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Woman’s Speech

May 12, 2011

As you know, Chino Blanco is a pretty smart guy. Sometimes too smart. I’ve seen comments from here across several sites where he’ll allude to a bunch of things that weren’t directly or even indirectly alluded to in the conversation before…and I don’t really know how many of the other people get what he’s alluding, but I know for sure that I feel dumb as hell because I dunt git it.

Anyway, that happened on my post at W&T recently. And so, like I do whenever I get stumped by something…I googled. And wikipedia’d.

Robin LakoffThe problem is…there seem to be not one but two Lakoffs who had something to say about language. I picked Robin Lakoff’s page first. (After reading George Lakoff’s page, I have the hint that he was actually referring to George’s.)

Anyway, this was a fun experience.

From wikipedia:

Lakoff’s most famous work, Language and Woman’s Place, introduced to the field of sociolinguistics many ideas about women’s language that are now often commonplace (although, similarly, many of her findings are now regarded[by whom?] as, at the very least, outdated[citation needed]). She proposed (Language and Woman’s Place) that women’s speech can be distinguished from that of men in a number of ways including:

  1. Hedges: Phrases like “sort of,” “kind of,” “it seems like
  2. Empty adjectives: divine, adorable, gorgeous, etc.
  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?“. Subsequent research[citation needed] has cast some doubt on this proposition
  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“.

Notwithstanding that apparently her work is considered outdated (but, wikipedia superscripts, by whom? citation needed!), I felt kinda embarrassed. I have many of these traits myself!

I may have mentioned this before, but I wouldn’t say that I *became* atheist. Rather, I realized that I was already an atheist (or perhaps more precisely, that theists really exist). I remember bearing a testimony at youth conference one summer…and I couldn’t understand why people were so chilly and silent after my testimony.

It took me months…years…after for me to realize that I had gotten up in front of all of those people and said, “I don’t really believe in the spiritual and mystical aspects of the church. I don’t really believe in God.”

I thought it was a good testimony of the church’s pragmatic teachings. I just didn’t realize what they must have been hearing instead.

The day I realized I was an atheist was the day I was finally able to say those things in my testimony without the hedges. “I don’t believe in the spiritual aspects of the church.” “I don’t believe in God.”

I’ve posted my latest W&T post around at various places (and have ended up racking several posts at other forums rather than getting more comments at W&T in the process). But without me even having to, someone posted it at the Mormon Dialogue and Discussion Board (which I’m vaguely aware used to go by a different name, but I wasn’t really familiar with the place, and didn’t know what to expect). Since I wanted to be a sociable person, I decided to sign up for an account and explain my post — and some of what I had learned about the diversity of uncorrelated Mormons — there.

I got into some conversations, and the odd things was, I had to defend myself from this…expectation…this…assumption…that I, like “every other exmormon,” was just trying to trap people with gotcha questions.

Eventually, however, there was one comment that really bothered me. I had written what I believed to be a very fair statement:

Anyway, to respond to the bottom line: I am aware that there are different views on why people leave the church. I just think that we should be able to look at these different views, assess the data of people’s lives, and then discuss. In this case, you have a list of things that if people do, they should gain and grow a testimony. But from plenty of people’s experiences, this is not the case. You have a list of things that if people do, their testimonies may be hindered. But one can *not* do these things and still lack a testimony. In fact, one could do these things and still *have* a testimony. It just seems that these lists of things are not really related to what really grows or reduces a testimony.

And in response, I got:

“seems” and “not really” shows that you don’t know. In contrast, the Lord and His prophets do know.

Confound it all! My woman’s speech! What I thought of as being careful, precise, polite, open-to-alternative-experiences, and just a good conversational idea was taken as weakness and concession to incorrectness. Why be open to alternative experiences and interpretations when you can know and be audacious with proclaiming your knowledge?

I don’t know how I’m supposed to talk to people like this. I believe in being extremely careful with language — to the point that my debates tend to be quibbles about semantics anyway. My position isn’t to try to establish a new universal world order or whatever…just to assert that different people can have different experiences.

Anyway, I’m sure that some people will read this post and say, “Aha! you were trying to comb this forum for gotcha quotes!”

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3 Comments
  1. Hey, thanks for the compliment, but just so you know, whenever I start free associating like that, it’s usually a sign that I’m a few sheets to the wind. And you’re right, it’s George. The book is: Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate (not that I’ve actually read it, but read certain progressive blogs during campaign season and you’ll eventually feel like you have). As far as Robin’s list goes, I’ve printed it out so that I can be sure to avoid talking like that in future. 😉 Like you say, embarrassing. And now I’m wondering why nobody told me sooner that I talk like a girl. Dammit, that’s just bullshit.

  2. Yeah, I’d change that to: “This list is not related to what grows or reduces a testimony.”

    If you take too many cares to frame all your language in terms of subjective experience, you sacrifice some rhetorical power.

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