The Lakoff Aftermath

I decided to start my studies by revisiting early work in the field of language and gender, starting (where else?) with Lakoff’s ‘Language and Women’s Place’. It was interesting to read this seminal piece close to 40 years after its publication, and to read it in its own right (up until now I had only read extracts, and trusted others’ summaries). I was a little taken aback by some of her wild generalisations, but then it seems a lot of people were. I guess that’s why it was such an incendiary publication.

I’ve been trying to improve my understanding of the flurry of activity in the 20 or so years after ‘Language and Women’s Place’, and how theories evolved during this time. I focused mainly on research published between 1975 – 1988. Cameron and Coates’ ‘Women in their Speech Communities’ was particularly useful in providing an overview of a range of studies during this period.

If you brought together a random selection of linguists working in this field at this time, in some sort of time-loophole thingy (bear with me), their conversation might go something like this:

“Women talk like this!”
“Because they’re socially subordinate!”
“No they don’t… and here’s my proof!”
“Yes they do… and here’s MY proof!”
“Well, some of it might be true, some of the time, but you’ve over-simplified!”
“Women and men do communicate differently, though.”
“Maybe, but women’s subordination hardly explains it all.”
“Women and men are just different.”
“I think it’s got a lot more to do with power, actually.”
“Look, everyone communicates differently, you can’t generalise.”
“True. Look at this lot… I wonder how they talk to each other?”
*leap to the present day*
Me: “I wonder how women communicate on ‘Mumsnet’…”

So there you go. My first blog: A painfully reductive summary of language and gender theories circa 1975-1992… and how it relates to my work. You’re welcome!


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