ABSTRACT

In reflecting on the position of Gender Articulated in the current context of language and gender research, we have found it useful to return to the field's foundational text, Robin Lakoff's Language and Woman's Place (1975). This is both a timely undertaking, coinciding as it does with the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the book, and a necessary one, for no other study of women's language has been as influential and as controversial as Lakoff's volume. At the time of its publication, Language and Woman's Place was met with widespread criticism, yet it launched a far-reaching program of research on language and gender whose effects we still feel today. In light of this apparent paradox and in recognition of the book's continuing influence, the need for a reassessment is evident. l

It is not our primary goal in this essay to review and refute the criti­ cisms that have been made of Language and Woman's Place; we have very little interest in reviving what is by now a rather tiresome and familiar debate. Instead, we wish to rescue the text for contemporary use by read­ ing it from perspectives that differ from those of earlier reviewers. Previ­ ous commentators approached Lakoff's work from a restricted perspective, concentrating as they did on the extent to which the book lived up to the epistemological commitments of their particular fields. By contrast, we

examine the book within its own disciplinary context and consider the reception of the work among lay readers outside academia. The necessity of distinguishing academic and general audiences has been brought to light by the recent controversy generated by the publication in 1990 of You Just Don't Understand, written by Lakoff's student Deborah Tannen. This popular best-seller on language and gender has been subjected to the same sorts of criticism as Language and Woman's Place; the renewal of the debate points up the importance of engaging with such influential texts and understanding them on their own terms, and on the terms of a nonacademic readership.