Language & Gender

A brief overview of different language and gender theorists

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  • Created by: Laura
  • Created on: 27-03-13 21:48

Robin Lakoff

In 1975 she published an influential account of women's language.

  • Hedge: Phrases like "sort of", "kind of" etc.
  • Using (super)polite forms: "Would you mind", "I'd appreciate it if", "if you don't mind".
  • Tag questions: "You're going to dinner, aren't you?".
  • Empty adjectives: No real meaning- "lovely", "adorable", "cute".
  • Direct quotationmen paraphrase more often.
  • Have a special lexicon: use words for more things- like colours (Jade...aquamarine...crimson etc)- like men have for sports
  • Question intonation in declarative statements: Raise pitch at end of statements to express uncertainity, "What school do you attend? Eton College?"
  • Speak less often
  • Overuse of qualifiers: For example, "I think that..."
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Robin Lakoff II

  • Apologise more
  • Avoid coarse language of expletives
  • Indirect commands and requests: "Isn't it cold in here?" is a request to turn heating up
  • More intensifiers: "So" and "very". "I'm so glad you came!"
  • Lack a sense of humour

Many scholars critise this view as the features are not limited to feminine speech. It may be more appropriate to label them as features of powerless language. The speech habits arise from someone's position in society rather than their sex.

The problem with this is that it labels feminine speech as being "powerless"- hinting at a lack of dominace of feminine discourse.

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Deborah Tannen

She believed that there were six contrasts between male and female language-

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Zimmerman & West and Beattie

The theory is that in mixed-sex conversations men are more likely to interrupt than women

  • Geoffery Beattie argued that interruptions do not necessarily reflect dominance- that they can arise from different sources (such as interest in the conversation topic or involvement) 
  • Beatties theory is less quoted than Zimmerman and West's- does it fit less into what people wish to prove? Is it insignificant?
  • (
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Jennifer Coates

She concluded in her theory 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 hierachical and establish dominant and submissive roles. Whereas women are more flexible and cooperative, drawing out reticent speakers and expressing affection and concern.

Labelled woman's cooperative discourse as-

1. Topic & topic development- women typically choose to talk about people and feelings rather than things. Topics are developed slowly, building on others contributions and arriving at a consensus.

2. Minimal responses- active listenership and 

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Jennifer Coates II

support are signalled subtly rather than overtly.

3. Hedges- used to encourage discussion and to avoid appearing challenging or threatening.

4. Questions- interrogative forms are used to encourage participation rather than seek information.

5. Turn- taking- overlapping conversation aids cooperation and topic development.

The evidence shows that women and men do pursue different language styles and that men seek to dominate and control; women tend to offer support via minimal responses. Men largely dominate conversations, swear more and use more imperatives; women use polite forms, in a less direct manner. Powerless forms can be seen as features of cooperative speech, & while less dominant still underpin social networks in society.

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Peter Trudgill & Deborah Cameron

Trudgill asked test subjects (male and female) to read a piece of text relating to different situations-

The text contains words with one or two speech sounds, e.g."ing" to "in'"- he wanted to see whether they would drop the "g" sound.

  • He found from his study that women are more likely to use the prestige pronouncation of certain word sounds- in aiming for higher prestige women adopted hypercorrectness.
  • Men would often use a low prestige pronouncation to seek covert (hidden) prestige by appearing "tough" or "down-to-earth" in their language.

Deborah Cameron suggests that women have been instructed on the "proper" way of talking throughout their lives- like all other "feminine" behaviour (using cosmetics, proper ways of dressing etc.) 

She calls the acceptance of this speech style "verbal hygiene"

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Jennifer Coates III

She argued that all-female conversation could fall in catergories-

  • House talk- to exchange information and resources connected with the female role as an "occupation".
  • Scandal- a considered judgment of the behaviour of others (women in particular). It's usually made in terms of the domestic morality, of which women have been appointed guardians.
  • "Bitching"- an overt expression of a womens anger at their restricted role and inferior status. This private and to other women only. They are not expecting change, they only want their complaints to be heard in an environment where it will be understood and accepted.
  • Chatting- intimate form of gossiping, a mutual self-disclosure, can use their skil of nurturing others.
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