. "why don't we...". Whereas men prefer to hear a direct imperative, and will use this way as well.
  6. In this case women will be less likely to openly refuse the will of others, and will just assert to it and complain "behind closed doors". Whereas men are more likely to just openly complain and make their view know. However we all know many examples that are different to this view.
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Peter Trudgill

Peter Trudgill was working to find out how men and women work in social class and whether their percieved appearence would change with what they were saying. In Trudgill's experiment he asked his participants to speak in a variety of situation before asking them to read a passage that would contain words the speaker would not normally use. This consisted of two different speech sounds i.e. verbs ending in -ing to see if certain people would drop the g and only say the -in.

In Trudgills case he found that the men were less likely to use a prestige pronunciation, and women were more likely to. This showed that women were aiming for a higher prestige - one above their observed social class. This is a form of hypercorrectness. The men in the experiement would often use a lower prestige of pronouncing words, therefore showing a covert prestige, below their observed class, and has them appearing "tough" or "down to earth".

Trudgill also worked on Recieved Pronunciation. This is where the accent used by the person is considered typically English. However not the "Queens English" as she speaks in a very different form, and neither "BBC English", as the BBC is now not restricted to one form of pronunciation or accent as it once was.  

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