Language and Gender

Robin Lakoff

Robin Lakoff in 1975 published and influential account of women's language.

In this account she claimed that women:

  • Hedge: using phrases like "sort of", "kind of", "it seems like", and so on.
  • Use supern 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, adorable and so on.
  • Use direct quotation: men paraphrase more often.
  • Have a special lexicon: women use more words for things like colours, men for sports.
  • Use question intonation in declarative statements: women make declarative statements into questions by raising the pitch of their voice at the end of a statement, expressing uncertainty. For example, "What school do you attend? Eton College?"
  • Apologise more: For example, "I'm sorry, but I think that... "
  • Avoid coarse language or expletives
  • Use indirect commands and requests: For example, "My, isn't it cold in here?" - a request to turn on the heating or shut the window.
  • Use more intensifiers: especially so and very. For example, "I am so glad you came!"
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Zimmerman and West

Zimmerman and West report that in mixed-sex conversations 11 conversations, men used 46 interruptions, but women only two.

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Deborah Tannen

Deborah Tannen listed the contrasts in male and female language:

  • Status vs. Support
  • Independence vs. Intimacy
  • Advice vs. Understanding
  • Information vs. Feelings
  • Orders vs. Proposals
  • Conflict vs. Compromise
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Jennifer Coates

Jennifer Coates claimed that all-woman conversation can fall into one of these catergories:

  • House Talk - its distinguishing function is the exchange of information and resources connected with the female role as an occupation.
  • Scandal - a considered judging of the behaviour of others, and women in particular. It is usually made in terms of the domestic morality, of which women have been appointed guardians.
  • Bitching - this is the overt expression of women's anger at their restructed role in inferior status. They express this in private and to other women only. The women who ***** are not expecting change; they want only to make their complaints in an environment where their anger will be understood and expected.
  • Chatting - this is the most intimate form of gossip, a mutual self-disclosure, a transaction where women use to their own advantage the skills they have learned as part of their job nurturing others.
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Jennifer Coates

Jennifer Coates:

1. The dominance approach
2. The difference approach

The foremost sees women as an oppressed group and regards language differences as a reflection of men's dominance and women's subordination in society. The latter emphasises that women and men belong to different sub-cultures and that language differences are an expression of each group's different experiences of life.

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Jennifer Coates

Jennifer Coates said that:

"Men pursue a style of interaction based on power, while women pursue a style based on solidarity and support."

All-male groups of speakers tend to be hierarchical and establish dominant submissive roles. Groups of women are more flexible and co-operative, drawing out reticent speakers and expressing affection and concern.
Coates labelled these features women's co-operative discourse; these are:
1. Topic and topic development
2. Minimal responses
3. Hedges
4. Questions
5. Turn-taking 

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Language Acquisition

Children are socialised into culturally-approved gender roles. Learning to be male or female involves learninf to use gender-appropriate language through:

  • Approval or disapproval of certain aspects of linguistic behaviour (e.g. swearing, taboo language, verbosity, politeness);
  • Different male/female adult models;
  • Different adult expectations (e.g. females are expected to be more linguistically able);
  • Different adult strategies to boys and girls (e.g. adults are more likely to interrupt girls; adults are more likely to approve of boys' argumentative or assertive behaviour).
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