i love english language




Clive Grey

Over the five years of teaching courses on gender-linked language variation I have become aware of the need for an up-to-date commentary on work over the last twenty five years. While there are now many handbooks to date, and well over 400 articles are listed in the appended bibliography, it was felt that a short summary of the main trends of the work would be useful for students embarking on a one-term course.I have tried to be as inclusive as possible, but if there are omissions the reader will forgive the compiler, and perhaps inform him of this. At the start of undertaking the task it was not clear that the work would become a major undertaking. If it induces the user of this overview to a closer reading of the texts then the work will not have been in vain. The paper was first written in 1993, and a revision has been necessary to update the text for the reader in 1996. There is, however, no shortage of references to include. There is still enormous interest in the area of gender and language.

I have attempted to cover all periods, concentrating on work in English, but recognition of work in other languages is made, and specific reference to this is made in a special section towards the end of the overview. I have not incorporated references to gender and language in introductory linguistics textbooks, as it felt that the reader might be familiar with such comments already. Instead, the concentration is on listing of primary texts, texts which will introduce the reader to current lines of research.


  1. Early statements on gender and language

  2. Work after 1900

  3. Work during the 1970’s

  4. The Early 1980’s

  5. Work after 1985

  The 90’s and the outlook for the future

I. Early statements on gender and language

It is common to assume that the investigation and identification of differences between men’s and women’s speech dates only from the 1970s. While the number of books and articles has certainly expanded our knowledge enormously of this once largely unrecognised area of language usage many articles covering gender and its relation to language usage had appeared many years before.Even in the Tudor period comments about the kind of language that was suitable for young women to aim at is evidenced. Vives (1523) De Institutione Christianae Feminae (On The Instruction of a Christian Woman) has observations on what appropriate was considered then appropriate language for the time. There is little investigation of such advice of the period yet, however, and there is undoubtedly much of interest from a historical point of view about how society viewed women and linguistic behaviour. Similarly, much about attitudes towards women’s speech is revealed by Tilley’s collection of English proverbs (Tilley 1950), items of which appear in several recent handbooks (Coates 1986, Hughes 1992).

In the eighteenth century Bingham’s work The Young Ladies Accidence published in 1785 offers advice of the same kind. Such writing is not uncommon in a period of increasing social movement. For a review of such work see Bornstein (1978) and Ehrenreich & English (no date).

For a general overview of class, gender and politics between 1780 and 1850 see Hall 1985, and Homans 1986 for a discussion of women in nineteenth century fiction.

What is interesting about these early ‘handbooks’ is the specific reference to women – there are no corresponding publications where men are the audience for a book on ‘improving’ linguistic behaviour, indeed it is men who usually do the suggesting. Similar advice came from one E. Devis, in 1801, in his Accidence, or first rudiments of English grammar designed for the use of young ladies, and similar work appears in French in the same year (Marechal 1801).

A fairly recent study, Tucker (1967), of vocabulary of the eighteenth century has also attempted to chart the nature of gender differences in writing in the period.

One of the notorious writers of the late eighteenth century (to modern readers) is Philip Stanhope, later known as Lord Chesterfield, whose comments have come down through various quotations in Jennifer Coates’ book Women, Men and Language (Coates 1986). They remain, largely, idiosyncratic personal observations, and reflect an overtly masculine bias towards what counts as good usage of the period.

In fact it is very difficult indeed to find women writing for women on matters of language use before the start of the twentieth century. Work that did aim to deal with women’s usage remained largely instructional: e.g. Higginson (1881). In the last years of the nineteenth century several articles appeared in the Writer about the need pronoun usage, and a problem which is still contentious in present-day English, the question of whether it is appropriate to use “he” in reference both to individual females, as well as individual males (e.g. “the student should leave his coat at the back of the hall”, etc.). (See also Converse (1889), Morgan (1895). By the turn of the century grammatical gender had become a research topic of considerable interest: Wheeler (1899), Frazer (1900) and Knutson (1905).


II. Work after 1900

So by 1900 publications tend to fall into two categories: instructional advice for women wishing to improve their spoken and written English, and the rise and development of sex-specification in the language, of which pronoun usage is one aspect.But by far the most significant publication of the period on gender and language variation for many is E C Stanton’s Woman’s Bible, described later as the original feminist version of the text, published in 1891, in America. And fifteen years later it is in America that work on women’s language begins to take off, with James’ article in Harper’s Bazaar entitled “The speech of American women”, (James 1906), and Stopes’ article on the problematic usage (for many) word “man” (Stopes 1908).

Often lost in the discussion of feminist inquiry into language is Gauchat’s remarkable study of a Swiss village community (Gauchat 1905), possibly the first truly sociolinguistic study of its kind, where male and female usage is clearly divergent. It remains unique for its time, a period of classical dialectology when variation was assumed to obey rigid laws and only men spoke true dialect. William Labov deserves credit for reasserting its significance in his Sociolinguistic Patterns of 1972.

Chamberlain (1912) represented a new direction, one of investigating gender differences in language across different cultures, and it is from this study that we derive early information about so-called sex-exclusive differences, situations where men speak (supposedly) an entirely different language from women. The classic cases are Gros Ventre, (Flannery 1946), Chukchi, Yana (Sapir 1961) and the case of the Carib Indians. Most of these cases can be interpreted as the result of peculiar social conditions, with the case of the Caribs partly explained by annihilation of all the males of the tribe by a neighbouring tribe. They remain rare cases. Most work on gender and language variation now deals with sex-preferential linguistic usage, that is where men tend to speak in one way, women another, although even this is often contentious.

The work of the distinguished Danish linguist Otto Jespersen on women’s use of language has come under fire in much recent literature. His writing, “The Woman”, a chapter in his book Language (1922) and his chapter “Sex and Gender” in his second book The Philosophy of Grammar (1924) to an audience in the 1990s now reads entirely farcical. It is easy to criticise such early work for what it is, but little else was written in the 1920s in Europe, and perhaps even at the time many people who read this would have reacted negatively to it.

In America the journal American Speech becomes significant for its publication of many articles on gender-linked variation. Svartengren (1927) deals with feminine gender, taken up again in 1954, and Meredith (1930) takes up the cause with a discussion of possible words such as “doctress” and “authoress”. (See the front cover of Dennis Baron’s Grammar and Gender also.

The use of “she” to refer to countries and boats attracted Svartengren’s attention in another article in 1928, something which many feminists have objected to a great deal in recent years. (The use of “she” to refer to motor cars – “She’s a good runner” – seems typically male). Discussion of sexist use of pronouns resumes in Hall (1951) and Langenfelt (1951).

English does possess an impersonal pronoun – “one” but its usage has always been significantly different from the French usage of “on” (Trager 1931). In Britain it typifies aristocratic speech, where in ‘ordinary’ speech “you” is selected: “one doesn’t see this very often” / “you don’t see that …” Work on pronouns has continued with calls for new words for women to use: e.g. Archer (1975).

Both Dike (1937) and Withington (1937) also deal with sex specification in the language: the use of “-ess”, an issue returned to in Burchfield’s column in the Sunday Times quite recently, and the more general question, taken up particularly in the early sixties, of the connotative difference between a “lady” and a “woman”, (see Ackerman (1962), Hancock (1963) and Moe (1963)). See Lakoff (1973) on this concern also.

J M Steadman published two articles in the journal American Speech, the first in 1935 on linguistic taboo, and the second, entitled “Affected and effeminate words” in 1938. Also in American Speech is Maurer’s study of prostitutes’ and criminal argots (Maurer 1939).

The first specific piece of writing on gender differences in language this century did not appear until 1944, P H Furfey’s “Men’s and Women’s language”, published in the Catholic Sociological Review.

Very little work specifically on gender and language variation in Europe appeared in the 40s, but observations of gender-linked variation is recorded in the dialect atlas of western Flanders (Pee 1946). Dialectologists’ views about women as informants, at least in British studies, are well-known (See Petyt 1980).

The writer D L Sayers writes about language usage in a book entitled Unpopular Opinions published in 1947, and again in 1969.

Meredith (1955) takes up the stereotype of the office secretary and her speech, and the search for a sex-neutral pronoun continues in the popular press with Titcomb (1955).

More subtle, sinister effects of the way in which language influences perceptions of character are taken up in Strodtbeck & Mann (1956).


III. Work during the 1970’s

Roszak & Roszak’s book Masculine/Feminine, published in 1969, signals the start of a period of more intense speculation about gender differences in language. Morgan’s edited collection Sisterhood is powerful 1970 and her article “Know your enemy: a sampling of sexist quotes” of the same year, Troth’s article “How can a woman MAN the barricades”, also 1970, and Hole & Levine’s article “The Politics of Language” of 1971 also testify to the emerging feminist critique of language usage. Other books include Firestone (1971) The Dialectic of Sex, and Gornick & Moran’s Women in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness (1971).Other articles of the period in the same vein are Komisar (1971), Pierce (1971), Strainchamps (1972) “Our sexist language”, Gary (1972), Howard (1972) “Watch your language, men”. While many would point up the need to ‘desex’ the language, e.g. Miller & Swift (1972), others begin to signal resistance to this kind of change in English: Kanfer (1972).

From a more sober critical linguistic point of view there is Key’s discussion of male/female differences (Key 1972), Warshay (1972) and Trudgill’s early article (Trudgill 1972), where the notion of covert prestige linguistic change and gender-linked variation are investigated.

Trudgill’s major study of sociolinguistic variation in Norwich (Trudgill 1974) charted the way for further research in Britain of gender-linked variation in language. Conklin’s paper (Conklin 1973) also deals with dialectal variation and gender, as does Swacker (1975). With Cheshire’s study (Cheshire 1978) of present tense verbs in Reading English among school children we see a return to sociolinguistics at a microlevel of investigation. Its findings remain of great significance for our understanding of social processes and genderised linguistic variation twenty years later, and the crucial exploitation of vernacular culture index as a reflection of language usage make it significant reading for anyone interested in urban dialect in Britain.

Ervin-Tripp’s paper “What do women sociolinguists want” calls for urgent attention to be paid to sociolinguistic variation of the kind identified by Cheshire and Trudgill. Too much work in the past has failed to address women’s language, and when it has it has tended to consider it not in its own terms, but in comparison to men’s language.

Language acquisition and gender variation are relatively recent themes in the linguistic literature: Clarke-Stewart (1973) has been followed by Sears & Feldman (1973) (teacher-pupil interaction) and the work of Stacey et al (1974) on sexism in American education generally. There are other interesting research areas: Sexton’s article (1970) “How the American boy is feminised”, for example. Thompson (1975) looks at early sex role development and the influence on language, while West & Zimmermann (1977) look at parental interaction with children and how mother’s talking varies according to child.

Dictionary makers have fallen victim to feminist criticism of being sexist: Graham (1973), Green (1973), Lennert & Wolfson (1973), Schulz (1973). The Feminist Writers Workshop (1973) published a so-called Intelligent woman’s guide to dirty words. (See also Todasco 1973). Of relevance here is Tiedt’s article (Tiedt 1973) on the problems facing an editor given heightened awareness of sexism in language use – see Fasold (1990) also.

Comparison begins to be drawn between female cooperativeness and male competitiveness in linguistic behaviour, now a major focus of attention in the nineties, in Hirschmann (1974) and Conklin (1974). Cultural differences in what researchers came to term ‘communicative competence’, between the sexes, was suggested by work such as Keenan (1974).

Increasingly combative some writers wished to portray women’s speech as just as significant as males: Kramarae 1974, the first of many articles, is entitled “Women’s speech: separate but unequal?”, and in the same year Robin Lakoff, another highly influential writer at the time, produced the first of several papers, entitled “You are what you say”. Korda’s full length study of 1975 Male chauvinism: how it works in the home is also important.

Dale Spender has stated that English vocabulary has been designed to construct a sexist male supremacy (Man Made Language, Spender 1980). The important point that is often lost is that such notions crucially depend on whether language constructs a reality, or whether the words people use or have at their disposal are irrelevant to thought processes. Most feminist discussion about language crucially depends on the notion that language, the words that people use, create an imbalance in the kinds of things that men and women wish to express. English is a man’s language. Historically, men were the only writers to be recognised, men wrote dictionaries, men declared what was good and bad literature and so on.

Much recent work continues to question however whether the link between language and thought is so clear cut. Khosroshahi (1989) is an important contribution to recent discussion, involving experimentation. While Whorf, the main exponent of the view never specifically dealt with gender and variation, his ideas are still central to much feminist writing. It still remains difficult to show one way or the other. See Mathiot ed. (1982) for further discussion of the problem. Ardener (1975) and Baker & Elliston eds. (1975) deal specifically with the philosophical approaches underpinning much of the research of the mid seventies.

The psychological literature began to address such questions: Bem (1975) discusses sex role adaptability, and there are obvious questions raised for linguists. Weitz (1977) Sex roles: biological, psychological and social foundations is also important reading, as is Edelsky (1976) on people’s ability to recognise gender from linguistic cues.

Tag questions, one of the features identified by Robin Lakoff as being more likely to be heard from women are first dealt with in detail in Dubois & Crouch (1975) and they have aroused much controversy since.

Several major textbooks begin to appear in the mid seventies, which popularised the discussion and opened it up to linguists generally. As an undergraduate doing single honours linguistics between 1974 and 1978 it is interesting to reflect that no-one thought to put gender and language on the syllabus. Ten years later and a whole shelf would not accommodate the relevant literature.

The main texts are Key (1975) (Male/female language), Lakoff (1975) Language and women’s place, (with extracts printed in Lakoff (1981)), McConnell-Ginet (1975) Our father tongue, and Thorne & Henley eds. (1975) Language and sex: difference and dominance. Note the word ‘dominant’ – it becomes more frequent in later writing as gender-linked variation comes to be seen as part of a more general problem of dominance in language usage.

Other important work of the period is Dubois and Crouch’s edited volume The Sociology of Languages of American Women (1976), Nilsen et al eds. 1977 Sexism and language. Burturff & Epstein eds. (1978) Women’s language and style), followed by Eakins and Eakins’ Sex Differences in Human Communication the same year.

The stereotypes of women’s speaking continued to attract the wrath of some: Kramer (1975), Schulz (1975), and Siegler & Siegler (1976), and Horton 1976 returns to the need for a sex-neutral vocabulary in an age of equal opportunities for women. The theme is continued in Blaubergs 1978, Haas 1979 and McConnell-Ginet 1979 “Address forms in sexual politics”, and Vetterling- Braggin’s “Assertive Power” of the same year, and Wasserstrom (1979).

Crosby & Nyquist launch a severe attack on Lakoff’s observations of women’s language in their article “The female register” of 1977, and much of Dale Spender’s work seems to follow in its wake – her comment that some linguists have been more than helpful in the enterprise of showing how women are less competent linguistically is surely a less than veiled reference to some of the statements of Lakoff (1975). Valian’s book Linguistics and Feminism (Valian 1981) also questions the way in which work on gender-linked language variation was going at the time.

At an institutional level government agencies begin to take note of the need to accommodate sensitivities about sexist usage. In 1975 the US Department of Labour produced a publication entitled Job title revisions to eliminate sex- and age- referent language from the dictionary of professional titles. But changing usage is more than a matter of publication of manuals. While outlawing practice in writing, legislating for the spoken word is, as people subject to racial harassment are aware, is something else. Woolf (1979) addresses some of these issues.

Returning to differences in communicative competence (Hymes’ term) interruption patterns across the sexes begin to be investigated in Zimmermann & West’s important article of 1975. E Aries’ article of the same year links well with this, concentrating on other interaction patterns. Esposito (1979) concentrates on sex differences in children’s conversation.

Garnica & King in their book (1979) Language, Children and Society and G Wells’s article “Variation in child language” in Lee’s volume Language Development (Lee 1979) deal with this also. Entitled “Interactional shitwork” P M Fishman’s article (Fishman 1977) has been the source of much inspiration for later work on how women appear to oil the wheels of conversation in the face of male reticence or lack of interest in more ‘female’ topics, carried forward into her second article “Interaction: the work women do” (Fishman 1979).

Expletives, supposedly more common in the speech of men than women, are investigated in Beiley & Time (1976) and Staley (1978).

A group of papers can be grouped together as women sociolinguists begin to explore further the linguistic situation of women in the home: Fishman’s “What do couples talk about when they’re alone” (Fishman 1978), and Humphrey (1978) “Women, taboo and the suppression of attention”. Increasingly we see attention turned to women talking among themselves, rather than talking to men: Jenkins & Kramer (1978) being the first of several papers in this direction.

Gal (1978) is important for its investigation of gender-linked language use as it crucially relates to bilingual situations, and specifically the situation of ethnic Hungarian men and women living in Austria. Gal’s article “Peasant men can’t get wives” was followed the following year by her book Language Shift: Social Determinants of Language Change (Gal 1979). The work has been followed up by fascinating recent work by Lippi Green work on Austrian village communication patterns (Lippi-Green 1989).

Work on women’s studies continues unabated in many textbooks of the late 70s: Jenkins & Kramer (1978) and Kessler & McKenna (1978).

Work in Britain continued with Romaine’s work on postvocalic /r/ in the speech of Scottish schoolchildren (Romaine (1978) and Reid (1978).

In America the use of “man” continues to attract attention: Stanley & Robbins (1978) and Martyna (1978), while so-called sexist grammar is the subject of Stanley (1978). Discussion of neutral pronouns makes a return in Timm (1978). Turner (1977) discusses the need for sex-neutral pronouns also in religious writing.

Increasingly social psychological literature takes in gender and language variation: Tajfel ed. (1978) is an important work of the period, as is Williams and Giles (1978) and Breakwell (1979). John Edwards’ paper of 1979 on social class and identification of sex of children’s speech is also important.

Criticism of the heading of the research being undertaken in gender and language studies is voiced in Brouwer et al (1979). A Dutch linguist, Brouwer has edited more recent volumes on the woman’s speech in the Netherlands (Brouwer & De Haan eds. 1986)

An ethnomethodological approach is offered in Kessler & McKenna (1978).

Intonation and gender receive attention in Edelsky (1979), and further work by Local on Tyneside (Local 1974) shows subtle gender-linked patterns in British speech. There is also the recent work into the history of the language that shed light on the kind of gender system that has developed in English over the centuries. Historical linguists have investigated early changes in the gender system of English. Stanley & Robbins (1978) deal with the pronoun “she” in Middle English, but beyond this we know very little about women’s usage of the language in this period. Charles Jones’ full-length text Grammatical Gender in English 950-1250 (Jones 1987) is important reading also for information on the period.


IV. The early 1980’s

The 1980s proved as important a period for gender and language variation studies as the 1970s. Rather than group items by date, because of the large amount of relevant literature in the period the work is sectioned as follows:

A. Major TextbooksB. Work on the politics of researching women’s language, and research methodology

C. Research into sexism in the language

D. Research into sexism in society as it relates to language use

E. Research into interaction and communicative competence

F. Relevant work in Sociolinguistics and Variation Studies

G. Relevant work in Social Psychology and Psycholinguistics

H. Research into gender and language acquisition

I. Research into gender and language in the school

J. Research into women and writing

A. Major Textbooks

Major Textbooks

Two major textbooks in English appeared during the period: Kramarae (1981) Women and men speaking: frameworks for analysis. Thorne et al (1983) Language, gender and society is also an important text. For German readers there is the important text Gewalt durch Sprache, (1984), (roughly “Domination through Language”), by Troemel-Ploetz who also writes in English.Not specifically dedicated to gender and language Beattie’s (1983) Open University textbook Talk: an analysis of speech and non-verbal behaviour in conversation is very relevant, as is the British researcher Martin Atkinson’s Our masters’ voice: the language and body language of politics (Atkinson 1983). Also relevant is K C Phillipps (1984) Language and Class in Victorian England. Other titles of relevance include Maurer ed. (1981) Language of the underworld.

B. Work on the politics of researching women’s language, and research methodology

Many articles were published during the period about precisely what women should be doing when they investigate language. Martyna (1981) tries to suggest that research should get beyond questions to do sex-neutral pronouns, and on to wider concerns. Kramarae (1980) “Perceptions and politics in language and sex research” is a significant contribution to the debate, while Warren (1980) specifically questions the approach adopted in Lakoff (1975). Ketchum (1981) is a more general article of interest “Moral redescription and political self- deception”. Kuykendall (1981) “Feminist linguistics in philosophy”, Stenner (1981) “A note on logical truth and non-sexist semantics”, and Taylor (1981) “Reference and truth : the case of sexist and racist utterances”, engage in more philosophical concerns. Roberts (1981) – Doing feminist research is another important theoretical work, as is Oakley (1981) “Interviewing women: a contradiction in terms” which specifically examines the nature of interviewing.

C. Research into sexism in the language

Many articles continue to expose the sexist nature of English: Silveira (1980) “Generic masculine words and thinking” attempts to investigate the way in which the male is treated as the norm, or unmarked term in English classification systems Beardsley’s article “Degenderisation” (Beardsley 1981) calls again for sex-neutral vocabulary to be introduced into speech as does Duran (1981) “Gender-neutral terms”. A whole series of articles investigate the use of “Ms.”: Levin (1981), Purdey (1981) and Soble (1981), as does Baron (1984). Korsmeyer (1981) looks at the generic uses of masculine terminology, while Moulton (1981a) looks at the myth of the neutral man & Moulton (1981b) sex and reference in more general terms.Discussion continues in McConnell-Ginet’s “Prototypes, pronouns and persons” (McConnell-Ginet 1982). Steinmetz (1982) “On language: the desexing of English” continues the debate. McKay (1983) carries on the debate about pronouns. Sklar 1983 ‘revisits’ sexist grammar (sic), while Sorrels (1983) offers solutions to problems of awkwardness in expression arising from sensitivities about sexist language. M Stone’s article in the Women’s page of the Guardian newspaper in April 1983 (Stone 1983) bears the problematic (?) title “Learning to say it in cup of tea language”. Bebout (1984) reports cases of asymmetries in male-female word pairs. Both J Cheshire and J Coates have articles entitled “Language and Sexism” published in 1984.

D. Research into sexism in society as it relates to language use

Many articles are devoted to identifying what goes on in the street between males and females, and specifically abuse of females. Gardner (1980) investigates street remarks made by males to females, followed by many articles in the next year, e.g. Bernard & Schlaffer (1981) “The man in the street: Why he harasses”, Baker (1981) “Pricks and Chicks” seems to be another expose of the ritual insults of the streets, points followed up by Grim (1981), Ross (1981) “How words hurt”, and Shute (1981) “Sexist language and sexism”. Vetterling- Braggin’s three articles of 1981, (1981a, 1981b, 1981c) all deal with sexist and racist language and its moral significance.West & Zimmerman (1983) could be usefully grouped here also, as well as under communicative competence since it deals with interruption patterns between strangers.

E. Aspects of Interaction and Communicative Competence

In this section can be grouped work on patterns of politeness, interruption and taboo. Elgin (1980) bears the intriguing title The gentle art of verbal self- defense, while Fishman (1980) is entitled “Conversational insecurity”. Jones (1980) deals with ‘gossip’, arguing for a positive interpretation of it, gossip being a specific feature of women’s oral culture (on gossip more recently see Coates 1988). Leet-Pellegrini (1980) deals with conversational dominance as a function of gender and expertise, a theme extended in O’Barr & Atkins (1980) in their article “Women’s language or powerless language”.Wodak (1981) “Women relate, men report…” is also important reading. Beattie (1981) returns to patterns of interruption in cross-sex conversation, while in an unpublished paper Gomm (1981) examines differences in swearing across the sexes. Brouwer et al (1982) deal with cross-gender politeness strategies, and Baroni & D’Urso (1984) report the findings of experiments on politeness features.

Maltz & Borker (1982) discuss miscommunication across the sexes (on this topic see Henley & Kramarae (1991) later also). Deborah Tannen wrote of ethnic style in cross-sex interaction in the same year. Troemel-Ploetz (1982) writes of the conversational differences between the sexes. Fishman (1983) “Interaction: the work that women do” returns to the topic of women being responsible for most of cross-sex interaction . McMillan et al (1983) returns to the notion that women, rather than being uncertain about what they say are in fact skilled communicators facilitating interpersonal relationships. Sattel (1983) deals with men’s inexpressiveness and power. The specific feature of ‘hedges’ is the concern of Janet Holmes paper of 1984.

F. Relevant work in Sociolinguistics and Variation Studies

As work on the language of the cities became more extensive in Britain and America so more information became available about gender-related language usage. A particularly informative study was Milroy 1980, a study of three communities in Belfast. Elsewhere in Britain Beth Thomas (1982) wrote of the kinds of problems that arise in Wales in the course of fieldwork, where gender issues also arise. Trudgill’s edited collection (Trudgill 1984) Applications of Sociolinguistics also contains relevant studies here. Candace West’s work on doctor-patient interaction and the way in which gender and race alter the course of interactions appears in the full length study Routine Complications (West 1984a), as well as related articles e.g. West (1984b). (See also Groce (1990) on this topic).

G. Relevant work in Social Psychology and Psycholinguistics

Gumperz ed.(1982) Language and social identity is a significant work in the field of sociology and gender variation. Social psychologists also came to understand the nature of this variation more: Giles & Marsh (1980) “Perceived masculinity and accented speech”. See also Ryan & Giles eds. (1982) in this regard in their volume Attitudes toward language variation. Batliner (1984) reports work on the comprehension of natural and grammatical gender, while Davis & Salem (1984) report work relevant to our concerns in their paper entitled “Dealing with power imbalances in the mediation of interpersonal disputes”.

H. Research into gender and language acquisition

Sex differences in parent-child interaction are the focus of Greif (1980). Rondal (1980) looks at father’s and mother’s speech to children parent, work continued in McLaughlin et al (1983). Klann-Delius (1981) investigates whether there are influences on language acquisition by gender, and Walters (1981) looks at requesting behaviour in bilingual children, with Zimin (1981) looking specifically at politeness in first and second language acquisition.

I. Research into gender and language in the school

Delamont’s book Sex Roles and the School forms a good introduction to ideas about socialisation during the period (Delamont 1980). Goodwin (1980) looks at discourse in the classroom and specifically directive-response sequences. Payne (1980) investigates the situation of the working class girl in the school. Sarah (1980) looks at teacher-pupil communication, a theme also taken up by Dale Spender in her article “Talking in Class” (Spender 1980) and Stanworth (1981) Gender and schooling.Fichtelius et al (1980) “Three investigations of sex-associated speech variation in day school” is also significant in information on this area. The Council of Europe published its Sex stereotyping in Schools in 1982, in response to growing pressure within Europe for information of this problem, themes echoed in Spender (1982) – Invisible women: the schooling scandal, and in Millmann (1983) a paper written for the Equal Opportunities Commission. Wernersson’s study of teacher- pupil interaction (Wernersson 1982) is also significant, written again for the Council of Europe.

The following year classroom interaction was revisited by Clarricoates (1983), and Whyld’s Sexism in the Secondary curriculum (Whyld 1983). Durkin (1984) investigates children’s accounts of sex-role stereotyping on television.

J. Research into women and writing

During this period a great deal of discussion appeared on how women write, and what they wrote about which is relevant here: Kamuf (1980) “Writing like a woman” McConnell-Ginet et al (1980) Women and language in literature and society, a book which also is a good introduction generally to gender and language variation. Miller & Swift (1980) The handbook of non-sexist writing returns to the need for less sexist writing, that one can as an individual actually do something about sexism in language. To this list can be added Kramarae’s “Gender: How she speaks” (1982) and Abel’s edited volume Writing and sexual difference (1982).*****

V. Work after 1985

Following the categorisation adopted above we have the following items:

A. Major textbooks

Several important works appeared: Philip Smith (1985) Language, the sexes and society; Dale Spender (1985) Man Made Language; and Steedman (1985) Language, gender and childhood (reviewed in Miller 1990).1986 was a good year for general overviews of gender and language variation: Dennis Baron’s 1986 very informative text Grammar and Gender is also excellent and informative. Brouwer & de Haan (1986) Women’s Language, socialisation and self image, and Jennifer Coates’ book Women, men and Language. Jaworksi (1986) looks at the linguistic picture of women in present day society, while Preisler (1986) is a full length discussion of sex roles in conversation. (See Holmes (1989) for a review).

The following year saw the appearance of Phillips (1987) Language, gender and sex in comparative perspective, reviewed by M. Deuchar in 1986 in Journal of Linguistics 22.1 (p.243-4).

Coates & Cameron eds. (1988) Women in their speech communities is an excellent set of papers covering a wide range of topics including discussion of all-female interactions. (For a review of this see Phillips 1990). Other important handbooks are Todd & Fisher eds. (1988) Gender and discourse: the power of talk, Graddol & Swann (1989) Gender Voices, and Poynton (1989) Language and Gender: making the difference.

Deborah Tannen’s volume You Just don’t understand: women and men in conversation (Tannen 1990) has evoked considerable interest. It was in the top eight of non- fiction paperbacks in Britain at one point in 1992. It has also aroused considered opinion in the journals: for a review see DeFrancisco (1992). Lesley Milroy’s Observing and Analysing Linguistic Change (Milroy 1987) also has relevant discussion on the theme of gender differences in language usage.

Kramarae & Spender eds. (1992) is a very recent important addition to full length studies of women’s language.

In this section could be included Capek (1987), a thesaurus of language used to describe women, and Mills (1989) Womanwords.

McConnell-Ginet has provided a section on gender and language in W Bright’s 4 volume Encyclopaedia of Linguistics (Bright 1990). Recent additions are Ruth King’s Talking Gender: a guide to non-sexist communication (King 1991) and Bull & Swann eds. (1992) Language, Sex and Society, Volume 94 of International Journal of the Sociology of Language.

B. Work on the politics of researching women’s language, and research methodology

Cameron (1985) is a full-length discussion of feminism and the approaches adopted in linguistics to recent language work, and Cameron ed. (1990) is a collection of relevant writings. (See also Rakow 1986). Gal (1989) returns to this theme in the paper “The problematics of research on gender and language”. Langelier & Hall (1989) look at the methodology of interviewing. Discussion of problems in undertaking interpersonal research generally is found in Lannamann (1991).

C. Research into sexism in the language

Hughes et al (1986), Allen (1988) and Hook (1989) look at pronoun choice again. Britto (1988) considers some of the effects of feminist work on English usage, and Fasold (1990) considers the influence of feminist pressure on editors. Slama & Slowney (1988) and Gathercole (1989) look at supposed sex neutral use of masculine forms. Kitto (1989) examines gender reference terms. George Lakoff’s Women, fire and dangerous things (Lakoff, G 1987) (reviewed in Waxman 1989) is a major study of metaphors across cultures. Greene & Rubin (1991) investigate sex-inclusive and sex-exclusive language in religious discourse. Atkinson (1987) looks at naming conventions.

D. Research into sexism in society as it relates to language use

Ricci (1985) looks at equal opportunities and use of language in mediation situations, as does Weingarten & Douvain (1985). Kramarae (1986) looks again at verbal harassment. Kissling (1991) returns to this theme: “Street harassment: the language of sexual terrorism”. Risch (1987) “Women’s derogatory terms for men” deals with women’s forms of insulting. See also Agosin (1987). Woods (1988) looks at workplace talk, as does Krol (1991). Corcoran & Melamed (1989) looks at marital interaction and mediation. The title of Hughes & Sandler (1989) (“Harassing women: a college sport”) speaks for itself, as do DeFrancisco (1991) “The Sounds of silence: how men silence women in marital relations” and Houston & Kramarae (1991) “Speaking from silence: methods of silencing and of resistance”. Cox (1990) looks at discrimination in the US courts. De Klerk (1992) looks at taboo words for girls.

E. Research into interaction and communicative competence

A great deal appears during this period on interaction, e.g. Kipers (1987) “Gender and topic”, Murray (1987) “Women and men speaking at the same time”, and in response Talbot (1987). Rose (1987) “Language as an expression of caring in women”. Dindia (1987) looks at interruptions and compares same-sex patterns with cross-sex ones. Holmes (1986) investigates the functions of the tag “you know” in speech. Coates (1988) discusses ‘gossip’ again. Deuchar 1988 looks at women’s use of standard speech.West & Garcia (1988) look at conversational shift work – note shift work. Torode ed. (1989) includes discussion on gender and language in the volume Text and talk as social practice. Cutler & Scott (1990) report perceptions about how much talking men and women actually do in conversations. Herbert (1990) investigates sex-based differences in complimenting, while Holmes (1990a) and Holmes (1990b) discuss types of apologies and hedging respectively in New Zealand speech. Johnson & Roen (1992) further investigate politeness strategies across the sexes, as does J S Smith (1992).

Singh and Lele (1990) discuss cross-sex communication strategies. West (1990) continues to report work on doctor-patient interaction, but see also Groce (1990) “Intimate adversaries: cultural conflict between doctors and women patients”. Coates (1991) deals again with women’s co-operative talk, while de Klerk (1990), (1991) deals with slang as a supposed male domain, and Hughes (1992) investigates the use of expletives among working class women in Manchester, showing clearly that there is nothing unusual in women using expletives. Miscommunication patterns is the topic of Henley & Kramarae (1991). Pizzini (1991) looks at humour and its role in interaction between the sexes.

F. Relevant work in Sociolinguistics and Variation theory

Allen (1985) investigates sex-linked variation in dialect response work. Thomas (1988) investigates a South Wales community and finds women more likely than men to preserve local Welsh dialect features. Eckert 1989 considers gender differences in variation. Lippi-Green (1989) looks at social network integration in an Austrian village. Rissel (1989) is a microsociolinguistic study of a phonetic feature among young people in a Mexican village. W F Edwards (1992) has investigated black urban speech in Detroit and found significant differences between the sexes in language usage.

G. Relevant work in Social psychology and Psycholinguistics

Fine, Johnson & Foss (1986) look at student perceptions of managerial communication. Guenzberger (1987) examines voice identification in young teenagers. Harrigan et al (1989) investigates attitudes towards gender bias in language. Khosroshahi (1989) investigates language and its influence on perception of situation and information handling. Mirenda (1989) looks at synthetic and natural speech preferences. Titze (1989) is an investigation of perceptual differences between female and male voices. Stucky & Hopper (1990) investigate the effects of stereotyping on speech evaluation. Gibbons et al (1991) investigates persuasion techniques as they relate to gender differences.

H. Research into Gender and Language Acquisition

Fletcher et al (1986) considers gender-linked variation in language usage at various points. Mills (1986) looks at the acquisition of the natural gender rule, while Wells (1986) discusses gender-linked variation at various points in his textbook Variations in Child Language. O’Brien (1987) investigates parents’ speech to toddlers. Sheldon (1990) looks at gendered talk in disputes among preschool children. (A new volume Girls, Boys and Language is due for publication in late 1992).

J. Research into gender and language in the school

Sadker & Sadker (1985) looks at sexism in the schoolroom of the 1980s. Swann (1988) looks at talk control in the schools. Pica (1990) looks at language learning and gender influence. Rakow (1990) reports on gender discrimination and racism in the classroom.*****

Two further further categories of texts for this period of the late 1980s seemed useful, as well as a ‘miscellaneous box’:

K. Relevant work in women’s studies to gender and language research
L. Work on gender-linked language variation in other languages.
M. Other items of interest.


K. Relevant work in women’s studies to gender and language research

Shapiro 1985 discusses some of the history of the women’s movement at length. Dybikowski (1985) fits in here also: In the feminine: words and women. Treichler et al (1985) For the Alma Mater: theory and practice in feminist scholarship, is also an important contribution. See also Homans (1986) (Bearing the word: language and female experience in nineteenth century fiction). Murphy-Lawless (1989) is entitled “Male texts and female bodies: the colonisation of childbirth by men midwives”.Bloom (1990) looks at sex differences in ethical systems. Rakow & Kramarae eds. (1990) reviews gender and language reform. Gowen (1991) looks at beliefs about women’s literacy. Troemel-Ploetz’s article of 1991 “Selling the apolitical” is important relevant reading here, as is Foss & Foss (1991) Women speak: the eloquence of women’s lives. Cooks & Hale (1992) looks at the problems facing women as mediators. Torres’s paper (Torres 1992) “Women and language – from sex differences to power dynamics” is important reading too for a general assessment of the current situation, and appears as part of a clearly significant publication (Kramarae & Spender eds. 1992).

L. Work on gender-linked language variation in other languages

Work on gender-linked variation has been referred to already. (See section C above). By far the most researched language apart from English for gender differences is Japanese. Shibamoto (1985) looks at Japanese women’s language, paralleling work by Leo Loveday in 1986 in his volume Explorations in Japanese Sociolinguistics and an article “Japanese sociolinguistics”. Japanese usage is taken up again in Ido & McGloin (1990) eds. Aspects of Japanese women’s language, and Shibatani (1990) The Languages of Japan. The latest in this work on Japanese is Takahara (1991) “Female speech patterns in Japanese”.Work in France is much advanced also. Important titles are Les Mots et les femmes (Yaguello 1978), Galeazzi (1986), Houdebine (1987) “Le francais au feminin”, Koskas (1987) “L’ordre sexuel du discours”, Muraro (1987) “Le penseur neutre etait une femme”, Koskas (1987) and Pillon (1987), and Violi (1987) “Les origines du genre grammatical”.

For variation in Arabic there is Bakir (1986) and Hassan et al (1989). Nissen (1986) looks at sex specification in Spanish, Weissenfels (1988) looks at feminism in Spain generally), while work reported in Schatz (1986) (Plats Amsterdam in its social context) has found subtle differences between male and female speech in different districts of Amsterdam. Bani (1987) uncovers the subtleties of the difference between masculine and feminine in an Australian language locations of the kind reported in Lakoff (1987). Viv Edwards (1988) investigates the language of wedding rituals in a Gujerati-speaking community in Britain. Knoblauch (1988) looks at female speech in Greek, Armenian and Albanian communities.

Williams (1988) looks at the development of a creole in West Africa which appears to have been a female invention, unusually. Baumann & Sherzer (1989) Explorations in the ethnography of speaking (reissued) includes many articles on gender-lined variation. Brouwer (1989) is a book-length investigation of Dutch. Jaworksi (1989) is a similar book-length discussion of Polish gendered language usage. Bell (1990) looks at a native American situation.

M. Other items of interest

Stanbach’s paper (1985) “Language and black women’s place” ties in with Etter- Lewis (1991) “Standing up and speaking out: African American women’s narrative legacy”. Moore (1986) Space, text and gender. Whyte (1986) Girls into science and technology. Abbot & Sapsford (1987) Women and Social Class. Hentschel (1987) is one of very few articles to look at women’s graffiti to date. Schafran (1987) (Gender bias in the courts). Kovecses (1988) looks at the “language of love” and “the semantics of passion” (sic). Chan (1990) looks at the speech of Chinese women in English fiction, a topic that reappears in Niederer (1990) (in French). Gupta & Lin (1991) deals with representations of women in English language textbooks in Singapore. Finally, Boyarin (1991) investigates women and Torah study, while Doerfer (1985) examines the use of the Koran in a feminist linguistic context.******

The 90’s and the outlook for the future

During the course of the 1980s the work on gender and language variation has moved away from discussion of the sexism in the language to looking at how men and women communicate with people of the opposite sex, and, lately, what happens within same-sex interaction. But it is difficult to find much that is written of differences within these groups in terms of language use. If there is any reason to criticise much of what has been written it is that it assume a simple division in society into two groups: males and females.The distinction masculine vs. feminine speech , suggested by Philip Smith in his 1985 book Language, the sexes and society, might be a more appropriate one, but it has not received much attention, and indeed it the distinction that Smith draws has been criticised for simply moving the goalposts: so there are problems with a distinction with male/female, let’s call it masculine/feminine instead. Is anything solved, it is argued, by such redefinition of categories? Whatever, it now seems obvious that a crass distinction between male and female anything, let alone language, is not going to be particularly helpful for analysis of human behaviour.

This leads on to a related issue – the failure to distinguish between the speech of heterosexual and homosexual people. There is a great silence in the literature on gender and language to date, yet it is such an obvious distinction that might be drawn and an obvious, yet neglected area for research. What observations there are on differences between the speech of gays and straights, as well as effeminate speech (apart from Steadman (1938)) seems confined to dictionaries of slang, and popular legend (e.g. palari – the speech of drag queens in the east end of London), and references are generally homophobic. In 1993 I wrote that the reasons why such work has not been undertaken are fairly obvious, bearing on current social constructions of masculinity, society’s conception of the importance of the family as a social unit, attitudes towards minority groups, attitudes of governments, and the influence of religious groupings. At least two new books have come out since: Livia and Hall’s Queerly Phrased: language, gender and sexual politics (Livia & Hall (1995), and Leap’sBeyond the Lavender Lexicon: authenticity, imagination and appropriation in lesbian and gay languages (Leap 1996).

New major textbooks have appeared: Sara Mills’ edited volume Language and Gender:interdisciplinary perspectives (Mills 1995), Holmes’ Women, men and politeness(Holmes 1995) and Tannen’s Talking from Nine to Five (Tannen 1995), and her other volume Gender and Discourse (Tannen 1996). 1997 saw the publication of Rethinking Language and Gender Research edited by Victoria Bergvall, and another volume edited by Jen Coates entitled Language and Gender: A Reader. As a guess we can predict that much more work will be undertaken into all- women’s speech, and work will continue to emphasise the importance of viewing gender differences as power differences. There is great reason to suppose that the differences between male and female speech are lessening, but that power differences in the form of interruptions and so on will continue.


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  1. Lyj Bounds said, on June 21, 2010 at 9:02 am

    Im well fit LOL jk i’m a standard creepah

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