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Copy of Deficit, Difference and Dominance Theroies

Gender and language theories
by

Helen Knight

on 5 February 2014

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Transcript of Copy of Deficit, Difference and Dominance Theroies

Deficit, Difference and Dominance Theories
Language and Gender
The deficit approach
The deficit approach
Where do we go from here?
Robin Lakoff (1975)

Through research Lakoff identified features of women's language which appeared to be deficient to the male norm:

Women's language lacked authority unlike men's. It reflected an inferior social status making them appear indecisive and needy.
Women spoke less than men
Women used less expletives or rather used weak expletives 'blimey'
Women used more intensifiers (e.g. very)
Women used hedges more often (e.g. kind of, maybe etc.)
Women used more apologetic requests (I'm sorry, but could you...)
Women used more tag questions, showing uncertainty (This cafe is nice, isn't it?)
Women used more indirect requests (It's a bit cold in here = Please could you put the heating on?)
Women had more specialised vocabulary for domestic chores
Women used more euphemisms (Spend a penny)
Women used more 'empty' adjectives (sweet, charming)
The deficit approach
Robin Lakoff

Suggested that socialisation ensured that female language remained deficient / less authoritative and more insecure in comparison to the language used by males. The differences were socially constructed rather than biological constructs.
Janet Holmes (1992)

Suggested that tag questions were a device to maintain discussion or to be polite. Therefore rather than show uncertainty, it shows a desire to co-operate.

She also stated that the use of hedges and fillers were not simply markers of indecision but were used for a variety of reasons.

Holmes believed that these features are boosting devices used to intensify the force of an expression for added emphasis or power.


Betty Dubois and Isobel Crouch (1975)

Observations made by these two linguists found that in their dataset, men used more tag questions than women. Interestingly it was NOT suggested that they were somehow less confident speakers!

What do these findings show about the limitations of research, datasets and also about the conclusions drawn?
All of these theories have their limitations:
The limitations of the linguists' dataset
The changes in language use by gender
The changes in gender roles and society
That they focus on differences not similarities so are already biased
They offer generalisations

...etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.

Apply these theories to your analyses, but always be aware that they are theories!
The deficit approach
William O'Barr and Bowman Atkins (1980)

O'Barr and Atkins focused some of their studies on the language used within a courtroom setting. Some of their findings agreed with Lakoff's initial conclusions about women's language, but they also saw similarities between women's language and the language used by men of a lower social class. They concluded that uncertain or deficient language was more to do with power (or lack of) than gender.

They suggested the term 'powerless language' was more accurate than 'women's language'.

This theory pays more attention to the influence of social status rather than gender as an indicator of dominance and is a slight move away from the deficit model.
The dominance approach
This approach focused on the ways in which men were seem to control and dominate mixed-sex interactions.

Zimmerman and West
Most interruptions (96%) made in mixed-sex conversations were made by men.
Men were dominant in conversation and sought to apply their dominance by applying constraints to the conversation.
They believed that this reflected the male domination in society.

Subsequent research has concluded that men and women don't hold equal positions when it comes to conversation.
The difference approach
From deficit to dominance...to difference.

This approach seeks to explain the ways in which men and women talk in relation to their sub-cultures and ways in which their talk is shaped by attitudes towards, or preference for, a type of talk.

A summary of the difference approach:
Men:
interrupt a lot
are concerned with status and independence
give direct orders and don't mind conflict
are interested in gaining factual information and solutions to problems

Women:
Talk less, agree more than men and are more polite (interested in forming bonds and avoid conflict)
Compromise and offer support rather than solutions (want to show understanding)
Therefore want to create positive and strong social relationships

Difference may be to do with the topics of conversation. Traditionally and stereotypically male conversations have been about work and sport (factual information) whereas women have spoken about family and the home (emotional and relational communication)
The difference approach
Jennifer Coates (1989)
All female talk is cooperative.
Female talk supports the speakers and how they contributes to the discussions
However, as this was not the case in mixed-sex conversation, this revealed that men and women had different socio-cultural expectations.

Jane Pilkington (1992)
In same sex talk, women were more collaborative and supportive than men.
Women therefore seemed more concerned with using positive politeness strategies than men.

Koenraad Kuiper (1991)
Studied all male talk within a team of rugby players.
Men used insults to express solidarity rather than use positive politeness strategies.
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