Twelve Responses to Lakoff



Robin Lakoff’s Predictions in Language and Woman’s place (1975)The Deference or Deficit Model: 

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 of approval: 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.

 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.     Zimmerman & West – Sex Roles, Interruptions and Silences (1975) The Dominance Model – rather than women’s language being somehow at fault or lacking in some way, that it in some way encourages men to oppress them, men deliberately behave in an uncooperative way when talking to women in order to undermine and dominate them – study of overlaps and interruptions: men frequently violate women’s turns & of men’s delayed minimal responses.

2.     Dubois & Crouch – 1976 – men using more tag questions in their research.


3.     Pamela Fishman – Conversational Insecurity (1980) – Whilst women try to stimulate speech and be supportive – using tag questions for example, men’s delayed minimal responses work in the opposite way. Women’s use of repeated tag questions are an effective way to gain conversational power as opposed to a marker of any lack of power.


4.     Helena Leet-Pellegrini – Conversational Dominance (1980) Looking at both gender and expertise as variables in conversations – with male experts talking the most and violating other people’s turns the most, whilst female non-experts spoke least and used the most minimal responses.


5.     Janet Holmes – (1984) – Tag Questions can be either Modal or Affective – i.e. signalling the speaker’s degree of uncertainty or expressing the speaker’s attitude to the addressee. Also called Speaker Oriented Tags and Addressee Oriented Tags (which in turn can be facilitative tags which support the addressee or by softening the force of negatively affective speech acts). In Holmes’ research: 59% of tags used by women were facilitative whilst 61% of tags used by men were modal – against 35% for women.


6.     Cameron, McAlinden & O’Leary 1989 – men and women using the same number of tag questions in their research


7.     O’Barr & Atkins – Women’s Language or Powerless Language (1980) – “Women’s Language” is Powerless Language


8.     Dale Spender – 1980 – Man Made Language – the assumptions behind the research into “female language” biases the results, that there is such a thing as “women’s language” and the research was set up in order to delineate its aspects.


9.     Deborah Tannen – You Just Don’t Understand (1990) – women’s Rapport Talk to support and reach consensus versus men’s Report Talk to give information and compete for positions of power – men and women’s language differs in style as a result of upbringing and social conditioning. Cooperative Overlaps Vs Uncooperative Overlaps & The Androcentric Principle: women are seen as “lames”.

10.            Victoria DeFrancisco – How Men Silence Women (1991)Topic Acceptance – Women introduced more topic than men, but less successful at getting their topics accepted. Again, male silence and inexpressiveness (minimal responses) are used to control conversations and dominate women. Women are forced to work harder in conversations, doing the “Conversational Shitwork”.

11.            John Gray – Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (1992) – In contrast to some psychologists (and feminists) who emphasize similarities between the sexes, Gray writes almost exclusively about differences. Gray says that his “Martians” and “Venusians” are only stereotypes and cannot be applied blindly to individuals.

12.            Deborah Cameron – The Myth of Mars & Venus (2007) – Differences between men’s and women’s speech style are actively sought, promoted by academia and the popular press, frame our perceptions, bias our understanding of the issue, reinforce the purported styles, and render a scientific exploration of the issue very difficult indeed.

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