Language in Society


Sex, speech, and stereotypes: Why women use prestige speech forms more than men

Elizabeth Gordona1

a1 Department of Linguistics, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand,


It is widely reported that women use more prestige speech forms than men, and style-shift more dramatically than men. This article puts forward the view that this behavior of women is not a matter of self-promotion, but of avoidance. Evidence from a survey of New Zealand middle-class speakers shows that their stereotype of a lower-class female speaker includes potential sexual immorality. Because of society's double standard regarding men's and women's sexual behavior, the stereotype affects women more than men, and could be an explanation for middle-class women's use of prestige forms as a way of avoiding association with the lower-class stereotype. (Women's speech, social class, speech varieties, sex and language, stereotypes, New Zealand)