English Ph.D. Dissertations


Turning the Noose that Binds into a Rope to Climb: A Textual Search for Rhetorical and Linguistic Gender-markings in Speech Samples of Three Contemporary Female Orators

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


English/Rhetoric and Writing

First Advisor

Kristine Blair (Advisor)


Feminine communication styles have been the subject of active investigation since Robin Tolmach Lakoff’s 1975 publication of Language and Woman’s Place. This dissertation adds to that body of research, using both Lakoff’s linguistic markers and the rhetorical concept of the double-bind as discussed by Kathleen Hall Jamieson in “Beyond the Double Bind.” The women selected for this study include Nancy Pelosi; Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Katharine Jefferts Schori; who serves as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopalian Church-USA; and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Three genre-specific speech samples from each of the rhetors (the acceptance speech, the standard professional speech, and the interview) are analyzed using Lakoff’s markers and Jamieson’s concept of the double-bind. Using this research structure, the speeches are examined for both stylistic and substantive language use which might be understood as “feminine.” The dissertation concludes with a summary of the findings, including tables which demonstrate the extent of the usage of Lakoff’s markers by genre and by rhetor, and commentary on the way that genre influenced the rhetors’ usage of both linguistic and rhetorical strategies. Interestingly, genre appeared to be more of a deciding factor in the study than was originally anticipated, and this provides a powerful incentive for further research. Finally, I argue for the inclusion of these orators within the rhetorical canon, for we cannot attempt to re-gender the rhetorical tradition and claim to support inclusive rhetorical practices if we do not recognize the contemporary women whose voices are shaping and re-shaping the way rhetoric is applied in the public sphere.