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Language and woman's place

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 December 2008

Robin Lakoff
Affiliation:
Department of Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley
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Abstract

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Our use of language embodies attitudes as well as referential meanings. ‘Woman's language’ has as foundation the attitude that women are marginal to the serious concerns of life, which are pre-empted by men. The marginality and powerlessness of women is reflected in both the ways women are expected to speak, and the ways in which women are spoken of. In appropriate women's speech, strong expression of feeling is avoided, expression of uncertainty is favored, and means of expression in regard to subject-matter deemed ‘trivial’ to the ‘real’ world are elaborated. Speech about women implies an object, whose sexual nature requires euphemism, and whose social roles are derivative and dependent in relation to men. The personal identity of women thus is linguistically submerged; the language works against treatment of women, as serious persons with individual views.

These aspects of English are explored with regard to lexicon (color terms, particles, evaluative adjectives), and syntax (tag-questions, and related aspects of intonation in answers to requests, and of requests and orders), as concerns speech by women. Speech about women is analyzed with regard to lady : woman, master : mistress, widow : widower, and Mr : Mrs., Miss, with notice of differential use of role terms not explicitly marked for sex (e.g. professional) as well.

Some suggestions and conclusions are offered for those working in the women's liberation movement and other kinds of social reform; second language teaching; and theoretical linguistics. Relevant generalizations in linguistics require study of social mores as well as of purely linguistic data.

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Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1973

References

Haas, M. R. (1964). Men's and women's speech in Koasati. In Hymes, D. (ed.), Language in culture and society. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
Lakoff, R. (1972). Language in context. Lg. 48, 907–27.Google Scholar
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