Robin Lakoff

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Robin Tolmach Lakoff
Born (1942-05-24) May 24, 1942 (age 72)
Brooklyn, NY
Residence Berkeley, California, USA
Nationality United States
Fields Sociolinguistics
Language and gender
Institutions University of California, Berkeley
Alma mater Radcliffe College
Indiana University
Harvard University
Known for Language and gender
Spouse George Lakoff (divorced)

Robin Tolmach Lakoff (/ˈlkɒf/, born November 27, 1942) is a professor of linguistics at the University of California, Berkeley. Her 1975 book Language and Woman's Place is often credited with establishing language and gender as an object of study in linguistics and other disciplines.[1][2][3]


Lakoff was born in 1942 in Brooklyn, NY. She earned a B.A. at Radcliffe College, a M.A. from Indiana University, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. She was married to linguist George Lakoff.[4] She has taught at University of California, Berkeley, since 1972.

While an undergraduate at Radcliffe College (in Cambridge, MA), Lakoff audited Noam Chomsky's classes at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and became connected to the MIT Linguistics Department. During this time, as Chomsky and students were creating Transformational Generative Grammar, Lakoff and others explored ways in which outside context entered the structure of language.[5]

Lakoff is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.[6]

Language and Woman's Place[edit]

Lakoff's work Language and Woman's Place introduces to the field of sociolinguistics many ideas about women's language that are now often commonplace. It has inspired many different strategies for studying language and gender, across national borders as well as across class and race lines.[3]

Her work is noted for its attention to class, power, and social justice in addition to gender.[7]

Lakoff proposes that women's speech can be distinguished from that of men in a number of ways (part of gender deficient model), including:

  1. Hedges: Phrases like "sort of", "kind of", "it seems like"
  2. Empty adjectives: "divine", "adorable", "gorgeous"
  3. Super-polite forms: "Would you mind..." "...if it’s not too much to ask" "Is it o.k if...?"
  4. Apologize more: "I'm sorry, but I think that..."
  5. Speak less frequently
  6. Avoid coarse language or expletives
  7. Tag questions: "You don't mind eating this, do you?".
  8. Hyper-correct grammar and pronunciation: Use of prestige grammar and clear articulation
  9. Indirect requests: "Wow, I'm so thirsty." – really asking for a drink
  10. Speak in italics: Use tone to emphasis certain words, e.g., "so", "very", "quite"

Lakoff developed the "Politeness Principle," in which she devised three maxims that are usually followed in interaction. These are: Don't impose, give the receiver options, and make the receiver feel good. She stated that these are paramount in good interaction. By not adhering to these maxims, a speaker is said to be "flouting the maxims."

The Language War[edit]

Lakoff's The Language War performs a linguistic analysis of discourse on contemporary issues. She covers topics including the Hill–Thomas hearings, the O.J. Simpson trial, the Lewinsky scandal, and the political correctness phenomenon. Lakoff discusses each topic while arguing a general thesis that language itself constitutes a political battleground.[8][9]



  1. ^ Mary Bucholz, "Editor's Introduction", Language and a Woman's Place: Text and Commentary, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-516-757-0, p. 3. "The publication of Robin Tolmach Lakoff's groundbreaking book Language and Women's Place (LWP) by Harper & Row in 1975 has long been heralded as the beginning of the linguistic subfield of language and gender studies, as well as ushering in the study of language and gender in related disciplines such as anthropology, communications studies, education, psychology, and sociology."
  2. ^ C. Todd White, "On the pragmatics of an androgynous style of speaking (from a transsexual's perspective)", World Englishes 17(2), 1998.
  3. ^ a b Sergio Bolaños Cuellar, "Women's Language: A struggle to overcome inequality", Forma Y Función 19, 2006.
  4. ^ "Biography - Lakoff, Robin Tolmach (1942-)", Contemporary Authors, Thompson Gale, 1 January 2004.
  5. ^ Robin Tolmach Lakoff, interview with Catherine Evans Davies, Journal of English Linguistics 38(4); accessed via SagePub; DOI: 10.1177/0075424210384191DOI: 10.1177/0075424210384191.
  6. ^ "Robin Lakoff", Huffington Post, accessed 17 November 2012.
  7. ^ Mary Bucholz, "Editor's Introduction", Language and a Woman's Place: Text and Commentary, Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-516-757-0, pp. 11–13.
  8. ^ Virginia Vitzthum, "'The Language War' by Robin Tolmach Lakoff", 11 July 2000.
  9. ^ Judith Rosenhouse, "Robin Tolmach- Lakoff. 2000. The Language War. Berkeley: University of California Press." California Linguistic Notes XXVI(1), Spring 2001.

Selected writings by Lakoff[edit]

  • 1973: The logic of politeness; or, minding your P's and Q's.
  • 1975: Language and Woman's Place. ISBN 0-19-516757-0
  • 1977: "What you can do with words: Politeness, pragmatics and performatives." In: Proceedings of the Texas Conference on Performatives, Presuppositions and Implicatures, ed. R. Rogers, R. Wall & J. Murphy, pp. 79–106. Arlington, Va.: Center for Applied Linguistics.
  • 1985: When talk is not cheap. With Mandy Aftel. Warner ISBN 0-446-30070-5
  • 1990: Talking Power. Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-08358-7
  • 1993: Father knows best: the use and abuse of therapy in Freud's case of Dora. With J. Coyne. Teachers College Press. ISBN 0-8077-6266-0
  • 2000: The Language War. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22296-2
  • 2006: "Identity à la carte: you are what you eat." In: Discourse and Identity, ed. Anna DeFina, Deborah Schiffrin and Michael Bamberg. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

External links[edit]