missing variable in intro courses

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Mon Aug 14 16:07:16 UTC 2000

At 10:30 AM 8/14/00 +0800, you wrote:
>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
>>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
>>in English.  And so much of the research that I have seen (usually
>>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
>>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.

I've taught a course called "The Language of Women and Men" for years and
have recently found Jennifer Coates' _Women, Men and Language_ (Longman,
2nd ed. 1993) to be a balanced textbook, cognizant of the sociolinguistic
research of Eckert et al.  She also has a big fat anthology, _Language and
Gender: A Reader_ (Blackwell, 1998) which is excellent--with
cross-linguistic, cross-ethnic, cross-age, cross-social groups articles,
plus several theoretical pieces.  (The size and price nearly killed my
students, but it's worth both.)  A brand new book I just received also
looks good: _Reinventing Identities: The Gendered Self in Discourse_, ed.
Bucholtz, Liang, and Sutton (Oxford UP, 1999).

On attracting men into the course, I too have a hard time, though about 1/3
of my last class was male.  They tend to be skeptical and even
antagonistic, but this is good for the women in the class, who need to have
their own stereotypes challenged.  I also agree with Larry that it's very
frustrating to try to deal with these complex issues in one or two days in
my Sociolinguistics or Language in America class.  We have another
undergrad course, Language and Culture, where we can give it a bit more time.

Beverly Olson Flanigan         Department of Linguistics
Ohio University                     Athens, OH  45701
Ph.: (740) 593-4568              Fax: (740) 593-2967

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