Language and Gender

Different studies – different views?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

15 Pages, Grade: 1,3



1. Introduction

2. Early Studies: Robin Lakoff

3. Deborah Tannen
Status versus Support
Independence versus Intimacy
Advice versus Understanding
Information versus Feelings
Orders versus Proposals
Conflict versus Compromise
Report Talk versus Rapport Talk
Interruptions and Overlapping
High Involvement and High Considerateness

4. Peter Trudgill - gender, social class and speech sounds

5. Jennnifer Coates and Deborah Jones

6. Deborah Cameron

7. Dr. Lillian Glass

8. Summary

9. Literacy

1. Introduction

While the most obvious function of language is to communicate information with other people, language also contributes to two other important functions: to establish and maintain social relationships and to express and create the social identity of the speaker. These functions may be recognized less often because information such as class or race is conveyed not as much through what we say, as through how we say it. In other words, information is conveyed as much by how we compose our utterances as through the precise character of our thought. This is certainly true of gender.

All of us have different styles of communicating with other people. Our style depends on a lot of things: where we are from, how and where we were brought up, our educational background, our age, and it also can depend on our gender. Generally speaking, men and women talk differently although there are varying degrees of masculine and feminine speech characteristics in each of us. But men and women speak in particular ways mostly because those ways are associated with their gender. The styles that men and women use to communicate have been described as "debate vs. relate", "report vs. rapport, or "competitive vs. cooperative". Men often seek straightforward solutions to problems and useful advice whereas women tend to try and establish intimacy by discussing problems and showing concern and empathy in order to reinforce relationships.

At the end of this term paper the reader ought to have an overview of the different studies existing in gender language, thus the question of differences between these studies ought to be clarified. Many authors have different opinion concerning this topic, whereas this term paper investigates similarities and differences between these opinions.

2. Early Studies: Robin Lakoff

People know for many years that gender and language use are connected. Early anthropological studies on gendered language focused on non-Western cultures, for which it was reported that men and women spoke languages differently, although these reports were ultimately discovered to be exaggerated. The differences of language in gender in industrial societies was not taken as a serious topic of study until the 1960s, and did not explode as a subfield until the publication of Robin Lakoff's book Language and Woman's Place in 1975. As a programmatic and feminist work, Lakoff's book presents impressionistic conclusions regarding the speech of heterosexual, white, middle class, American women. Lakoff argues that women use specific features in language because they are denied means of strong expression within a male-dominated society. Among these specific features are claims that women, for example:

- Hedge: using phrases like “sort of”, “kind of”, “it seems like”,and so on.
- Use (super)polite forms: “Would you mind...”,“I'd appreciate it if...”, “...if you don't mind”.
- Use tag questions: “You're going to dinner, aren't you?”
- Speak in italics: intonational emphasis equal to underlining words - so, very, quite.
- Use empty adjectives: divine, lovely, adorable, and so on
- Use hypercorrect grammar and pronunciation: English prestige grammar and clear enunciation.
- Use direct quotation: men paraphrase more often.
- Have a special lexicon: women use more words for things like colours, men for sports.
- Use question intonation in declarative statements: women make declarative statements into questions by raising the pitch of their voice at the end of a statement, expressing uncertainty. For example, “What school do you attend? Eton College?”
- Use “wh-” imperatives: (such as, “Why don't you open the door?”)
- Speak less frequently
- Overuse qualifiers: (for example, “I Think that...”)
- Apologise more: (for instance, “I'm sorry, but I think that...”)
- Use modal constructions: (such as can, would, should, ought - “Should we turn up the heat?”)
- Avoid coarse language or expletives
- Use indirect commands and requests: (for example, “My, isn't it cold in here?” - really a request to turn the heat on or close a window)
- Use more intensifiers: especially so and very (for instance, “I am so glad you came!”)

- Lack a sense of humour: women do not tell jokes well and often don't understand the punch line of jokes.1

In summary, Lakoff means that if women are not allowed to express themselves forcefully, and she claims that they are not, or talk about valued topics, for example politics instead of paint colour, women cannot assert their authority. Lakoff clearly and successfully made her point: Language is a feminist issue. Although she has been rightly criticized on methodological and analytical points, her work founded a new subfield of sociolinguistics.

3. Deborah Tannen

Deborah Tannen points out clear differences between men and women speech in her book You Just Don't Understand, in which she represents a series of six contrasts. These are:

- Status vs. support
- Independence vs. intimacy
- Advice vs. understanding
- Information vs. feelings
- Orders vs. proposals
- Conflict vs. compromise

3.1. Status versus Support

Men grow up in a world in which conversation is competitive - they seek to achieve the upper position or to prevent others from dominating them. For women, however, talking is often a way to gain confirmation and support for their ideas. Men see the world as a place where people try to gain status and keep it. Women see the world as a network of connections seeking support and consensus2.

3.2. Independence versus Intimacy

Women often think in terms of closeness and support, and struggle to preserve intimacy. Men, concerned with status, tend to focus more on independence. This could lead women and men to having starkly different views of the same situation. Deborah Tannen gives the example of a woman who would talks with her husband before inviting a guest to stay - because she likes telling friends that she has to check with him. The man, however, invites a friend without asking his wife first, because to tell the friend he must ask his wife means loosing a status3.


1 Lakoff, (1975), S. 137 ff.

2 Tannen (1990), S. 168 f.

3 Tannen (1990), S. 26 f.

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Language and Gender
Different studies – different views?
Otto-von-Guericke-University Magdeburg  (Institut für Anglistik)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
414 KB
Englisch, Sociolinguistics, Soziolinguistik, Linguistik, Geschlecht, Language
Quote paper
Nicole Fürch (Author), 2007, Language and Gender, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Language and Gender

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free