language and gender


Robin Lakoff 1975 - womens language

Wome use; 

Hedges and fillers 

  • Fragments of language e.g sort of, kind of , maybe) 

apologetic requests - im sorry but would you mind closing the door 

Tag questions - this is nice isnt it? 

Indirect requests - its very noisey out there (could you shut the door?)

empty adjective - nice,lovely

intonation for emplasis 

  • changing tone of voice to highlight an idea 

Euphemisms for politeness 

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The deficit model - Lakoff 1975

women tend to speak less than men and use fewer expletives ( swear less) and use more intensifiers e.g so and very. this reflects woments inferior social status and makes it worse by making them seem indecisive and needy. womens language is weak compared to mens which prevents women from being taken seriously . this is known as the deficit model. 

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O'Barr and Atkins 1980 

  • analysed court room transcripts 
  • male and female witnesses who were of lower social status showed many linquistic features that Lakoff labelled as female
  • suggests that language as described by Lakoff is used by both males and females that feel powerless 

Holmes 1984 

  • womens language doesnt show weakness but a desire to co-operate 

Cameron 2007 

there are few differences between men and womens language. situation effects how people speak much more than gender. 

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Theorists - accent

Trudgill 1983 - working, middle and higher social classes 

  • studied men and womens social class accents 
  • found that womens pronunciation was closer to RP - prestigous 

overt prestige

  • use of standard english - associated with the wealthy part of society 

Cheshire 1982 

  • studied the speech of adolescant boys and girls 
  • found that boys tended to use more non standard grammatical forms e.g Aint than girls 

Covert prestige 

  • use of non standard english 
  • rebellious and independant 
  • men seek it more 
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Zimmerman and West 1975 - Dominance Model 

  • recorded interruptions between men and women 
  • found that 96% of interruptions were by men 
  • this suggested that men were more dominant in male -female conversations 
  • Argued that this reflects male dominance in society 

Tannen 1990 - Difference Model 

  • Described male and female conversation style in terms of difference 
  • men are concerned with status and independance e.g interrupt alot 
  • they give direct orders e.g pass me that and dont mind conflict 
  • men are interested in gaining factual information and finding solutions to problems 
  • women are interested in forming bonds - tend to talk less and agree more than men 
  • usually give polite, indirect orders e.g would you mind passing me that and try to avoid conflict 
  • women aim to show understanding by compromising and offering support rather than solutions 
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  • Topics discussed in single sex groups are different e.g male topics are focused on work and sports where factual information and status are important 
  • traditionally female topics have centred on the home and family where emotions, support and compassion are important 
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Questioning theories

Beattie 1982 

  • Questioned Zimmerman and Wests idea that men interrupting women was a sing of dominance. 
  • suggested that interruptions can be supportive and show that the person is listening but only if they repeat what the speaker is saying or says things like yes or mm 

Cameron 2007 

  • argues alot of research is biased because there has been more focus on differences between male and female language which are actually quite small rather than the similarities. 
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