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Women’s language and communication research can be traced back to a 1664 report that cited differences in speech forms of ‘Carib’ women and men. This research was the beginning of a fruitful area of study looking at language use, speech styles, and communication strategies associated with women.
Early research on women’s language and communication focused on linguistic aspects of language, mainly concentrating on sounds (e.g., phonetics) and syntax. The more systematic interest and dichotomy of sex role- and gender-related aspects of language and communication came much later. With the influence of the feminist movement in some parts of the world, a serious interest in women’s language and communication research materialized. Thus, in these countries research concerning women’s language and communication became apparent from the 1970s.
Robin Lakoff ’s publications have often been deemed the foundational work of describing feminine speech style, illustrating the significant relationship between language and gender. Lakoff identified a number of characteristics in women’s speech patterns (hedges, super-polite speech, tag questions, speaking with intonation emphasis, empty adjectives, hypercorrect grammar and pronunciation, lack of sense of humor, direct quotations, a special lexicon, rising intonation in declarative statements). Although criticized for labeling women’s language as varying from the norm, Lakoff ’s research has had great heuristic value in current communication, linguistic, and gender studies.
From Lakoff ’s work, three influential perspectives emerged with regard to women’s language and communication. Researchers from a “sex-role perspective” believe there are innate similarities and differences between women’s and men’s language and communication. For “feminist researchers,” women’s language and communication are analyzed in relation to issues of power (or lack thereof). Researchers from the “gender-as-culture perspective” argue that similarities and/or differences found between women’s and men’s language are a creation of performing gender.
- Bonvillain, N. (2006). Women and men: Cultural constructs of gender, 4th edn. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
- Lakoff, R. (2004). Language and woman’s place: Text and commentaries, rev. edn., ed. M. Bucholtz. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Wood, J. (2005). Gendered lives: Communication, gender, and culture. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.