Lakoff and Women’s Language

A Critical Overview of the Empirical Evidence for Lakoff’s Thesis

  • Amalie Due Svendsen Aarhus University
Keywords: gender differences, tentative language, tag questions, facilitative language, English Linguistics 3: English in Its Social Contexts


In Language and Woman’s Place (1973), Robin T. Lakoff argues that women’s subordinate position in society is manifested in and maintained by their tentative speech style. Since the publication of the study, this claim has achieved great attention in the field of language and gender, and various scholars have examined the features of Lakoff’s ‘women’s language’ empirically. This article creates a critical overview of four studies investigating specific features of tentative language, primarily tag questions, and discusses to what extent their findings support Lakoff’s thesis. While all the studies find that women employ more tentative features than men, they also observe that tentative language serves facilitative functions in interaction. Thus, tentative language cannot be understood exclusively as a deficient contrast to assertive language. A nuanced understanding of tentative language requires a functional perspective that recognizes the efficient social functions of the speech style. 

How to Cite
Svendsen, A. (2019). Lakoff and Women’s Language. Leviathan: Interdisciplinary Journal in English, (4), 1-11.