Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Women’s Language and its Legal Implications

Women’s Language and its Legal Implications

Isra El-beshir

Linguistic analysis of female speech styles is a relatively new area of sociolinguistic research. Robin Lakoff in her 1976 influential book, Language and Women’s Place pioneered the focus on female speech patterns and gender differences. Her theories established a forum for further research in this area, which have been revised and expanded since. In this literature review, theories of gender differences by John Conoley, William O’Barr, Jennifer Coates, Susan Ehrlich, and others have established a clear grounding for an understanding of women’s language and the possible implications it may have on hearer perceptions.

This paper builds on the existing findings by the sociolinguists mentioned and takes their theories a step further with regard to social psychology and legal issues. The paper investigates the linguistic dynamics of courtroom proceedings and whether women’s speech style influences the determination of innocence or guilt when giving testimony in the American judicial system. Due to the wide variety of interactions between law and language, this paper examines linguistic structures and lexical features used by women in courtroom discourse and whether the spoken language by women, without regard to factual evidence, during a testimony would influence juror perceptions. On the basis of previous empirical analysis of speech patterns in court trials, the frequency levels of linguistic features such as intensifiers, hedges, hesitation, and intonations, identified speech styles as “powerless” and “powerful” characterized by men and women. This paper takes into consideration the emotional state of women in trauma settings, existing gender bias, socially based ideologies of gender, and the historical patriarchy in law in its analysis.

The method used to examine this research question was an intensive literature review of research by feminists and sociolinguists from the late 1970s to the present. The investigation found variable differences in the language used by men and women that may alter juror perceptions of the witness’s testimony. The results are discussed with regard to possible relations between speech style, powerful-powerless styles, hearer perceptions, and persuasive processes. These findings proved that the linguistic practices of the law fundamentally perpetuate the patriarchal values that have existed historically in the legal arena and in society, thereby altering juror perceptions and ultimately impacting the outcome of the verdict.

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April 16, 2011 - Posted by | abstract

1 Comment »

  1. This sounds like a really interesting use of Lakoff’s work and one with lots of relevance to the modern world. Nice job.

    Comment by Cat Rambo | May 29, 2011 | Reply


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