Lakoff’s “Women Language”
Lakoff's original study
Lakoff, Robin. 1975. Language and Woman's Place.
Lakoff, Robin Tolmach. 2004. Language and Woman's Place; Text and Commentaries. Revised and expanded edition. Edited by Mary Bucholtz.
Typical feminine speech style marked by the use of linguistic features which allegedly weaken or mitigate the force of an utterance:
- hedges: sort of, kind of, I guess...
- (super) polite forms: would you please, I'd really appreciate it if...
- tag questions: don't you, isn't it
- "speaking in italics": emphatic so and very, intonational emphasis
- "empty adjectives": divine, charming, sweet, adorable
- hypercorrect grammar and pronunciation
- lack of a sense of humor
- direct quotations
- special vocabulary (specialized color terms, sewing, fashion)
- rising intonation on declaratives
Problems with Lakoff's study (or its interpretation by many scholars)
- no empirical basis: based on anecdotal evidence & intuition
- one form = one function
- her analysis is circular
- androcentric bias
- interpretation: sex or power?
Stereotype: a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment (Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, 10th ed.)
Anecdotal evidence: based on or consisting of reports or observations of usually unscientific observers
Empirical evidence: based on systematic observation and/or experiment and capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment
Investigations on “women’s language”
Dubois & Crouch 1975
Dubois, Betty Lou & Isabel M. Crouch. 1975. The question of tag questions in women’s speech: they don’t really use more of them, do they?. Language in Society 4:289-294.
• academic conference
• men used more tag questions than women
O'Barr & Atkins' 1980 courtroom study
O'Barr, W. & B. Atkins. 1980. "Women's language" or "powerless language" In S. McConnell-Ginet, R. Borker, &
(1) Lawyer: What was the nature of your acquaintance with the late Mrs. E.D.?
Witness: Well, we were, uh, very close friends. Uh, she was even sort of like a mother to me.
(2) Lawyer: And had the heart not been functioning, in other words, had the heart been stopped, there would have been no blood to have come from that region?
Witness: It may leak down depending on the position of the body after death. But the presence of blood in the alveoli indicates that some active respiratory action had to take place
(3) Lawyer: And you saw, you observed what?
Witness: Well, after I heard -- I can't really, I can't definitely state whether the brakes or the lights came first, but I rotated my head slightly to the right, and directly behind Mr Z, and I saw reflections of lights, and uh, very, very, very instantaneously after that, I heard a very, very loud explosion -- from my standpoint of view it would have been an implosion because everything was forced outward like this, like a grenade thrown into a room. And, uh, it was, it was terrifically loud.
What does this study show?
Features of “women language” correlate with:
- the speaker's social status
- the speaker's previous courtroom experience
Janet Holmes' 1984 study of tag questions
Holmes, Janet. 1984. Hedging your bets and sitting on the fence: Some evidence for hedges as support structures. Te Reo 27:47-62.
Tag questions have different functionsModal tags request information or confirmation of inform