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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 19. 2nd August 1973

Language used by Women

Language used by Women

Robin Lakoff claims that the process of socialisation for a girl involves the acquisition of a speech style which will later be used as an excuse for others "to keep her in a demeaning position, to refuse to take her seriously as a human being." This style will deny her "the means of expressing herself strongly on the one hand" and encourage her to use "expressions that suggest triviality in subject matter and uncertainty about it on the other."

The claims for example that women make more precise colour discriminations than men do: women will describe articles as 'biege', 'mauve', 'lilac', 'lavender' and so on, where men will consider such fine discrimination trivial and unimportant. Her explanation for this is that women are not expected to make decisions on important matters in our society" so "they are relegated the non-clerical decisions as a sop."

Swear-words are another area where only recently have women begun to use words which would previously have been condemned as unladylike or inappropriate or vulgar in a woman's speech style. Even now older men take exception to women who use words like 'shit' and 'fuck' in their conversation, even in contexts where they themselves might use these words in exasperation or annoyance. And the social rule which forbids men to swear in the presence of women is simply another reflection of males protecting women from reality or the expression of strong feelings.

Drawing of a girl with ABC's

Certain adjectives in English are generally classifiable as 'women's words'. Words like 'adorable', 'charming' and 'divine', for example. Lakoff describes these as words which express one's own personal, emotional reactions rather than words which attempt to guage a general reaction. They are appropriate only, for essentially trivial or frivolous referents. Again they reflect the nonserious character of what are considered to be appropriate womanly concerns.

In actual fact, Lakoff claims, it is not simply that they are feminine words it is rather that they signal that their users are not concerned with power in the society. So they may be used by hippies, homosexuals and academics—all groups which society as a whole refuses to take seriously. For these groups it is possible to express "approval of things in a personal way — though one does so at the risk of losing one's credibility with members of the power structure."