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Gender Differences in Language

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1 Gender Differences in Language
Elaine Rich

2 Speaking Behavior: Two Simple Examples
Women produce more back-channel utterances (things like “uh uh”, “I see”, and “yeah” that acknowledge the speaker but do not grab the floor). Imagine a male speaker who is receiving repeated nods or "mm hmm"s from the woman he is speaking to. She is merely indicating that she is listening, but he thinks she is agreeing with everything he says. Now imagine a female speaker who is receiving only occasional nods and "mm hmm"s from the man she is speaking to. He is indicating that he doesn't always agree; she thinks he isn't always listening. (Maltz/Borker 1998: 422) Women use more tag questions (e.g., “This will work, won’t it? Or “We need to install more memory, don’t we?”) Tag questions are often interpreted as signals of insecurity. Maltz/Borker quote from

3 Speaking Behavior: A More Complex Pattern
The rest of this talk is based primarily on the work of Deborah Tannen, as described in: You Just Don’t Understand Talking from 9 to 5 Caveat: The claims that Tannen makes are statistical and anecdotal. They don’t describe universal truths that apply all the time to all people. Caveat: The experimental evidence that forms the basis for this work was done almost entirely in the US. Not clear to what extent the conclusions apply to other cultures.

4 Language As Behavior The core idea: Language is behavior. As such, it is formed by: How we perceive the world Men: One Up – One Down Women: A group of equals The priorities we attach to our goals Men : Achieve status (and independence) Women: form social connection and intimacies

5 Language As Behavior These differences affect: When we talk
How we talk Our misunderstandings

6 When We Talk Men talk in public. Women talk in private.

7 When We Talk Asking questions What about at school?
But some situations are riskier than others. A Hollywood talk-show producer told me that she had been flying with her father in his private airplane when he was running out of gas and uncertain about the precise location of the local landing strip he was heading for. Beginning to panic, the woman said, “Daddy! Why don’t you radio the control tower and ask them where to land?” He answered, “I don’t want them to think I’m lost.” This story had a happy ending, else the woman would not have been alive to tell it to me. What about at school? T9to5 p. 24 the pilot story

8 How We Talk Men vie for control; women try to equalize everyone.
Laurie Heatherington and her colleagues had student experimenters ask hundreds of incoming college students to predict how they thought their first year at college would go by forecasting the grades they expected to get. In some cases, the predictions were made anonymously: They were put in writing and placed in an envelope. In others, they were made publicly, either orally to the experimenter or by writing on a paper that the experimenter promptly read. The researchers found that women predicted lower grades for themselves than men did – but only when they made their predictions publicly. The predictions the women students made in private did not differ from the men’s just as the grades they actually earned as the year progressed did not differ from the men’s. In other words, their lower predictions evidenced not lack of confidence but reluctance to reveal the level of confidence they felt. The same researchers conducted a second study that captured women’s characteristic balancing act between their own interests and those of the person they are talking to. In half the cases, the experimenters told their own grade-point averages to the students they interviewed, and the grades they claimed to have gotten were comparatively low. Lo and behold, when women students thought they were talking to someone who had gotten low grades, they lowered their predictions of what they expected their own grades to be. Whether or not the experimenter claimed to have gotten low grades did not affect the predictions made by the men students. Women equalize: T9t5 p. 37 (predicting grades)

9 How We Talk Interrupting
Gender of Number of Physicians’ Patients’ Num of Physicians Interruptions Interruptions Interruptions Patients      Male % % 17 Female % % 4 (based on West 1998:400) Interesting because this study controls for status. A ton of work on this. Men interrupt women. Women interrupt each other. But not all interruptions are equal. Some grab control. Some show support. One study: patients interrupt women doctors more than men. From More on this later when we talk about work.

10 How We Talk Tooting our own horns
Social conversation – who talks and who listens I was at dinner with faculty members from other departments at my university. To my right was a woman. As the dinner began, we introduced ourselves. After we told each other what departments we were in and what subjects we taught, she asked what my research was about. We talked about my research for a little while. Then I asked her about her research and she told me about it. Finally, we discussed the ways that our research overlapped. Later, as tends to happen at dinners, we branched out to others at the table. I asked a man across the table from me what department he was in and what he did. During the next half hour, I learned a lot about his job, his research, and his background. Shortly before the dinner ended there was a lull, and he asked me what I did. When I said I was a linguist, he became excited and told me about a research project he had conducted that was related to neurolinguistics. He was still telling me about his research when we all got up to leave the table. Social conversation: YJDU p. 125

11 How We Talk Tooting our own horns
An experiment with expert/nonexpert pairs Psychologist H. M. Leet-Pellegrini set out to discover whether gender or expertise determined who would behave in what she terms a “dominant” way – for example, by talking more, interrupting, and controlling the topic. She set up pairs of women, pairs of men, and mixed pairs, and asked them to discuss the effects of television violence on children. In some cases, she made one of the partners an expert by providing relevant factual information and time to read and assimilate it before the videotaped discussion. One might expect that the conversationalist who was the expert would talk more, interrupt more, and spend less time supporting the conversational partner who knew less about the subject. But it wasn’t so simple. On average, those who had expertise did talk more, but men experts talked more than women experts. Expertise also had a different effect on women and men with regard to supportive behavior. Leet-Pellegrini expected that the one who did not have expertise would spend more time offering agreement and support to the one who did. This turned out to be true –except in cases where a woman was the expert and her nonexpert partner was man. In this situation, the women experts showed support – saying things like “Yeah” and “That’s right” – far more than the nonexpert men they were talking to. Observers often rated the male nonexpert as more dominant than the female expert. In other words, the women in this experiment not only didn’t wield their expertise as power, but tried to play it down and make up for it through extra assenting behavior. They acted as if their expertise were something to hide. … Expert/non-expert pairs: YJDU p. 127

12 How We Talk Tooting our own horns
An experiment with expert/nonexpert pairs - continued Furthermore, when an expert man talked to an uninformed woman, he took a controlling role in structuring the conversation in the beginning and the end. But when an expert man talked to an uninformed man, he dominated in the beginning but not always in the end. In other words, having expertise was enough to keep a man in the controlling position if we talking to a woman, but not if he was talking to a man. Apparently, when a woman surmised that the man she was talking to had more information on the subject than she did, she simply accepted the reactive role. But another man, despite a lack of information, might still give the expert a run for his money and possibly gain the upper hand by the end. Expert/non-expert pairs: YJDU p. 127

13 How We Talk Use of personal examples
Use of personal examples: UJDU p. 91 skip this one if out of time

14 How We Talk Story-telling styles
Each year, students in my classes record ordinary conversations that they happen to take part in, and transcribe a segment where people tell about personal experiences. One year, two students analyzed all the stories transcribed by class members to compare the ones told by women and those told by men. They found differences that fit in with the patterns I have been describing. The fourteen stories that men had told were all about themselves. Of the twelve stories told by women, only six were about themselves; the others were about incidents that happened to other people. The men, but not the women, had told stories in which there were protagonists and antagonists. For the most part, the stories that men told made them look good. For example, two men told about times when they had won a game for their team by their extraordinary performance. Many of the women told stories that made them look foolish. For example, one woman told of not having realized she had broken her nose until a doctor informed her of the fact years later. Another told of having been so angry at losing her hubcap to a pothole that she stopped the car, searched in vain among a pile of hubcaps that had found a similar fate, and, not wanting to leave empty-handed, took a Mercedes hubcap that was of no use to her. Story telling styles: YJDU p. 176

15 How We Talk Use of indirect expressions

16 How We Talk Trouble talk
HE: I’m really tired. I didn’t sleep well last night. SHE: I didn’t sleep well either. I never do. HE: Why are you trying to belittle me? SHE: I’m not! I’m just trying to show that I understand. Girl: Hey, Max, my baby’s not feeling good. Boy: So sorry. I’m not the person who fixes sick babies. Girl: I wasn’t telling you to fix her, I was just telling you. Trouble Talk: YJDU p. 51; T9to5 p. 71 Second example is at a nursery school

17 How We Talk Who interrupts YJDU p. 143, T9to5 p. 232

18 How We Talk The role of fighting (arguing)
For boys and men, aggression does not preclude friendship. Quite the contrary, it is a good way to start interactiona nd create involvement. A woman told me of her surprise when she was a member of a mixed group of students attending a basketball game at the University of Michigan. Although their tickets had seat assignments, the usual practice among students at this university was for spectators to take any seats they found – first come, first served. Following these unwritten rules, the students took seats in the front row of the balcony. Before long, a group of men from Michigan State University arrived, assuming they were entitled to the seats shown on their tickets. Finding people in their seats, they ordered them out. When the University of Michigan students refused to vacate the seats, a loud argument ensued in which the men of the two groups denounced and threatened each other, and the women sank down in their seats. After a while, the visitors settled for the seats adjoining the disputed ones. Then the men who had just been engaged in an angry verbal fight began a friendly chat about the teams and the schools and the game about to begin. The women were dumbfounded. They would never have engaged in such an argument, but they assumed that if they had it would have made them enemies for life, not friends in the wink of an eye. Arguing: YJDU p. 163 (Michigan basketball seats) Fighting: my Minsky example Fighting: students asking Tannen questions YJDU p. 168 not very good example

19 These Differences Show Up Very Early
Boys give orders; girls use words like “let’s” Psychologist Jacqueline Sachs and her colleagues, studying preschoolers between the ages of two and five, found that girls tended to make proposals for action by saying “Let’s,”, whereas boys often gave each other commands. For example, in playing doctor, the little boys said things like: “Lie down.”, “Get the heart thing.”, “Gimme your arm.”, “Try to give me the medicine.” When girls played doctor, they said things like “Let’s sit down and use it.” Marjorie Harness Goodwin found exactly the same pattern in a completely different group – black children between the ages of six and fourteen, playing on the streets of a Philadelphia neighborhood. The boys, who were (agonistically) making slingshots in preparation for a fight, gave each other orders: “Gimme the pliers!”, “Man, don’t come in here where I am.”, “Give me that, man. After this, after you chop ‘em, give ‘em to me.”, “Get off my steps.” The girls, who were making glass rings out of bottle necks, didn’t issue commands. They made proposals beginning with “Let’s”: “Let’s go around Subs and Suds [a corner bar/restaurant].”, “Let’s ask her, ‘Do you have any bottles?’ “, “Come on. Let’s go find some.”, “Come on. Let’s turn back, y’all, so we can safe keep ‘em.”, “Let’s move these out first.” Other ways the girls proposed activities were with “We gonna” (“We gonna make a whole display of rings”), “We could” (“We could use a sewer”), “Maybe”, and “We gotta”. Orders vs. let’s YJDU p. 153 (black street kids)

20 These Differences Show Up Very Early
Girls give reasons; boys don’t. Girls get in trouble if they brag or stand out. “She thinks she’s something.” In mixed groups, girls often become “invisible” Different attitudes toward “trouble talk” “invisible” YJDU p. 136 (but not a great example) Trouble talk t9to5 p. 71 – recall the example of the girl with the sick “baby” and the boy who doesn’t fix babies.

21 Conversational Style at Work
Meetings One-on one interaction style

22 Conversational Style at Work – Meetings: Who Talks?
Men talk more Barbara and Gene Eakins examined tape recordings of seven university faculty meetings and found that, with one exception, the men spoke more often and, without exception, spoke longer. The men’s turns ranged from to seconds, the women’s from 3 to 10 seconds. The longest contribution by a woman was still shorter than the shortest contribution by a man. Eakins T9to5 p. 279

23 Conversational Style at Work – Meetings: Who Talks?
Men talk more but meeting style matters. Edelsky taped and analyzed five complete meetings of a standing university department faculty committee composed of seven women (of which she was one) and four men. When she set out to measure how much women and men spoke at the meetings, she realized that the meetings broke into two different types of interactions. At times, interaction followed what one things of as meeting structure: One person spoke while others listened or responded. But there were times when the nature of interaction was quite different: They seemed like “free-for-alls” in which several people talked at once or seemed to be “on the same wavelength.” In order to answer the question of who talked more, she first had to ask which type of interaction was going on. She found that men took more and longer turns and did more joking, arguing, directing, and soliciting of responses during the more structured segments of the meetings. During the “free-for-all” parts of the meetings, women and men talked equally, and women joked, argued, directed, and solicited responses more than men. In these parts of the meeting, no one person held the floor while others sat silently listening. Instead, several voices were going at once as people either talked over each other or talked to their neighbors at the same time that other parallel conversations were going on. T9to5 p. 298

24 Conversational Style at Work – Meetings: How Do People Talk?
Women use hedge expressions such as: “I don’t know if this will work, but …” “You’ve probably already thought of this, but …” “This may be a silly naïve question, but …” T9to5 p Butterfingers

25 Conversational Style at Work – Ritualized Behavior
Women say “I’m sorry”, “I’m confused”, and “Thanks” Sociologist Keller Magenau tape-recorded and studied the talk of a woman who worked in the central office of a large insurance company. The woman, Karie, was responsible for approving insurance policies referred to her by underwriters. In one taped segment, Karie had received a policy from Lisa that she could not approve because it lacked a critical piece of information that Lisa should have provided. Instead of saying, “Lisa, you haven’t given me all the information you’re supposed to,” Karie began, “I’m just a little confused.” When she pointed out the problem, Lisa took responsibility for it: “No, I should have reworded that,” and went on to clarify. Karie did not lose face by claiming confusion, because Lisa took the blame back on herself. If Karie put herself in a one-down position, it was only fleeting, because Lisa quickly pulled her back up. It is only when others do not do their part to restore the balance that ritual self-deprecation leaves the speaker in a one-down position. I had been interviewed by a well-known columnist who ended our friendly conversation by giving me the number of her direct phone line in case I ever wanted to call her. Some time later, I did want to call her but had misplaced her direct number and had to go through the newspaper receptionist to get through to her. When our conversation was ending, and had both uttered ending-type remarks, I remembered that I wanted to get her direct number for the future and said, ‘Oh, I almost forgot – last time you gave me your direct number, but I lost it; I wondered if I could get it again.’ ‘Oh, I’m sorry,’ she came back instantly. ‘It’s …’ I’m confused: T9to5 p. 51 I’m sorry: T9to5 p. 44

26 Conversational Style at Work – Ritualized Behavior
Women give compliments Deirdre and her colleague William both gave presentations at a national conference. On the way back to their home city, Deirdre told William, ‘That was a great talk!’ ‘Thank you,’ he said. Then she asked, ‘What did you think of mine?’ and he told her –in the form of a lengthy and detailed critique. Compliments: T9to5 p. 68

27 Conversational Style at Work – Fighting
Men argue and fight. Refer back to Minsky example

28 Conversational Style at Work – Indirect Requests vs. Bossiness
What if you’re the boss? A university president was expecting a visit from a member of the board of trustees. When her secretary buzzed to tell her that the board member had arrived, she left her office and entered the reception area to greet him. Before ushering him into her office, she handed her secretary a sheet of paper and said, ‘I’ve just finished drafting this letter. Do you think you could type it right away? I’d like to get it out before lunch. And would you please do me a favor and hold all calls while I’m meeting with Mr. Smith?’ When they sat down behind the closed door of her office, Mr. Smith began by telling her that he thought she had spoken inappropriately to her secretary. ‘Don’t forget’, he said, ‘you’re the president!’ Indirect vs. bossy What if you’re the boss T9to5 p. 78

29 Conversational Style at Work – Indirect Requests vs. Bossiness
Women must be careful What happens among peers? It’s even more subtle. Marian: Sal, are you busy? Sally: No. Marian: What’re you doing? Sally: Just talking to Deborah. Do you need me to cover the phone? Marian: Yes, I have to go to the accounting office. Sally: Okay, I”ll be right there. Women must be careful: Margaret Thatcher was called bossy Peers: T9to5 p.100

30 Conversational Style at Work
Asserting control vs. soliciting consensus Two coworkers who were on very friendly terms with each other were assigned to do a marketing survey together. When they got the assignment, the man began by saying, ‘I’ll do the airline and automobile industry, and you can do the housewares and direct-mail market.’ The woman was taken aback. “Hey,’ she said. ‘It sounds like you’ve got it all figured out. As a matter of fact, I’d like to do airlines and autos. I’ve already got a lot of contacts in those areas.’ ‘Oh,’ he said, a little chagrined and a lot surprised. Control vs. consensus T9to5 p. 29

31 Conversational Style at Work
Trying to protect others’ feelings Amy was a manger with a problem: She had just read a final report written by Donald, and she felt it was woefully inadequate. She faced the unsavory task of telling him to do it over. When she met with Donald, she made sure to soften the blow by beginning with praise, telling him everything about his report that was good. Then she went on to explain what was lacking and what needed to be done to make it acceptable. She was pleased with the diplomatic way she had managed to deliver the bad news. Thanks to her thoughtfulness in starting with praise, Donald was able to listen to the criticism and seemed to understand what was needed. But when the revised report appeared on her desk, Amy was shocked. Donald had made on minor, superficial changes, and none of the necessary ones. Protecting other people’s feelings: T9to5 p. 21

32 Conversational Style at Work
Promoting oneself Not only advancement and recognition, but hiring is affected by ways of speaking. A woman who supervised three computer programmers mentioned that her best employee was another woman whom she had hired over the objections of her own boss. Her boss had preferred a male candidate because he felt the man would be better able to step into her supervisory role if needed. But she had taken a dislike to the male candidate. For one thing, she had felt he was inappropriately flirtatious with her. But most important, she had found him arrogant, because he spoke as if he already had the job, using the pronoun “we” to refer to the group that had not yet hired him. Promoting oneself t9to5 p 41

33 Conversational Style at Work
The overall effect of feeling confident The CEO of a corporation explained to me that he regularly has to make decisions based on insufficient information – and making decisions is a large part of his work life. Much of his day is spent hearing brief presentations following which he must either approve or reject a course of action. He has to make a judgment in five minutes about issues the presenters have worked on for months. “I decide,” he explained, “based on how confident they seem. If they seem very confident, I call it a go. If they seem unsure, I figure it’s too risky and nix it.” Overall, feeling confident t9to5 p. 34

34 What Matters? Not the style itself It’s the mismatch

35 More Information?

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