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

Grammar, even

Grammar, even

In the region of grammar it is claimed that women use tag-questions more frequently than men do. A tag-question is syntactically and functionally midway between an outright statement and a yes/no question, in terms of certainly. It involves less commitment than a statement, and asks for confirmation, e.g. "John's here isn't he?" Women, Lakoff claims, use tag-questions more often when stating opinions, requiring confirmation and approval, e.g. "It looks good, doesn't it?" And similarly they use a questioning intonation contour with statements more often than men do.

Commands and requests are another area of speech differences. Women are likely to add a number of signals to a request to make it sound less like a command. It gives the addressee some option about whether to agree or not. Compare "shut the door" with "won't you please close the door".

All these features may be responsible for the fact that women's speech sounds more polite than mens. It is part of a woman's role not to impose her own views or claims on others, and the speech-style she acquires allows her to fulfil this role. But it deprives her of a means page 17 of being taken seriously in any context and provides men with reasons for dismissing women as tentative, unsure of themselves and concerned with trivial matters. "Women's speech is devised to prevent the expression of strong statements."