Lakoff (1975)

Identified features that are characteristic of women's speech.

  • Hedging
  • Super polite terms
  • Tag questions
  • Intonation
  • Empty adjectives
  • Indirect commands
  • Intensifiers
  • Less Expelitives

These features reflect women's lower social status. These prevent women from being taken seriously.

Deficit Model

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O'Barr and Atkins (1980) Holmes (1984) Cameron (20

O'Barr and Atkins 

An American courtrooms study that offered an alternative to the deficit model.

Male and female wittnesses of low social status or who were inexperienced with courtroom practices showed the language features that Lakoff had idenified.


Women's language does not show weakness, but instead a desire to cooperate. 


There are more similarities than differences in male and female language. These differences are more to do with context than gender.

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Zimmerman and West (1975)

American study that taped informal conversations between students in coffee shops, bars and other public places. Within same sex conversations, interuptions were equally distributed. In mixed sex conversations, males were responsible for 96% of interuptions (women were responsible for 4%). This suggests that men are dominant in male/female conversations and that this reflects male dominence in society.

Dominance Model

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Beattie (1982) Others


Interuptions can be supportive and show that the person is listening, for example, "hmmm" and "yeah"

Other Research

Women are more likely to be interupted than men. Fathers interupt daughters more than sons and daughters are interupted more frequently by male and female parents.

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Trudgill (1983)

Norwich study looking and male and female social class accents. Women's pronounciation is closer to recieved pronounciation than mens. Recieved pronounciation is seen as more prestigious.

  • Women use prestigious language to overcome their inferior social status.
  • Women use prestigious language as they are expected to act more 'ladylike' (this included not arguing or swearing).
  • Prestigious language is a way to gain overt prestige (this is behaviour associated with socially desirable behaviour.
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Cheshire (1982)

Reading study investigating the speech of adolescents at an adventure playground. 

Boys are more likely to use non-standard gramatical forms. This includes:

  • Dropping 'h' sounds at the begining of words
  • Dropping 'g' sounds at the end of words
  • Double negatives
  • Non-standard part tense forms (eg. 'I done it yesterday')

Men seek covert prestige to look tough and rebellious.

Non-standard English is associated with the working class men who were 'traditionally masculine' and had traits such as 'tough' and 'down to earth'.

In Cheshire's study, Noddy used non-standard grammar and had a reputation for devient behaviour. Kevin, however, used more standard English, was excluded from group activities, was picked on and scored low on the deviancy scale.

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Fishman (1990) Randall (1987) Spender (1982)


In mixed sex conversations, men speak for twice the amount of time than women.


Girls have longer conversations with teachers in classroom situations than boys.

  • Girls averaged 3 minutes 45 seconds.
  • Boys averaged 56 seconds.


Teachers initiate conversation with boys more than girls.

Over 10 lessons, 42% of teacher initated interactions were with girls (58% were with boys).

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Tannen (1990)

There are six contrasts in the language used between men and women.

Men | Women

Status | Support

Independence | Intimacy

Advice | Understanding (men want solutions instead of sympathy)

Information | Feelings (men want information instead of forming bonds)

Orders | Proposals (men want imperatives over indirect commands)

Conflict | Compromise

Male conversations focus on sports and work where status and information is important.

Female conversations focus on the home and family where feelings and support are important.

Difference Model

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Fishman (1978 and 1980-1983) Kuiper


Women introduce more tops in mixed sex conversations. 68% of topics were introduced by women (32% by males). This is an example of conversational support. Other examples include:

  • Paying compliments
  • Using 'we' and 'you' more often
  • Developing others ideas
  • Giving supportive feedback


Women use more questions than men in mixed sex conversations.

Used a case study of 3 couples. The women asked 2.5 times more the amount of questions than the men.


Men in rugby teams are observed. Insults are used to show solidary. They don't feel the need to save face in same sex situations.

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Coates and Jones (1990)

Women's talk is gossip. This can be categorised into four categories.

House Talk

  • Related to women's domestic role as an occupation.


  • Judging the behaviour of others, especially women who are supposed to be domestically moral.
  • Women are the moral guardians of domesticity. 


  • An overt expression of women's anger at their inferior social status.
  • Expressed in private and to other women


  • Intimate and mutual self disclosure
  • Uses women's natural skills of nurturing
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Baker (2013) Dynamic Model


Looked at the extent of marked terms in writing (in a range of genres) in the years 1931, 1961, 1991 and 2006.

There was a decrease of male orientated generic terms but women were often still negatively represented.

Dynamic Model

  • More modern than the difference and dominance models.
  • Suggest men and women 'perform' different role in different situations.
  • A man will change his language depending on if he is with his group of male friends or if he is with his girlfriend.
  • We 'construct' our own versions of masculine and feminine.
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