In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Language, Gender, and Sexuality

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Early Texts in Language and Gender
  • Language, Gender, and Socialization
  • Gender and Sociolinguistic Variation
  • Language, Gender, and Race
  • Language and Masculinity
  • Language, Gender, and Political Economy
  • Language, Gender, and Embodiment
  • Language, Gender, and Globalization

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Linguistics Language, Gender, and Sexuality
Lal Zimman, Kira Hall
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 June 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199772810-0109


Research on language, gender, and sexuality has been advanced by scholars working in a variety of areas in sociocultural linguistics, among them conversation analysis, critical discourse analysis, discursive psychology, linguistic anthropology, sociophonetics, and variationist sociolinguistics. The relevance of gender to linguistic analysis was first noted in the early 20th century when descriptive linguists observed differences in female and male vocabularies and patterns of speaking in non-European languages. But it was not until the 1975 publication of Robin Lakoff’s Language and Woman’s Place (Lakoff 1975), originally published as a lead article in a 1973 issue of Language in Society, that disparate work on language and gender began to coalesce as a field of study. Research during this era of second-wave feminism focused on the everyday micro-discourse practices of women and men as instantiating hierarchical power relations, analyzing such phenomena as turn-taking, interruptions, and topic uptake. Fifteen years later, Deborah Tannen popularized a “two-cultures” approach to language and gender in You Just Don’t Understand: Men and Women in Conversation (Tannen 1990), which shifted the source of gender differentiation away from patriarchy and onto language socialization in same-sex peer groups. Lakoff’s and Tannen’s models—which came to be called the “dominance” and “difference” models, respectively—set the foundation for contemporary work on language and gender. In the mid-1990s, the field was revitalized by what is often referenced as the “discursive turn” in social theory. New theoretical work in post-structuralist and multicultural feminism, including the view of gender as produced in discourse instead of predetermined by biological sex, inspired new involvement by language scholars across the fields of anthropology, communication, education, linguistics, psychology, sociology, and women’s studies. The close analysis of gender in interaction demonstrated its intersectionality with other social categories, such as social class, race, ethnicity, age, and sexuality. Although work on language and sexuality preceded this development, this relationship too received renewed attention as scholars of language and gender came to recognize the heteronormativity that had implicitly shaped previous work in the field and began drawing on perspectives within the emergent field of queer theory. Gender and sexuality came to be seen as intimately connected in the language and gender literature, hence the field’s eventual designation in many publication domains as language, gender, and sexuality. This annotated bibliography aims to bring together socially oriented linguistic scholarship on both gender and sexuality while also recognizing the independent trajectories of these traditions of research. Although the bibliography at times treats gender and sexuality as separate topics for purposes of clarity or emphasis, research in these traditions remains closely intertwined.

  • Lakoff, Robin. 1975. Language and woman’s place. New York: Harper & Row.

    Lakoff’s groundbreaking study of “women’s language” includes a range of observations about women’s linguistic subjugation. Focusing on the expectations placed on women’s language use, Lakoff uncovers women’s linguistic double-bind: either speak “like a lady” and undermine one’s interactional power, or bear the stigma of failing to adhere to gender norms.

  • Tannen, Deborah. 1990. You just don’t understand: Men and women in conversation. New York: Ballantine.

    Designed for a general audience, You Just Don’t Understand combines reflections from Tannen’s research as well as illustrative anecdotes to advance the argument that gendered discourse patterns are formed in childhood playgroups. Though controversial in the field, the book remains an extremely influential text on miscommunication between women and men.

General Overviews

Because the study of language, gender, and sexuality has attracted scholars from diverse disciplines, many of the field’s most insightful overview articles introduce either specific topics of research, such as language and gender in workplace environments, or specific approaches or methods, such as conversation analysis. Many of these more streamlined overviews are cited later in this bibliography. Yet a number of cross-disciplinary reviews comprising research from a variety of topics and perspectives exist, among them Ehrlich and Meyerhoff 2014, a state-of-the-art introduction to the second edition of The Handbook of Language, Gender, and Sexuality (published in first edition under the title The Handbook of Language and Gender). Other article overviews published since 2000 have addressed developments in the use of feminist and critical gender theory within different traditions of research in the field, among them Bucholtz 2014, Cameron 2005, and McElhinny 2014. The importance of the field’s social constructionist approaches to gender and language is reflected in Ehrlich 2004, which also describes key developments in research on language and sexual violence. Overviews of research specifically focused on sexuality reflect diverging approaches to the field and include Kulick 2000, Bucholtz and Hall 2004, and Queen 2014, which offer contrasting perspectives on the usefulness of identity as an analytic category.

  • Bucholtz, Mary. 2014. The feminist foundations of language, gender, and sexuality research. In The handbook of language, gender, and sexuality. 2d ed. Edited by Susan Ehrlich, Miriam Meyerhoff, and Janet Holmes, 23–47. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Bucholtz outlines how developments in the field of language, gender, and sexuality have been affected by developments in feminist theory. Her review describes influences from several feminist theoretical perspectives, among them liberal feminism, radical feminism, material feminism, multicultural feminism, postcolonial feminism, and queer theory.

  • Bucholtz, Mary, and Kira Hall. 2004. Theorizing identity in language and sexuality research. Language in Society 33.4: 469–515.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0047404504334020

    This critical review of research in language and sexuality advances an analytic framework for identity as emergent in interaction. In contrast to calls for a purely desire-centered approach to language and sexuality, the authors argue that desire is forged through intersubjectively negotiated practices and ideologies.

  • Cameron, Deborah. 2005. Language, gender, and sexuality: Current issues and new directions. Applied Linguistics 26.4: 482–502.

    DOI: 10.1093/applin/ami027

    Cameron outlines how sociolinguistic research on gender and sexuality has experienced a paradigmatic shift from a focus on binary difference to a focus on the diversity of identities and practices. The article discusses the theoretical foundations that have motivated this shift as well as its practical consequences with respect to empirical research.

  • Ehrlich, Susan. 2004. Language and gender. In The handbook of applied linguistics. Edited by Alan Davies and Catherine Elder, 304–327. Oxford: Blackwell.

    DOI: 10.1002/9780470757000.ch12

    This review, which draws on the author’s research on language and sexual violence, traces the development of social constructionism in language and gender research. The section on “institutional coerciveness” argues for the continued importance of considering relations of power, as highlighted by research on sexism, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.

  • Ehrlich, Susan, and Miriam Meyerhoff. 2014. Introduction: Language, gender, and sexuality. In The handbook of language, gender, and sexuality. 2d ed. Edited by Susan Ehrlich, Miriam Meyerhoff, and Janet Holmes, 21–42. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    In the introduction to the thirty-two chapters that constitute the second edition of The Handbook of Language, Gender, and Sexuality, Ehrlich and Meyerhoff provide a review of key themes and issues in the field. The introduction includes insightful discussions of performativity, queer linguistics, and globalization, among other subjects.

  • Kulick, Don. 2000. Gay and lesbian language. Annual Review of Anthropology 29:243–285.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev.anthro.29.1.243

    This review of research on gay and lesbian language forges a strong critique of identity-based research in language and sexuality and advocates a desire-centered approach in its place. The critique was viewed by some as polemical, yet it ultimately inspired renewed attention to both identity and desire.

  • McElhinny, Bonnie. 2014. Theorizing gender in sociolinguistics and linguistic anthropology: Toward effective interventions in gender inequity. In The handbook of language, gender, and sexuality. 2d ed. Edited by Susan Ehrlich, Miriam Meyerhoff, and Janet Holmes, 48–67. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    McElhinny examines assumptions guiding language and gender research with an eye to how this scholarship might inform feminist activism. She discusses three problematic assumptions: the collapsing of gender, sex, and sexuality; the understanding of gender as an attribute; and the view that gender is based in individuals rather than institutions.

  • Queen, Robin. 2014. Language and sexual identity. In The handbook of language, gender, and sexuality. 2d ed. Edited by Susan Ehrlich, Miriam Meyerhoff, and Janet Holmes, 203–219. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

    Queen revisits the identity-desire debate that has riddled the study of language and sexuality over the last decade and calls for more research that focuses on the two as intertwined. The chapter includes a useful review of what sociophonetic research has revealed about sexual identity as well as a commentary on “the special case of the lesbian.”

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