Lakoff's Theory Between Language And Gender

Submitted By liliadiaz
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Pages: 5

The study between language and gender caused many debates and research. Linguists argue that the differences are universal, inherent, biologically determined or even leaned behaviourists. Lakoff’s interest in the features and characteristics of men and women’s language made her look into the social implications of speech in her book. In this she analysed and explained the variation of speech and gender, in which her theory questioned whether language contributed to women’s status in Western Europe and their lack of power. Robin argued that women’s language is polite and gives the impression that women are weaker and less certain than men, justifying the treatment of women as having low status and men’s treatment towards women.

I tested Lakoff’s theory by recording a conversation between a man and women and analysed the differences in the way they spoke, she states that there are certain features which men and women use separately which show gender inequality e.g. the way women use super polite forms such as ‘Would you mind’. I tested whether she was correct that there are differences in men and women’s speech and if so does that contribute to women’s lack of power. My hypothesis was that there is no syntactic rule in English that only women may use and that her theory can’t apply to society today. My first experiment was when I recorded a conversation between my sister and father to test Lakoff’s theory, he’d just come in from work and they were sat down at dinner.

In my conversation both the man and woman didn’t use certain features but there was a mixture response. I found that women use hedges more in my conversations e.g. when my father asks are you ok, my sister replies ‘yeah, kind of, bit tired though’, yet the male still uses hedge phrases. Both people in my recordings raised their voices in utterances when they wanted to draw attention to it. Also like Lakoff said, question intonation in declarative statements e.g. ‘you’re coming back at half twelve?’ yet this was spoken by the male character in the conversation. My sister used the only tag question in the dialogue- ‘you went to the beach, didn’t you?’ which didn’t prove that women used them more as the conversation was brief and tag questions were only used once. Neither speakers used superpolite forms, but this could be because of their close relationship, whereas if it was a more formal situation these may not have been used more often, nor did each spokesman use hypercorrect grammar or empty adjectives. I used another testing of my aunt and uncle in a conversation, I found the male speaker using more italics and frequent use of implication e.g. ‘I’m really hungry’ and the majority of jokes came for from the female speaker.

I found that Lakoff’s theory couldn’t argue that women use certain features in language, in society today people are from different places, different ages and are in different situations therefore speak in a dissimilar way applying to these factors and it can’t necessarily be tested through one conversation between a male and female. Like my hypothesis stated, my research found that there is no rule in English that only women use more often, yet there are certain features which allow speakers to appear less assertive and lack confidence. I believe that language can contribute to lack of power and status in society, O’ Barr and Atkins were linguists who questioned Lakoff’s theory’s and believed that speech behaviour can be a reflection of social status yet I don’t believe that all characteristics Lakoff claimed were features of women.

I found the main area of interest in the work that Lakoff was most famous for, her theories on gender discrimination through language. Lakoff was one of the first serious linguists to look into the social implications of the differences in men and women’s use of speech. She analysed the links between