Language and Gender Theories

Theories linking to Language and Gender

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  • Created by: Rajvir
  • Created on: 10-05-14 20:24

Trudgill and Cheshire - Covert Prestige

In Norwich, Trudgill had a large sample of data in his investigation, which involved how male and female speakers pronounced the suffix -ing, e.g. walking, talking.

It was found that men tended to underreport the use of the suffix whilst the women tended to over report, which suggested that men attach covert prestige to Non Standard English.

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Lakoff (1975)

The deficit model from 'language and the women's place'.

Lakoff was the first linguist to write about language and gender. She believes women are inferior to men who lacks authority compared to male speech and this is shown linguistically in their speech.

Lakoff believed that women use a range of specific features:

* Tag questions, Hedges, Weak expletives, Empty adjectives, Precise colour terms, Intensifiers,

Misunderstandings of Lakoff's research:

- Based on social constructions
- Climate where her research began was male dominant - affected results
- Observations suggest that they were innate lingustic behaviour

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Zimmerman and West - Dominance Approach

The dominance approach is related to the research that Zimmerman and West conducted in 1975 (they recorded interruptions in conversations between men and women) and found that 96% of interruptions were made by men.

The approach suggests that the female sex is the sub-ordinate gap and that men are more dominant than women in male-female conversations.

This results in primarily male-centered language.

This model shows that women had restricted linguistic freedom and that men sought to impose their dominant status through explicit constraints in conversation.

They suggested that men focused on controlling and dominating mixed sex interactions.

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Deborah Tannen Difference Approach

The difference model takes an alternative stance to language and gender. The approach is of equality, differentiating men and women as belonging to different 'sub cultures'. This means that men and women use varying communication styles.
Tannen argues that men tend to use a 'report style' of speaking, aiming to communicate facts and information. They also use and give direct orders; they are also concerned about status and independence leading them to interrupt a lot.
Whereas, women use a more 'rapport style' which is more concerned about building and keeping relationships between people (tend to talk less and agree more with men). They usually give polite, indirect orders and try to show understanding by compromising and tend to offer support rather than solutions.


status vs support
independence vs intimacy
advice vs understanding
information vs feeling
order vs proposal
conflict vs compromise

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O'Barr and Atkins

Gender and Status - Powerless Language

O'Barr and Atkins recorded 150 hours of conversation interaction.

They found that women's language was 'neither characteristic nor limited for only women'.

They concluded that status was the determining feature in speech style, not gender.

"Language differences are situation specific, reliant on whom has authority and power in a conversation rather than the gender of people involved".

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Holmes - Tag Questions

Tag questions can be either Modal or Affective – i.e. signalling the speaker’s degree of uncertainty or expressing the speaker’s attitude to the addressee.

Also called Speaker Oriented Tags and Addressee Oriented Tags (which in turn can be facilitative tags which support the addressee or by softening the force of negatively affective speech acts).

In Holmes’ research: 59% of tags used by women were facilitative whilst 61% of tags used by men were modal – against 35% for women.

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Deborah Cameron – The Myth of Mars & Venus (2007)

Differences between men’s and women’s speech style are actively sought, promoted by academia and the popular press, frame our perceptions, bias our understanding of the issue, reinforce the purported styles, and render a scientific exploration of the issue very difficult indeed.

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