English Language Gender Theorists

  • Created by: CallumQ
  • Created on: 06-11-17 12:28

Deficit Theory:

1922 - Otto Jesperson:

Jesperson was the first modern linguist to investigate women's language. His work was what Robin Lakoff would heavily draw on later in order to produce her own work and was the foundation of the 'deficit theory'.

His ideas on women's language were:

  • Women talk a lot
  • Women have a smaller vocabulary than men - the lexis which they use is the essential part of the language - they don't know the language in rich detail
  • Novels written by women are much easier to read and use fewer difficult words
  • Women know their limited vocabulary so well that they are more fluent and quicker spoken than men, who spend time to think of a precise word from their vaster vocabulary
  • Women use half-finished sentences because they speak before they have thought about what they want to say
  • Women link sentences with 'and' because they are 'emotional' rather than 'grammatical'
  • Women use empty adjectives like 'pretty' and 'nice' too much
  • Women use adverbs too much and tend to use hyperbole often
  • Women, by virtue of their sex, 'shrink from coarse and gross expressions'
  • Women have a preference for 'veiled and indirect expressions' which preclude them from being as effective as men
  • Men are responsible for bringing new words into the language
  • Women often gain spoken mastery of foreign languages easier than men, but when put to the task of translating a difficult text men prove superior
  • Women have a debilitating effect on the language and it is reasonable for men 'certainly with great justice [to] object that there is a danger of language becoming languid and insipid if we are to consent ourselves with women's expressions'.

1975 - Robin Lakoff:

Robin Lakoff thought that women's language lacked authority compared to men's language. In her work, Lakoff suggested that women's language is separated by ten main features:

  1. Hedges: Phrases like "sort of", "kind of", "it seems like"
  2. Empty adjectives: "divine", "adorable", "gorgeous"
  3. Super-polite forms: "Would you mind..." "...if it's not too much to ask" "Is it o.k if...?"
  4. Apologize more: "I'm sorry, but I think that..."
  5. Speak less frequently
  6. Avoid curse language or expletives
  7. Tag questions: "You don't mind eating this, do you?".
  8. Hyper-correct grammar and pronunciation: Use of prestige grammar and clear articulation
  9. Indirect requests: "Wow, I'm so thirsty." – asking for a drink
  10. Speak in italics: Use tone to emphasise certain words, e.g., "so", "very", "quite"

In addition to suggesting these differences between male and female speech, Lakoff also set forth what she called the 'politeness principle', which is composed of three maxims:

1. Don't impose

2. Give the speaker options

3. Make the speaker feel good

Lakoff stated these maxims were crucial to good interaction and if the speaker did not adhere to them they would be 'flouting the maxims'.

Dominance Theory:

1975 - Zimmerman and West:

Zimmerman and West set out to investigate the presence of uncooperative features (interruptions, overlapping) of language in conversation and whether the gender of the speakers had any affect on the frequency of such features. 


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