LINGUIST List 16.521
Tue Feb 22 2005
Review: Sociolinguistics: Lakoff & Bucholtz (2004)
Editor for this issue: Naomi Ogasawara <naomilinguistlist.org>
What follows is a review or discussion note contributed to our Book Discussion Forum. We expect discussions to be informal and interactive; and the author of the book discussed is cordially invited to join in. If you are interested in leading a book discussion, look for books announced on LINGUIST as "available for review." Then contact Sheila Collberg at collberglinguistlist.org.
Language and Woman's Place
Message 1: Language and Woman's Place
From: Elizabeth Winkler <winkler2email.arizona.edu>
Subject: Language and Woman's Place
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
Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/15/15-2272.html
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 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.
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
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
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.
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