missing variable in intro courses

Your Name Joe_Pickett at HMCO.COM
Mon Aug 14 12:33:48 UTC 2000

I have a question for teachers of dialects:

Does your analysis of male/female genderlects ever get beyond the stereotypic?

I have done a little reading in this area -- very little compared to you, I'm
sure.  But I came away grievously disappointed.

It seems to me there are too many variables, things like age, ethnicity,
education level, social class, extent of social contacts, region, to make
intelligent generalizations about male and female patterns of speech, at least
in English.  And so much of the research that I have seen (usually summarized)
seems open to the criticism that the data were analyzed to support the
researcher's presuppositions.  An example: an interruption made by a man is
evidence of his intent to dominate the conversation in the male competitive
conversation style, while interruptions by women can be viewed as evidence of
their eagerness to show they are engaged in the female nuturing style of
conversation.  Men are from Mars, is what it sounds like to me. Other types of
conversation (like the business meeting) present the problem of sorting out the
elements of social function and social expectation from those of gender.  How
often will a male administrative assistant try to dominate or interrupt a
meeting of mostly women middle managers? Not very, I would say, unless he wants
to get fired.

For me the most interesting studies are the ones of specific groups of women in
specific communities, and in these cases their conversational behavior often
betrayed stereotypes.   To which I say, bully for them.

So, what do you say to your students? Are your classes on this subject chiefly
exercises in stereotype bashing? are there was of eliminating some of the
variables so that male/female generalizations are meaningful?

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