11. SHIRLEY BRICE HEATH, Stanford University
BONNIE MCELHINNY, Stanford University
In my first year of graduate school (1987-1988),
Penny Brown was visiting Stanford and taught a course on
language and gender--for undergraduates. I took that
course then, but remained uncertain about whether one
could be taken seriously as a linguist while undertaking
studies of language of gender. After a leave of absence
devoted to earning a master's degree in a field where
feminist approaches are a central theoretical paradigm
(English literature) I returned to linguistics heartened,
believing that the relative lack of attention to gender as a
social category presented an opportunity for doing original
work rather than a professional deadend. Upon returning to
Stanford, I decided to write a dissertation devoted to some
aspect of the linguisic construction of gender, and I
submitted a proposal to the linguistics department faculty
for a course I wanted to teach to undergraduates on
language and gender. Shirley Brice Heath expressed interest
in co-teaching the course, and we co-designed the course
whose syllabus is attached. Language and Gender has since
become a regular offering in the Stanford linguistics
In addition to surveying the history of the
development of scholarship on language and gender, and
considering contemporary approaches to its study in
anthropology an linguistics, an important part of the course
Shirley and I designed was the attached set of fieldwork
exercises that the students themselves conducted. Using
tapes and transcripts they made of conversations with peers,
the students retested previous authors' claims about how
men and women use interruptions, hedges, tag questions,
profanity and vernacular phonological features. These
exercises were more than the usual problem sets designed to
allow students to replicate experts' findings, since asking
students to consider for themselves the complexity of how
language is used in social interaction turned out to be a way
to empower them to question the methodological and
theoretical assumptions made by earlier scholars in studies
of language and gender. In many cases the students'
conclusions didn't agree with the linguists' previous
findings--not only because the students were studying a
different group, but because the linguists assigned a single
meaning to a form which students discovered on
investigation of their own tapes was capable of meaning
many things. For instance, among friends simultaneous talk
and interruptions more often marked intimacy and
solidarity than the domination of another that it has often
been assumed to represent by sociolinguists.
Students would find too that gender wasn't always the
only, or most important, social characteristic that explained
the patterns of interactions they had taped--though many
sociolinguistic studies bent on examining gender differences
do ignore other contextual, social and psychological factors
influencing language use. Often, students would say, "But in
MY data the most important difference isn't between men
and women, but between this senior and this freshman, or
between these two women with different personalities, or
between the femininst and the non-feminist." Thus the
participant structure of our classroom was changed from the
tradition one of instructors-to-students to one where
students shared data with one another, as developing
experts on a given topic. Having their own data also
empowered students to ask questions of the articles they
were reading, and of us. One student who approached me at
the end of the semester said that she would never gain read
anything--academic article or otherwise--and assume that
she could simply accept what she was reading there.
Helping students towards this sort of critical reading, and to
find ways to develop their own opinions, seems to me one of
the most important goals in teaching undergraduate and
Much feminist research, and many courses taught by
feminists (including courses on language and gender), focus
on the ways that women's behavior is devalued. Although
these studies and these courses, by their very nature, are a
protest against such devaluation, they fail to document the
ways by which the women described offer their own,positive
interpretations of their own actions, the ways they contest
hegemonic interpretations, and the ways that negative
interpretations change, and so they seem to suggest that
feminist protest is largely located in the academy. For many
students, examining the transcripts of their peers made it
impossible not to ask questions about signs of resistance and
multiple interpretations and the resulting changes in their
own, and other, speech communities. The students' own
work, then, served as a jumping-off point for a critique not
only of prevailing stereotypes of women's speech in some of
the cultures we studied, but of some of those present in the
academic literature as well. I take students' active
participation and empowerment in a classroom to be one
distinctive feature of a feminist pedagogy. Marcia Westkott
notes that often "Women's devaluation and the consequences
of this devaluation are reinforced by a social science which
records these conditions while systematically ignoring
alternative possibilities." A feminist social science, and a
feminist pedagogy too, should not be just a doleful catalogue
of facts about oppression and discrimination, but should also
serve as an opposition to such facts by identifying
alternative interpretations, by recognizing resisting groups
and individuals, and by denaturalizing existing ideologies
LANGUAGE AND GENDER
Anthropology 171/Linguistics 154--Winter 1991
Instructors: Shirley Brice Heath and Bonnie McElhinny
Coates, Jennifer. 1986. Women, Men and Language
Philips, Susan, Susan Steele and Christine Tanz (eds.). 1987.
Language, Gender and Sex in Comparative Perspective
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press). (REFERRED
TO BELOW AS PST).
>From time to time, readings on reserve in the library will
also be assigned. You will also be asked to read parts of
Tannen 1990 (You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men
in Conversation). Some copies of this New York Times
discounted bestseller are available in the bookstore.
(1) 60%--SIX PROBLEM SETS due on dates indicated in the
problem set packet. No papers will be accepted beyond the
week in which sets are due.
(2) 40%--Choice between a FINAL EXAMINATION and a
10-15 page FINAL PAPER using course readings on a topic of
(3) 10%--Each Tuesday, beginning Jan. 15, a one-page
summary of the readings of the week. These will not be
graded, but they will be checked off, and occasionally shared
with other class members to stimulate discussion. Note that
these are in effect bonus points.
COURSE ASSIGNMENTS AND TOPICS:
JANUARY: Overcoming the stereotypes of language; deciding
how to study language and gender; reconsidering the norms
and expectations of mainstream culture; the power of the
media; sorting facts from fictions.
Jan 8 and 10
Coates, Part 1: "Language and Sex", "The Historical
Background: Folklinguistics and the Early
Grammarians", "The Historical Background:
Anthropologists and Dialectologists".
Spacks, Patricia Meyer. 1985. "Chapter 2: Its Reputation"
from Gossip (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press),
Lakoff, Robin. 1975. Language and Woman's Place (NY:
Harper), pp. 8-19.
Lakoff, Robin. 1990. "Chapter 11: Why Can't a Woman be
Less Like a Man?" in Talking Power: The Politics of
Language (NY: Basic Books), pp. 198-214.
Selections from Tannen, Deborah. 1990. You Just Don't
Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (NY:
William Morrow Co). (See especially Chapter 2).
View Film "Killing Her Softly."
Jan 15 and 17.
Holmes, Janet. 1986. "Functions of you know in women's and
men's speech" Language in Society 15:1-22.
Ochs, Elinor. 1979. "Transcription as Theory" in Elinor Ochs
and Bambi Schieffelin (eds.), Developmental
Pragmatics (NY: Academic Press), pp. 43-72.
Jan. 22 and 24.
Coates, Part 2: "Quantitative Studies", "Social Networks", "Sex
Differences in Communicative Competence."
Eckert, Penelope. 1988. "Adolescent Social Structure and the
Spread of Linguistic Change" Language in Society
Jan. 29 and 31.
PST, Chapter 4: "A diversity of voices: Men and Women's
Speech in Ethnography Perspective" (Joel Sherzer).
Johnstone, Barbara. 1988. "Gender and Power in Midwestern
Personal Storytelling" Paper presented at Discourses
of Power conference, Tempe AZ, Oct. 1988.
FEBRUARY: Gender and ethnicity in the U.S.; contrasting men
and women in talk across cultures
Feb. 5 and 7.
Heath, Shirley Brice. 1983. "Chapter 5: Oral Traditions" in
Ways with Words: Language, Life and Work in
Communities and Classrooms (Cambridge: Cambridge
Univ. Press), pp. 149-189.
Medicine, Bea. 1987. "The Role of American Indian Women
in Cultural Continuity and Transition" in Joyce Penfield
(ed.), Women and Language in Transition (Albany:
SUNY Press), pp. 159-166.
Zentella, Ana Celia. 1987. "Language and Female Identity in
the Puerto Rican Community" in Joyce Penfield (ed.),
Women and Language in Transition (Albany: SUNY
Press), pp. 167-179.
Moonwomon, Birch. 1986. "Towards a Study of Lesbian
Speech" in Proceedings of the First Berkeley Women
and Language Conference 1985, pp. 96-107.
Feb. 12 and 14.
PST, Chapter 1: "The womanly woman: Manipulation of
Stereotypical and Nonstereotypical Features of
Japanese Female Speech" (Janet Shibamoto).
PST, Chapter 2: "The Impact of Stratification and
Socialization on Men's and Women's Speech in
Western Samoa" (Elinor Ochs).
PST, Chapter 5: "Women's Speech in Modern Mexicano"
Feb. 19 and 22.
Thomas, Beth. 1988. "Differences of Sex and Sects:
Linguistic Variation and Social Networks in a Welsh
Mining Village" in Jennifer Coates and Deborah
Cameron (eds.), Women in their Speech Communities
(London: Longman), pp. 51-60.
Brown, Penelope. 1990. "Gender, Politeness and
Confrontation in Tenejapa" Discourse Processes
Feb. 26 and 28.
Keenan, Elinor. 1974. "Norm-Makers, Norm-Breakers: Uses
of Speech by Men and Women in a Malagasy
Community" in R. Bauman and J. Sherzer (eds.),
Explorations in the Ethnography of Speaking
(Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press), pp. 125-143.
Smith-Hefner, Nancy. 1988. "Women and Politeness: The
Javanese Example" Language in Society 17:535-554.
Haeri, Niloofaer. 1987. "Male/female differences in speech:
An alternative interpretation" in Variation in
Language, NWAV-XV at Stanford. Proceedings of the
Fifteenth Annual Conference on New Ways of
Analyzing Variation (Stanford, CA: Dept. of
Linguistics, Stanford Univ.)
MARCH: Acquisition of gender-differentiated language
March 5 and 8.
PST, Chapter 6: "Preschool boys' and girls' language use in
pretend play" (Jacqueline Sachs).
PST, Chapter 7: "Sex Differences in Parent-Child Interaction"
(Jean Berko Gleason).
PST, Chapter 8: "Children's Arguing" (Marjorie Harness
Goodwin and Charles Goodwin).
PST, Chapter 9: "Do Different Worlds Mean Different Words?:
An example from Papua New Guinea" (Bambi
Goodwin, Majorie Harness. 1980. "Directive-Response Speech
Sequences in Girls' and Boys' Task Activities" in Sally
McConnell-Ginet, Ruth Borker and Nelly Furman, eds.
Women and Language in Literature and Society (NY:
Praeger), pp. 157-173.
March 12 and 14
Coates, Part 3: "The Acquisition of Sex-Differentiated
Language", "The Role of Sex Differences in Linguistic
Change", "The Social Consequences of Linguistic Sex
Eckert, Penelope. 1989. "The whole woman: Sex and Gender
Differences in Variation" Language Variation and
FINAL PAPER DUE--March 12.
BOOKS ON RESERVE
You may want to consult these books in the course of
preparing your final paper, if this is the option you choose.
Cameron, Deborah. 1985. Feminism and Linguistic Theory.
Chesebro, James. Gayspeak: Gay Male and Lesbian
Ginsburg, Faye (ed). 1990. Uncertain Terms: Negotiating
Gender in American Culture.
Lakoff, Robin. 1975. Language and Woman's Place.
Ortner, Sherry and Jennifer Whitehead (eds). Sexual
McConnell-Ginet, Sally et al (eds.). 1980. Women and
Language in Literature and Society.
Moi, Toril. 1985. Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary
Morgen, Sandra (ed.). 1989. Gender and Anthropology.
Penelope, Julia. 1990. Speaking Freely: Unlearning the Lies
of the Fathers' Tongues.
Rosaldo, Michelle and Louise Lamphere (eds). 1974. Women,
Culture and Society.
Sanday, Peggy. 1990. Beyond the Second Sex: New
Directions in the Anthropology of Gender.
Smith, Philip. Language, the Sexes and Society.
Spender, Dale. 1985. Man-made Language.
Spender, Dale. 1989. The Writing or the Sex? or Why you
Don't have to read women's writing to know it's no
Tannen, Deborah. 1990. You Just Don't Understand: Women
and Men in Conversation
Thorne, Barrie and Nancy Henley (eds.). 1975. Language
and Sex: Difference and Dominance.
Thorne, Barrie, Cheris Kramarae and Nancy Henley (eds.).
1983. Language, Gender and Society.
EXERCISES ON LANGUAGE AND GENDER
ANTHROPOLOGY 171/LINGUISTICS 154
Heath/Mcelhinny Winter 1991
This is a packet of six field exercises examining the ways
that language reflects and constructs gender differences.
You will be asked to complete these exercises throughout the
quarter and turn them in on the dates listed below. For the
assignments due on Jan. 15 and March 5 you must choose
one of the two exercises included here--you are not required
to do both. Each exercise is worth ten points and is the
equivalent of 10% of your final grade. NO LATE
ASSIGMENTS WILL BE ACCEPTED.
1a. Extralinguistic Constructions of Gender OR
1b. Politeness (Lakoff) DUE Jan. 15
2. Transcription DUE Jan. 29
3. Quantitative Analysis DUE Feb. 5
4. Narrative DUE Feb. 12
5a. Interruptions OR
5b. Hedges DUE Feb. 19
6. Sexism in Language DUE March 5
(Reminder: Your final paper is due March 12. Please budget
your time accordingly.)
Included with each exercise is a list of further optional
readings. These are NOT required reading. You will be able
to satisfactorily complete each exercise without referring to
these articles/books. We provide them here in case you
should wish to read further on your own, or in case you
decide to expand one of your exercises into a final paper.
EXERCISE 1a--Extralinguistic Constructions of Gender (Due
PLEASE NOTE: CHOOSE EITHER THIS EXERCISE OR 1B
(POLITENESS) TO COMPLETE FOR JAN. 15. DO NOT DO
In GENDER ADVERTISEMENTS Erving Goffman compellingly
demonstrates the ways that differences in power and
authority between men and women are represented and
constructed in advertising photographs. He shows, for
example, the regularity with which (1) men are portrayed as
larger, bigger, higher or taller than women, (2) women are
portrayed as physically prostrating themselves before men,
(3) women, social subordinates and children are held by or
around the shoulders in a way that precludes reciprocal
shoulder-holding, (4) women are portayed as losing control
of their emotions. Copies of photographs of several of the
positions which he examined are attached. In this exercise
you'll be attempting to duplicate
Goffman's study EITHER by examining contemporary
advertisements OR by examining body configurations which
occur in everyday interactions. NOTE: You are not required
to do both of these sections. Select only one.
(1) BODY POSTURE IN CONTEMPORARY ADVERTISEMENTS
Goffman's study was conducted in 1976. Are the same sorts
of configurations still regularly used by advertisers in 1990?
That is, are gender differences still constructed in the same
ways? Choosing one of the positions/configurations
examined by Goffman, examine a selection of popular
magazines (you should look at 4 different magazines, at
least), to see if that particular configuration is still found in
advertising photographs. If so, cut out the relevant pictures
and paste them up onto several sheets of paper. Submit a 1
or 2 page essay describing the ways in which this
configuration fits (or perhaps does not precisely fit)
Goffman's description. If the configuration you've chosen is
no longer used in advertising you can either (1) choose
another configuration, look for it and write about it, as
above, or (2) write a 1 or 2 page essay explaining why you
think that configuration is no longer used by advertisers, or
(3) write a 1 or 2 page essay describing a configuration that
is currently used that Goffman did not describe and attempt
to explain why and how this new configuration might have
(2) BODY POSTURE IN EVERYDAY INTERACTIONS
Although Goffman wasn't certain about the ways in which
the configurations he discusses would correspond with poses
adopted in natural settings, he suggests that the
"standardization, exaggeration and simplification" that
characterize commercial posings are also found in more
natural settings, though there they may be understood as
"babyishness, mockery and other forms of unseriousness" or
may be a particular sort of ritualized behavior that is only
acceptable during "moments of ceremoney, occasions for
giving sympathy, sudden access or friends" and other special
occasions. No one has yet attempted to test these claims on
the poses that people regularly adopt as they go about their
day-to-day business. Select one of the poses which Goffman
describes, and note down all the people whom you see
arranged in that configuration in a given day. Note down
the details of each occurrence, including who the participates
were, where they were, what they were doing, the tone of
the occasion (serious and academic, serious and romantic,
playful and friendly, playful and taunting, parodying, etc.)
and any other details that seem significant to you. If you can
do so, take a picture. Write a1 or 2 page essay describing
the results of your observations and commenting on
Goffman's predictions. If you are unable to find any
instances of the particular configuration you've chosen you
can either (1) look for another configuration, look for it and
write about it, as above, or (2) write a 1 or 2 page essay
explaining why you think the configuration you can't find
might be used in advertising but not in the natural
interactions you observed, or (3) write a 1 or 2 page essay
on a configuration that you regularly observed that went
unmentioned by Goffman.
OPTIONAL FURTHER READINGS
Goffman, Erving. 1976. Gender Advertisements (NY: Harper
and Row Publishers).
Kramer, Cheris. 1975. "Stereotypes of women's speech: the
word from cartoons" Journal of Popular Culture
EXERCISE 1B--Politeness (Due Jan. 15)
PLEASE NOTE: CHOOSE EITHER THIS EXERCISE OR 1a
(EXTRALINGUISTIC CONSTRUCTIONS OF GENDER) TO
COMPLETE FOR JAN. 15. DO NOT DO BOTH.
In LANGUAGE AND WOMAN'S PLACE Robin Lakoff claims
that "it is a truism to state that the 'stronger' expletives are
reserved for men, and the 'weaker' ones for women"
(1975:10). Jennifer Coates, on the other hand, in WOMEN,
MEN AND LANGUAGE writes that Lakoff and other writers
"claim to describe women's more polite use of language, but
we should ask whether what they are actually doing is
attempting to prescribe how women ought to talk.
Avoidance of swearing and 'coarse' words is held up to
female speakers as them ideal to be aimed at....It is clear
that people have thought for a long time that women and
men differ in relation to the use of swear words and other
taboo exprssions....there is still very little evidence to
confirm or refute this belief" (1986:22). This exercise is
designed to test Lakoff's claim by gathering some evidence
for how men and women use expletives.
(1) The attached worksheet lists 14 expletives. They've
been ranked in order from least profane (GOSH) to most
profane (CUNT) in an unpublished study conducted by Frank
Anshen at SUNY-Stonybrook. Note that the expletives fall
into roughly 3 groups. The first three (GOSH, DAMN, HELL)
are all impious uses of religious terms, while CRAP, ASS,
BULLSHIT, and PISS are all concerned with excrement. The
last set (FUCK, SUCK, PRICK, MOTHERFUCKER, CUNT) all refer
to sex. Each time you hear one of these 14 words in the next
week note the sex of the speaker and the sex of the
audience, and mark the appropriate column on the attached
worksheet. If, for instance, you hear a woman on the bus
say "Damn that was a good game" to the guy beside her,
you'll mark W to M (woman to man) on the DAMN line. For
the purposes of this study, take audience to be those to
whom the speakers are directly talking, and not merely all
those who can hear them (you wouldn't count, for instance,
everyone who overheard the woman on the bus as the
audience). Sometimes the audience will be more than one
person. If all are women, mark W. If all are men, mark M.
If both men and women are in the audience, mark MIX. If
possible, also note age, ethnicity and/or class of the speakers
(2) Tabulate all tokens (each expletive you hear counts as
one token) according to word (e.g. 11 tokens of DAMN),
according to gender of speaker (e.g. 5 tokens of DAMN used
by men, 6 used by women) and according to hearer (4
tokens of DAMN heard by men, 6 heard by women, 1 heard
by a mixed audience).
(3) Can you make any generalizations about whether men or
women are more likely to use the expletives in the impious
set? The scatological set? The sexual set?
(4) Does the sex of the audience significantly affect men's or
women's use of expletives? Are expletives more or less
likely to be used when only women are in the audience?
With a mixed audience? With an all-male audience? Which
set of expletives are usd most often with, respectively, all-
male, all-female and mixed audiences?
(5) Do you think that use of expletives is a good measure of
how polite a speaker is? If so, why? If not, why not? In
what other ways might one measure politeness?
(6) In what ways did ethnicity, class and age affect use of
(7) Turn in your worksheet and a 1-2 page essay which
contains the answers to questions #2-6.
OPTIONAL FURTHER READINGS
Brown, Penelope and Stephen Levinson. 1978. "Universals
in Language Use: Politeness Phenomena" in J. Goody,
ed. Questions and Politeness: Strategies in Social
Interaction (NY: Cambridge University Press).
Brown, Penelope. 1980. "How and Why are Women More
Polite: Some Evidence from a Mayan Community" in
Women and Language in Literature and Society, ed. S.
McConnell-Ginet. R. Borker and N. Furman, pp. 111-
Coates, Jennifer. 1986. Women, Men and Language (pp. 19-
Lakoff, Robin. 1975. Language and Woman's Place.
WORKSHEET FOR EXERCISE 1b--POLITENESS
Word M to M M to W M to Mix W to W W to Mix TOT
EXERCISE 2--Transcription (DUE JAN. 29)
(1) Tape an hour of casual conversation between two friends.
The conversation may be between two women, two men or
between a man and a woman. Because you'll be using the
transcript resulting from this exercise for comparisons of
men and women's speech in some of the later exercises (see
exercises 3, 4, 5a, 5b) you may prefer to tape a man and a
woman. If you elect to look at the speech of two women or
two men you will need to find someone else in the class who
has taped the speech of two people of the opposite sex with
whom you can exchange transcripts. (NOTE: If you do not
have access to a tape recorder, please check with the
instructors about borrowing one.). Unless you have a very
high-quality tape recorder, you'll probably want to tape in a
location without a lot of ambient noise (e.g. a dorm room, or
a quiet bench on campus, or a car).
(2) Transcribe at least one half-hour of this tape. As a rule
of thumb, note that an hour of tape generally requires 7
hours of transcription time. Do not
transcribe the first 10 minutes or so of the tape--this is the
section in which speakers are likely to be most self-
conscious and most aware of the tape-recorder. Later
portions of the tape will probably be a bit more natural. Use
pseudonyms for the participants.
(3) Transcribe as much of what is on the tape as is
necessary to capture the essence of the conversation that
you've taped. You will need to transcribe discourse markers
and fillers like UM, HMHM, WELL, YEAH, etc. Transcribe
laughter. Note pauses. Transcribe gasps, sighs, or other
sharp intakes of breath. You might even want to include
notes on the actions the two people were performing as the
recording was taking place if you were there, to the extent
that you can remember them. Attached is a set of
transcription conventions developed by discourse analysists
that you may find useful. Keep in mind also the comments
by Ochs on the ways that transcription practices are also a
theory of interaction. Be prepared to explain why you've
chosen certain transcription practices for your purposes.
(4) Hand in one copy of the transcript and a copy of your
tape. MAKE SURE THAT THE TAPE IS REWOUND TO THE
POINT AT WHICH YOUR TRANSCRIPTION BEGINS. We may
want to listen to your tape and compare it with your
transcript. Retain the original transcript and tape for
yourself--you'll need it for next week's exercise.
OPTIONAL FURTHER READING
Edelsky, Carole. 1981. "Who's Got the Floor?" Language in
Jefferson, Gail. 1973. "A case of precision timing in ordinary
conversation: overlapped tag-positioned address
terms in closing sequences" Semiotica 9:47-96.
Ochs, Elinor. 1979. "Transcription as Theory" in E. Ochs and
B. Schieffelin (eds). Developmental Pragmatics (NY:
Academic Press), pp. 43-72.
Schiffrin, Deborah. 1987. Discourse Markers (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press).
A: I Brackets indicate that the portions
B: 't of enclosed speech are
simultaneous.The left-hand bracket
marks the beginning of the overlap,
the right-hand bracket the end.
A: I was go- A hyphen represents a syllable which
was abruptly cut off.
B: Are you SURE? Caps (or underlining) indicate heavier
emphasis on the word marked.
A: I said that= Equal signs indicate that the next
B: =No you didn't. speaker started precisely at the end
of last speaker's utterance.
(.) or ( ) Parentheses indicate a short pause.
(.2) Indicates a pause of 2/10 of a second
(xxxx) X's mark a stretch of speech which
was difficult to transcribe from tape.
Oh yeah? Question mark marks rising intonation
Hhhhhhhhhhhhh H's represent laughter.
EXERCISE 3--Quantitative Analysis (Due. Feb. 5)
In this exercise you'll be conducting a simple quantitative
study that will serve to give you an idea of how studies like
those described in Coates (Chapter 4) are designed and
conducted. Although there are some cases in which gender
diferences in the use of a certain linguistic item are
categorical (in the American Indian language Koasati, for
example, there are male and female forms of some verbs, so
tht a woman will say LAKAWCIN 'don't lift it' while a man
will say LAKAWCI.S 'don't lift it'), these are relatively rare.
In most of the cases in which gender differences have been
found in the use of certain linguistic forms, men and women
both use the word (or morpheme or phoneme), or both use
all possible variants of the word (or morpheme or phoneme)
but they use them in varying degrees. The use of the
variants -ING/IN (in phonetic transcription < in > / ), as
in WORKING/WORKIN is one such case that has been studies
by several linguists, including Fischer 1964 and Trudgill
(1) Listen to your tape once more, while following along in
your transcript. Make sure that you've correctly transcribed
each instance of a word which ends in -ING/-IN. In the
transcription you first made, you probably heard many
instances of -IN as -ING. (Each time conversational analysts
use a transcript for a new purpose, they comb back through
it to make sure they've accurately recorded each instance of
the new phenomenon that they're examining.)
(2) Go through your transcript underlining each instance of
a word which ends in -ING/-IN for each individual.
(3) Count the number of -INGs and -INs you've found for
(4) Enter the totals into a table like the following:
(5) In one or two pages, describe your results. Use your
table in this description. Is there a difference between your
two speakers in the use of the two variants? Do you think
it's a significant difference? (Note: If you were conducting
a full-scale sociolinguistic study, you'd apply a Chi-square
test of statistical significance to answer this question. Here,
just offer an informed opinion.) If there does seem to be a
significant difference between your two speakers, who uses
the prestige variant -ING more? Who uses the vernacular
variant -IN more? How might you explain the difference?
In what sorts of situations might you expect the person who
used more -ING to use less than he or she does here? In
what sorts of situations might you expect the person who
used more -IN to use less than she or he does here? How do
your results compare with those of Trudgill (summarized in
Coates, pp. 64-65)?
OPTIONAL FURTHER READINGS
Fischer, J. L. 1964. "Social Influences on the Choice of a
Linguistic Variant" in Dell Hymes (ed.) Language in
Culture and Society (NY: Harper International), pp.
Trudgill, Peter. 1972. The Social Differentiation of English in
Norwich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp.
EXERCISE 4--Narrative (Due Feb. 12)
Several discourse analysts have suggested that stories told
by men and women differ in theme and structure. For
instance, Barbara Johnstone in a description of the
differences in the plots of stories told by midwestern men
and women claims that women's stories tend to be about
community while men's tend to be about contest. "The men"
she writes "tell about human contests--physical contests
such as fights as well as social contests in which they use
verbal and/or intellectual skill to defend their honor. Stories
about contests with people or animals can take the form of
tall tales, which are themselves a kind of contrast between a
teller and his audience. When a male storyteller is not the
protagonist in his story, the protagonist is a man; men rarely
tell stories involving women. The women's stories, on the
other hand, revolve around the norms of the community,
and joint action by groups of people. The women tell about
incidents in which they violate social norms and are scared
or embarrassed as a result; about people helping other
people out of scrapes; about sightings of apparent ghosts
which are then explained by others; about meeting their
mates and acquiring their cats. The women tell about
peculiar people, dramatizing their abnormal behavior and
setting it implicitly in contrast with social norms. They tell
stories about themselves, about other women, and about
Susan Kalcik believes that there is a distinctive way of telling
stories which characterizes all-women groups, especially
feminist all-women groups. She cites a cooperative
interactional styles, with no story being told before another
is finished and frequent attempts to solicit the opinions and
comments of those present as the story is progressing,
particularly those who have not been actively participating
up until that point. In addition, stories are often begun with
apologies (e.g.for the content of a story or its length) as a
way of recognizing other's desires and face. She also
describes a phenomenon she calls story-chaining, in which
the telling of a story suggests a story to another member
that is then told. She believes story-chaining works as a
way of showing support by sharing a similar experience
rather than, say, as an attempt to top the previous narrator's
story (as Johnson found in midwestern men's stories).
(1) Consider 2 stories told by a woman and 2 told by a man.
These stories may be drawn from literature (novels,
children's books, etc.) from folktales, from a storytelling
performance which you attended, or from your transcript.
The social characteristics of the man and woman should be
as much alike as possible (in age, ethnicity, class, sexual
orientation, etc.) and the genres of the stories you choose
should also be matched (i.e. compare storytelling
performances, not a storytelling performance and a novel).
(2) Can you make any generalizations about gender-based
differences in the themes of the stories? In addition to
considering the subjects of the story, consider also which
sorts of details are used in the story--descriptions of place
and time, descriptions of objects, use of personal names,
reports of other's speech. To what extent do you think any
differences you have found are best understood as gender
(3) Can you make any generalizations about gender-based
differences in the structure of stories? Consider how the
stories are begun, how they are ended, where the 'point' of
the story appears, how long the stories are.
(4) How do your results compare with those of Johnson and
(5) Hand in the stories you examined, along with a 1 or 2
page essay that contains the answers to questions #2-4.
OPTIONAL FURTHER READINGS
Harding, S. 1975. "Women and Words in a Spanish Village"
in Toward an Anthropology of Women ed. R. Reiter
(NY: Monthly Review Press), pp. 283-308.
Heath, Shirley Brice. 1983. "Chapter 5: Oral Traditions" in
Ways with Words (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Johnstone, Barbara. 1988. "Gender and Power in
Midwestern Personal Storytelling" Paper presented at
Discourses of Power Conference, Tempe AZ Oct. 1988.
Kalcik, Susan. 1975. "...like Ann's gynecologist or the time I
was almost raped" in Women and Folklore Claire R.
Farrer (ed) (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press), pp. 3-11.
Labov, William. 1972. "The Transformation of Experience in
Narrative Syntax" in Language in the Inner City
(Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press), pp. 354-
Polanyi, Livia. 1985. Telling the American Story: A
Structural and Cultural Analysis of Conversational
Storytelling (Ablex: Norwood NJ).
Exercise 5a--Interruptions (Due Feb. 19)
PLEASE NOTE: CHOOSE EITHER THIS EXERCISE OR 5b
(HEDGES) TO COMPLETE FOR FEB. 19. DO NOT DO BOTH.
One as yet unresolved question in language and gender
research is that of whether men interrupt women more than
women interrupt men. West and Zimmerman have, in a
series of articles, claimed that men do interrupt women
more than women interrupt men, that men interrupt women
more than men interrupt men, and that men interrupt
women more even when women are in relatively more
powerful positions (i.e. a female physician with a male
patient). Murray has however raised some questions about
how one defines interruptions, while Tannen raises further
questions about the ways that different ethnic interactional
styles might need to be factored into discussions of
interruptions. In this exercise, you'll discuss this question
with reference to the conversation that you taped.
(1) Read quickly through your transcript, identifying each
location at which you think one person is interrupting
another. Provide each of the participants in the conversation
with a clean transcript (i.e. one unmarked by you) and ask
them to do the same. If you were one of the participants,
you'll have two sets of judgements (your own and that of the
other individual). If you weren't one of the participants,
you'll have three sets.
(2) Compare the sets of judgements you've obtained. Are
there any differences? Where? How would you attempt to
explain the differences of opinion? Are people using
different or similar definitions of interruption? What are
(3) Considering each set of judgements separately, do you
find that one person interrupts more frequently than the
(4) Are there any differences in the severity of the
interruptions produced by each individual? If so, how
would you characterize the differences? One possible scale
of severity of interruptions might look something like the
following (ranging from most to least severe):
-cutting off speaker before she/he makes first point in a
-cutting off speaker before she/he makes first point in a
-cutting off speaker in mid-clause after she/he has made at
least one point in a speaking turn
-beginning to speak somewhere around a pause, or what
seems to be the end of a clause, or the end of a turn
(This scale is adapted from Murray 1985. He provides
examples of each of these sorts of interruptions.)
(5) What answer does the analysis of your data suggest to
the question of whether men interrupt women more than
women interrupt men? What are some of the problems
you've encountered in defining an interruption?
(6) In what ways do you think interruptions might be
differently defined by people of different ethnic or cultural
(7) Turn in a one or two page discussion of questions #2-6.
This discussion should be amply illustrated with examples
drawn from your transcript.
OPTIONAL FURTHER READING
Murray, Stephen. 1985. "Toward a model of members'
methods for recognizing interruptions" Language in
Tannen, Deborah. 1990. "Chapter 7: Who's Interrupting?
Issues ofDominance and Control" in You Just Don't
Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (NY:
William Morrow and Co.), pp. 188-215.
West, Candace. 1985. "When the Doctor is a 'Lady': Power,
Status and Gender in Physician-Patient Encounters" in
Proceedings of the First Berkeley Women and
Language Conference (Berkeley: Women and
Language Group), pp. 62-83.
West, Candace and Don Zimmerman. 1983. "Small Insult: A
Study of Interruptions in Cross-Sex Conversations
Between Unacquainted Persons" in Language, Gender
and Society B. Thorne, C. Kramarae and N. Henley
(eds.) (Rowley, Mass: Newbury House), pp. 102-117.
Zimmerman, Don and Candace West. 1974. "Sex roles,
Interruptions andSilences in Conversations" in
Language and Sex: Difference and Dominance, B.
Thorne and N. Henley (eds.), (Rowley, Mass: Newbury
House), pp. 105-29.
EXERCISE 5b--Hedges (Due Feb. 19)
PLEASE NOTE: CHOOSE EITHER THIS EXERCISE OR 5a
(INTERRUPTIONS) TO COMPLETE FOR FEB. 19. DO NOT DO
Some early researchers on language and gender (see
especially Robin Lakoff) claimed that a number of linguistic
devices that seemed to soften or weaken the force of a claim
or statement were more frequently used by women than
men. Some of these were:
-tag questions (That's a wonderful book, ISN'T IT?)
-rising (i.e. question) intonation where one might expect
falling (i.e. declarative) intonation (Q: When will
dinner be ready? A: AROUND SIX O'CLOCK?)
-frequent use of emphasis (also known as speaking in italics)
as if to indicate, "Since my saying something by itself
is not likely to convince you, I'd better use double
force to make sure you see what I mean." (e.g. What a
-intensive so (I like him SO much!)
-politeness devices (greater use of PLEASE and THANK YOU.
Less use of expletives. Greater use of mitigated
syntactic structures. Consider the following series:
Close the door. Please close the door. Will you close
the door? Will you please close the door? Won't you
cloe the door?).
-hedges (well, you know, kinda, sort of, like, etc., as in 'he's
WELL SORT OF weird" or "she's LIKE SO together").
Much recent scholarship in linguistics has questioned these
claims in two ways: (1) by asking whether it's true that
women use these devices more than men and (2) by asking
whether any or all of these devices only connote
tentativeness. Thus, O'Barr and Atkins demonstrate that
many of these forms are used by both men and women who
are found in powerless positions in society, and are less
frequently used by men and women in more powerful
positions. When Dubois and Crouch examined the use of tag
questions at an academic conference, they found that MEN
used more tags. Work done by Holmes, Guy et al and
McLemore has questioned whether any of the forms named
above has, and only has, the function of mitigating a
statement. Guy et al shows that use of question intonation is
increasing in Australian English in situations where, for
example a speaker is making sure that a listener is following
a complicated description or set of instructions (as in IT'S
SORT OF A GAME, RIGHT, YOU PLAY WITH A TENNIS BALL?
AND YOU'RE SUPPOSED TO-UM, IT'S FOUR SQUARES?
AND YOU HAVE A KING? HE'S IN CHARGE. HE SERVES).
McLemore has demonstrated that rising intonation is
interpreted in some Texan sororities as a special request for
increased attention or participation in some unusual activity.
It serves to heighten and mark a special interactional bond
between sorority sisters. Holmes has demonstrated that a
hedge like YOU KNOW might be used in a variety of ways,
some expressing uncertainty, but others expressing linguistic
imprecision (BETTER ENTERTAINMENT PRODUCT OR BETTER
YOU KNOW MUSIC UH MUSICIANS) or false starts (I MEAN
LOOK WHAT TRAVOLTA AS A AS YOU KNOW HE'S NOT A
PRETTY FACE OR ANYTHING), emphasis (I'M THE BOSS
AROUND HERE, YOU KNOW) or shared knowledge (WELL YOU
KNOW WE WENT TO SALLY'S THAT NIGHT).
In this exercise you'll be examining uses of hedges in your
(1) Make a list of all the sorts of hedges which are present
in the transcript of the conversation you've taped. Include
an example of the use of each hedge on your list.
(2) Take the two hedges that appear most frequently and
pull out or highlight ALL of the utterances in which they
occur. This will be your hedge-corpus.
(3) Does one of the speakers you've taped use either or both
of the hedges in your hedge-corpus more frequently than
the other speaker does?
(4) Do the two hedges in your hedge-corpus function in the
same way in every utterance? Do they function in the same
way for the two individuals? Before saying yes to either of
these two questions, consult with at last one other person
(the best consultant will probably be one of the people
you've taped) to see if that person agrees. If the hedges do
all function in the same way, write a one or two page essay
(drawing upon examples from your transcript) that argues
this point. Include the answers to questions #1-3.
(5) If the hedges in your corpus do not all function in the
same way, write a one or two page essay that exemplifies
and discusses each of the ways in which the hedges do work.
Include the answers to questions #1-3.
OPTIONAL FURTHER READING
Dubois, B. and I. Crouch. 1975. "The question of tag
questions in women's speech: they don't really use
more of them, do they"?" Language in Society 4:389-
Guy, Gregory et al. 1986. "An Intonational Change in
Progress in Australian English" Language in Society
Holmes, J. 1986. "Functions of YOU KNOW in women's and
men's speech" Language in Society 15:1-22.
Lakoff, R. 1975. Language and Woman's Place (NY: Harper
O'Barr, W. and B. Atkins. 1980. "Women's Language or
Powerless Language?" in Women and Language in
Literature and Society. Eds. McConnell-Ginet, Borker
and Furman (Praeger), pp. 93-109.
McLemore, Cynthia. 1991. "The Interpretation of L*H in
English" in Texas Linguistics Forum 32: Discourse, C.
McLemore (ed.) (Austin: Univ. of Texas Dept. of
Linguistics and the Center for Cognitive Science), pp.
Underhill, Robert. 1988. "Like is, like, focus" American
Exercise 6--Sexism in Language (Due March 5)
This course has concentrated for the most part on the ways
in which language is used differently by women and by men,
that is, the ways in which men and women talk differently.
The different status of men and women in society is also
reflected, however, by the ways in which women and men
are talked about differently. In this exercise, you'll be
collecting examples of sexist use of language and discussing
possible approaches to eliminating it.
(1) Some words are used to refer both to people in general
and men in particular, while the feminine counterparts refer
only to women, and not to people in general. Some examples
include: man, man-to-man, prehistorical man, brotherhood,
you guys, policeman. In addition, masculine words are often
used as the base from which feminine words are formed, but
word-formation rarely goes in the other direction. Examples
include Paul/Paulette, governor/governess, major/majorette,
star/starlet. Find ten other examples of such asymmetry in
language. What sorts of alternative usages can you suggest
in each case? (For example, one can substitute police officer
for police man, person-to-person for man-to-man,
prehistoric people for prehistoric man, etc. One can also use
star to refer to male and female performers.)
(2) Of the words which serve as generic referents, the one
which has recently received most attention is the use of the
'generic' masculine pronoun he/him/his in such sentences as
the average student is worried about his grades, we will hire
the best qualified person regardless of his sex, each student
can select his own topic, everyone should do his best, each
student will do better if he has a voice in the decision, and
when everyone contributes his own ideas, the discussion will
be a success. A number of recent sociolinguistic and
psychological studies have demonstrated that the masculine
pronoun, though traditionally used as a generic or neutral
referent for any individual, is strongly linked in most
people's minds, and in most people's usages, with men only.
Many journals, magazines and newspapers now require that
submissions be rewritten in more inclusionary language.
Several strategies suggested for avoiding the use of the
'generic' masculine pronoun include the following:
-Drop the masculine pronoun
The average student is worried about grades.
We will hire the best qualified person regardless of
-Rewrite the sentence in the plural rather than the singular
Students can select their own topics.
-Substitute the pronoun one/one's for he/his
One should do one's best.
-Use he or she, his or her
Each student will do better if she or he has a voice in
-Use their when the subject is an indefinite pronoun
When everyone contributes their own ideas, the
discussion will be a success.
Collect 20 examples of sentences in each of which you find
the use of the 'generic' masculine pronoun OR the use of one
of these alternative strategies. These sentences may be
culled from naturally occurring speech (you may want to
consult your transcript), from radio shows, newspapers,
magazines, soap operas, your own term papers, etc.
Carefully note the source of each sentence. Which
formulation do you find most frequently? Do men and
women tend to use the same formulation, or different ones?
Is any one formulation favored in certain discourse genres
(e.g. newspapers or casual conversations with friends)?
Consider at least 2 objections someone might offer to the
alternative formulations. How might you counter such
(3) What do ways of referring to men and women
demonstrate about the values and behaviors associated with
the two sexes? The two lists below contain terms of
reference for men and women. When you evaluate the
connotations associated with each word, do you find any
patterns? (One way of looking at the connotations is to mark
each word according to whether it is associated with Animals
(A), Objects (O), Food (F), Sex (S), Young (Y), Old (Ol), No
Positive or Negative Connotation-neutral (N), Positive
Connotation (P), Derogatory or Negative Connotation (D).
Each word may be characterizable by more than one of these
features. Can you add any words to these lists?
If you speak a language other than English, you may choose
to create such lists for the language that you're familiar with
and evaluate those patterns instead of evaluating the English
words listed here.
TERMS REFERRING TO WOMEN
woman lady girl girlie lass sister
broad chick babe biddy dame doll
damsel crone dish honey miss nympho
skirt sugar toots wench hag tramp
bitch whore tease harpie darling sweetie
bunny maiden witch catch tart vamp
squaw angel cookie hussy gossip airhead
dog dyke lesbian
TERMS REFERRING TO MEN
man gent boy guy fellow gentleman
lad brother bloke chap codger dude
geek geezer nerd old goat schmuck sport
stag stud hunk jock bum buddy
he-man wimp jerk creep redneck bastard
prick asshole fairy gay faggot motherf-er
(4) Often word choice reflects unexamined attitudes about
appropriate sex roles, so that terms frequently or
normatively asociated with one sex are modified when used
with the other sex. Examples include: nurse (male nurse),
doctor (lady doctor), family man (but not family woman),
career woman (but not career man). In other cases the
feminine referent trivializes the woman's work/career as in
authoress or poetess. Collect five examples of such sex-role
stereotyping. If you were writing guidelines for nonsexist
use of language, what sorts of substitutions or suggestions
would you offer to deal with such words?
(5) Add any other examples of sexist language that you may
have heard during the quarter. Drawing upon these and
your responses to questions #1-4, address the following
question: What evidence is there that changing the way we
use language will reshape power opportunities for men and
(6) Turn in your responses to questions #1-5.
OPTIONAL FURTHER READING
Cameron, Deborah. 1985. Feminism and Linguistic Theory
(London: Macmillan Press). See especially Chapter 5:
"Making Changes--Can We Decontaminate Sexist
Dubois, Betty Lou and Isabel Crouch. 1987. "Linguistic
Disruption: He/She, S/He, He or She, He-She" in
Women and Language in Transition (Joyce Penfield,
ed.) (Albany: SUNY), pp. 28-36.
Frank, Francine Warrman and Paula Treichler (eds.). 1989.
Language, Gender and Professional Writing (NY:
Henley, Nancy. 1987. "This New Species That Seeks a New
Language: On Sexism in Language and Language
Change" in Women and Language in Transition (Joyce
Penfield ed.), (Albany: SUNY), pp. 3-27.
Lakoff, Robin. 1975. Language and Woman's Place.
Maggio, Rosalie. The Non-Sexist Word-Finder: A Dictionary
of Gender-Free Usage.
Martyna, Wendy. 1980. "Beyond the He/Man Approach:
The Case for Linguistic Change" Signs 5:482-93.
Miller, Casey and Kate Swift. 1981. The Handbook of Non-
sexist Writing (NY: Lippincott).
Nilsen, Alleen Pace. 1987. "Guidelines Against Sexist
Language: A Case History" in Women and Language in
Transition (Joyce Penfield, ed.) (Albany: SUNY), pp.
37-64. (With an appendix on guidelines for nonsexist
usage of language).
Piercy, Marge. 1976. Woman on the Edge of Time (Feminist
Science-fiction which attempts innovative use of
Spender, Dale. 1980. Man-Made Language (NY: Routledge
and Kegan Paul).
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