Language and Gender. Key Theories

The key theories involved in language and gender studies.

  • Created by: Katie
  • Created on: 09-01-10 13:40

Language and Gender

Key Theories

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Peter Trudgill


Research in Norwich looking at male and female pronunciation of the suffix – ing.

Found that non-standard form occurred more in male speech. Females thought they used non-standard more than they did. Men attached a covert prestige to non-standard forms.

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Jenny Cheshire


Research in Reading looking at language of teenagers.

Found that boys used more non-standard forms than girls. Believed to be because boys were members of ‘denser networks’ and thus their language converged towards the vernacular to show social solidarity.

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Robin Lakoff


Clamied that much of women's language lacked real authority when compared to men's, and proposed a set of featues that characterised women's language as deficient when compared to men's.

Believed Socialisation played an important role.

(Part of deficit approach)

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Believed that tag questions function as a politeness device, to help maintain discussion rather than as a sign of uncertainty (Lakoff's theory).

Also suggested that women in same-sex groups used more compliments and hedgers a signs of support and solidarity.

(Part of deficit approach)

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O'Barr & Atkins


Analysed language of the courtroom and agreed with Lakoff's findings but also found that men from lower class backgrounds used similar features of uncertain speech.

They Believed that uncertain speech patterns depend on power rather than gender and coined the term 'powerless language' rather than 'women's language'

(Part of deficit approach)

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Zimmerman & West


Found in their set of data that 96% of all interruptions were made by men. They concluded that women had restricted lingusitc freedom and men impose their dominant status.

(Part of dominance approach)

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All female talk is cooperative, speakers help to negotiate and support each other's rights. These patterns are not found in mixed sex talk.

(Part of difference approach)

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Women in same sex talk were more collaborative than men. Women aimed for positive politeness strategies in conversation with other women, men tended to be less complimentary and supportive in all male talk.

(Part of difference approach)

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Found in all male talk between a rugby team, men used insults as a way of expressing solidarity and were less likely to feel the need to save face.

(Part of difference approach)

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The idea behind each approach

Deficit Approach

Women's language is seen as deficit when compared to the 'male norm'

Dominance Approach

Focused on the way men were seen as controlling and dominating in mixed-sex conversations

Difference Approach

Idea that variation in male and female language use can be linked to their belonging to different subcultures. Accredited for looking at positive features of female language while avoiding blaming men for their dominance.

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Very helpful. Thank you!! :)

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Daniel Harris


Very helpful, any chance you could direct me to a similar thing for power ? 

Paul Dutton


A helpful resource giving clear and concise information on key theories.



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