Date: Mon, 21 Feb 2005 13:42:37 -0700 From: Elizabeth Grace Winkler Subject: Language and Woman's Place: Text and Commentaries
AUTHOR: Lakoff, Robin Tolmach EDITOR: Bucholtz, Mary TITLE: Language and Woman's Place SUBTITLE: Text and Commentaries SERIES: Studies in Language and Gender PUBLISHER: Oxford University Press YEAR: 2004
Elizabeth Grace Winkler, Department of Linguistics, University of Arizona
"Language and Woman's Place" (LWP) is the re-release of Lakoff's 1975 seminal work on gender and language. The original text is accompanied annotations by Lakoff, many of which are explanations of her original thought, commentary on her more recent work, or thoughts about the current state of the debate. Following this are twenty- five short contributions by a diverse group of scholars whose lives and work were deeply affected by this work. Most read as a narrative as to how these scholars awakened to the issue of language and gender in their own lives and then follow with some aspect of their research that grew out of both positive and negative reactions to Lakoff's original work.
The text begins with a substantial introduction by Mary Bucholtz, outlining the significance of LWP not just for linguistics but for other fields as well. She asserts that LWP really began the field of gender and language studies, not just because it was one of the earliest in-depth treatments but because it previewed much of the research, both in topic and in approach that would be conducted by a generation of scholars in diverse fields.
Bucholtz points out that although much has changed since the 1970s concerning gender roles and the expansion of opportunities, most of what Lakoff wrote still resonates with readers a generation later. That LWP has stayed in print and in the classroom since then, in addition to being frequently cited by scholars, speaks to the initial and ongoing significance of the work. The introduction provides not only an excellent synthesis of the individual chapters, but outlays a framework for understanding why the original book was so important and how Lakoff's research has often been mischaracterized -- a theme discussed throughout the text.
Lakoff's original text of LWP follows Bucholtz's introduction, and her first assertion is that neither language nor gender can be studied independently of the socially constructed communities in which we live. She discusses the social reasons that develop in early childhood that contribute to why women and men speak differently. Then she describes the no-win position in which women found themselves in the 1970s (and often still do!). By speaking too directly, they risk being accused of being unfeminine or by being "ladylike," they risk having their assertions ignored for being indirect or fuzzy- headed.
In the second chapter, "Talking like a lady" Lakoff covers not just gender but provides an in-depth analysis of politeness principles. She discusses how politeness strategies are juggled in an attempt to manage interactions in which solidarity and separation intersect with power dynamics which vary by gender and other factors. For example, Lakoff's claims that upper class males, hippies, gay men, and academic men manifest many aspects of women's language because they have opted out of worlds where stereotypical male bravado is a necessary aspect of competition. It is in Chapter Two where Lakoff's oft cited, yet often misrepresented, study of the use of tag questions appears.
Next Lakoff describes the indirect aspects of women's language and how the use of these features represents a balance between attention to politeness and issues of power. There is also a brief discussion of the terms "lady" vs. "woman" and other nonparallel terms like "mistress" and "master" (as does Holmes in a later chapter in this text). Lakoff does not argue for the elimination of all nonparallel terms, because she believes that it is the lack of parallel positions that must change before the terms will change. However, "we should be attempting to single out those linguistic uses that, by implication and innuendo, demean the members of one group or another" (p. 69).
THE COMMENTARIES The twenty-five new chapters offer a broadened perspective on gender, first addressing areas that Lakoff did not cover (i.e. study of minority women, men in general, and queer studies) and second, addressing challenges or extending claims LWP originally made. For example, some address her use of cultural stereotypes as a way to study gendered language and its effects -- a choice that garnered much criticism of the original work. What Lakoff really contended was not that most women used all the features of women's language but that media stereotypes are models for behavior by which young people develop their ideas and by which they measure themselves and others.
In Part One, "Contexts", the chapters describe the historical context in which LWP was written and Lakoff's contributions to feminist theory in general. Bucholtz looks back on the impact of Lakoff's research beyond LWP, pointing out that although this is her most cited work, it was hardly Lakoff's "final word" on gender. Bucholtz also points out that Lakoff went to great lengths to work with scholars in diverse disciplines - both to learn from and to teach them. Her collaborative work contributed to the expansion of linguistic theory as well as enriching other fields.
In another chapter McEhinny discusses the common misanalysis of Lakoff's work which comes from the lack of awareness that she was providing "a description of a particular ideology of femininity rather than an empirical description of it" (p. 130). In addition there is a thoughtful discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the taxonomies for categorizing feminist and sociolinguistic research and theories.
McConnell-Ginet and Livia, in separate chapters, describe their own misreading of LWP also coming late to the understanding that Lakoff was looking at stereotypes and that she viewed women's language as "different" rather than "deficit". Livia claims that although women may not use the features of women's language, what is portrayed on popular television and in other creative mediums is offered as women's language, and it is this language that is a model for children who watch and later translate it into their belief systems.
In the second section: "Concepts", the focus is on the theories and approaches to gender research and politeness that developed out of Lakoff's work. Both Tannen and Holmes reflect on the interconnectedness of power and politeness in the construction of the language. Holmes shows how Lakoff's work on politeness actually predates the more well-known work of Brown and Levinson and that many of Lakoff's assertions have been borne out by the researchers who followed her in both gender and politeness theories. Hall's work as well focuses on power and she challenges some of the ideologies and classifications of research because they encourage "inaccurate representations of early scholarship" (p, 172). Hall concludes her section by looking at how the traditional view of male bonding though work encourages linguistic strategies that promote group effort and since women were traditionally excluded from these groups, they apply politeness strategies differently.
The third section, "Femininities", looks at women's language in the context of ladylike language. Striking is the contrast between the perception that women's language, seen as powerless in the US, is viewed as "an index of prestige and even power" (p. 6) in Japan. Included in this section is an intriguing paper focusing on Martha Stewart and the juxtaposition of powerful language with a traditional feminine role.
The third section, Femininities, looks at 'ladylike' language. Ide's work shows that women's language in Japan is not perceived as powerless and carries different status elements than in the USA and Davies describes how Martha Stewart manages to negotiate power thru women's language. Cook- Gumperz looks at how young girls construct their gender identities through play which fits well with Kendall's which shows how the language of mother is not necessarily powerless.
In part 4, Erlich and Meyerhoff tackle the roles of silence in discourse and the silencing of women. Erlich asserts that words used to describe rape and rape victims impact how both the act and the victims are perceived. Words are not simply neutral representations, but reflections of ideologies. Meyerhoff discusses that it is not just women's words and thoughts that are being silenced but the illocutionary force of their utterances are not given weight because by virtue of being women, they are perceived as not meeting the felicity conditions required to give their utterance meaning. This ties in well with Erlich's claim that in stranger rape some men think women do not have the right to say no.
The section finishes with a study by Kiesling on men and masculinity in the same way that Lakoff separated the concepts of female and femininity -- one being what individuals do and the other being the societal stereotype that all members must deal with. He points out that it was this difference, often misunderstood by Lakoff's readers, that is so crucial to the understanding of the societal construction of gender and its effects on individuals. He further asserts that this difference between gender at the society and at the individual levels plays out in the realm of power as well. The power that men as a group feel and certainly have over women as a group is not necessarily felt by men as individuals.
Part 5, "Women's Places" extends Lakoff's original study of white middle class women to African Americans, Latinas, and Asians. This is the chapter that adds the most substantative content to the text in that although it does describe how LWP affected the authors' lives and research, we get the first real challenges to how the study of gender is still not where it needs to be. For example, Morgan shows how the focus on middle class white women's speech as the norm contributed to the on-going marginalization by researchers other than Lakoff of other groups of women and the study of their speech. In fact, she asserts that in some ways feminist white women have contributed to the maintenance of this marginalization by studying only the most extreme forms of these varieties (gang talk for example) which is not representative of the majority of speakers. The normal interaction of everyday African American women, and men,(as well as Latinos, Native Americans and others), has been greatly ignored for the study of inner city gang members etc perpetuating the myths of gendered interactions commonly found on TV.
In another intriguing contribution to this section Trechter cautions scholars working with endangered languages to be careful about how gender is represented in their reconstructions and documentation of endangered languages. Scholars may run the risk of either ignoring gender completely since it is difficult to draw generalizations about how gendered communities interact from the interactions of the last remaining speakers or over-generalizing from them so that traditional gendered language features may not be accurately portrayed.
The theme of the final section, "Sensualities", is the extension of research to include more diverse visions of human sexuality and gender. As in the previous sections, the authors reflect on how LWP provided them both a framework to work within and assumptions to challenge. For example, Leap refutes LWP's contention that the speech of gay men parallels women while still crediting LWP for providing him the justification of using his own language, and that of his peers, for his scholarly work on gay men's English. Furthermore, he was impressed by Lakoff's "proposal to use linguistic data as 'diagnostic evidence' for broader conditions of inequality" (p. 279) that need to be addressed
Gaudio recounts his, and his gay student's, reactions to Lakoff equating gay speech and woman's speech as powerless and feminized not solely because it has not been supported by empirical data, but because it was/is a limiting stereotype that many have worked hard to negate. In her chapter, Queen describes how significant Lakoff's assertion that we negotiate our outside selves and our inward genders has been for gays and straights trying to negotiate our movements throughout our diverse social experiences.
CONCLUSION This book is an first-rate acquisition for a variety of audiences. Because it includes the original LWP, commentaries and updates, it is an excellent introductory text for either a graduate or undergraduate class on language and gender. The commentaries are often partly the personal journey of the authors negotiating gender through their lives and their work. Because of this, linguistics is made personally relevant in a way which rarely happens in undergraduate texts.
For those already in the trenches, it offers a broad perspective both on the development of the field and the challenges to doing research in it as well as fronting new questions for future research.
Lakoff's under acknowledged contributions to the study of language and gender (and language in society) not only include her many years of research across disciplines but the wealth of research that she "goaded" (her word) into being, and the scholars that she dragged into the foray as evidenced by the personal recollections in this volume. Whether you read the original text long ago or this is your first reading, you'll find this expanded LWP a worthwhile addition to your personal library.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Elizabeth Grace Winkler is an adjunct lecturer in linguistics at the University of Arizona, USA. Her research publications have concentrated on African substrate influence on the English-lexifier language Limonese Creole and codeswitching between Spanish and Limonese Creole in Costa Rica. She has also authored a dictionary of Kpelle, a Mande language of Liberia. She is currently writing on differing uses of tag questions by gender among the Afro-Limonese: a community in which the connections between language and power differ from many of the previous groups studied.