Tentative Language Is Kind of Complicated, Isn’t It?
A Critical Overview
Some sociolinguists, notably Robin Lakoff, have argued that tentative language is typical of female speakers. However, other studies indicate that gender may not be the only independent variable affecting the use of tentative language. This overview examines the claim that women’s speech is inherently less assertive by critically evaluating the methods and findings of four studies of gender-related use of tentative language. The alternative independent variables that are considered are the gender of the addressee, group composition, gender salience, and topic. The dependent variables vary from study to study, but all fall under the label “tentative language,” such as hedging and tag questions. It is concluded that while there is some evidence the speaker’s gender affects the use of tentative language, the aforementioned variables are likely to have an effect as well. Therefore, this overview supports the theory that considering tentative language typical of women’s speech is a simplified interpretation.
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