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