missing variable in intro courses

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Aug 14 02:30:54 UTC 2000

At 8:33 AM -0400 8/14/00, Your Name wrote:
>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?

A lot of this research has been done, and I would expect it to be
covered in most careful courses in language and gender.  A lot of the
literature in fact consists of examinations and critiques of what
you're calling the stereotypes.  On interruptions, for example, I
recommend "Interruptions, gender, and power:  a critical review of
the literature", by Deborah James and Sandra Clarke (from the
_Locating Power_ anthology).  Penelope Eckert has played an important
role in sorting out the different factors you mention (class, age,
social expectation, as well as sex of speaker), as has Peter
Trudgill.  Unfortunately, I don't end up getting to most of this
material in my Dialects courses, due to time limitations.  I do try
to alert students to the dangers of simplification.  Most of these
issues, in particular the interaction of the social variables you
cite, are better examined in a course devoted to language and gender.


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