18.194, Review: Sociolinguistics: Holmes (2006)

Fri Jan 19 01:13:43 UTC 2007

LINGUIST List: Vol-18-194. Thu Jan 18 2007. ISSN: 1068 - 4875.

Subject: 18.194, Review: Sociolinguistics: Holmes (2006)

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Date: 18-Jan-2007
From: Tünde Bajzát < tbajzat at freemail.hu >
Subject: Gendered Talk at Work 

-------------------------Message 1 ---------------------------------- 
Date: Thu, 18 Jan 2007 20:02:17
From: Tünde Bajzát < tbajzat at freemail.hu >
Subject: Gendered Talk at Work 

Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/17/17-2312.html 

AUTHOR: Holmes, Janet 
TITLE: Gendered Talk at Work
SUBTITLE: Constructing Gender Identity Through Workplace Discourse
SERIES: Language and Social Change
PUBLISHER: Blackwell Publishing
YEAR: 2006

Tünde Bajzát, assistant lecturer, Foreign Language Teaching Centre,
University of Miskolc, Hungary 


This book is based on the results of the research done in the Wellington
Language in the Workplace Project (LWP), directed by the author. Through
seven chapters, it illustrates the ways how gender contributes to workplace
interaction, and gives a concise analysis of how women and men negotiate
their gender identities and professional roles in everyday workplace talk,
supporting the argumentation with many examples. 

The first chapter introduces the reader into the topic of the book, clearly
identifying that labeling a workplace 'masculine' or 'feminine' is a matter
of how the dominant values and attitudes are perceived and enacted, and it
is a cultural, perceptual and structural issue rather than biological. The
chapter also describes the theories on which the data analysis relies on,
such as sociolinguistics, pragmatics and discourse analysis; furthermore,
the large database of 2500 interactions collected at 22 workplaces of
various kinds of organizations is shown, as well. 

The second chapter discusses the issue of women leaders at work, who has to
come over the difficulty of the 'double bind' regarding professionalism and
femininity, because authority and leadership is generally associated with
maleness, women's speech communities are linked with subordinate roles
rather than leadership. Moreover, the chapter gives examples of giving
instructions, opening meetings in masculine and feminine ways, describes a
case study of an effective woman leader and suggests possible models for
women leaders. It also gives some alternative avenues for women faced with
the classic workplace double bind. 

The third chapter discusses the issue of relational practice (RP) in the
workplace. RP is people-oriented behaviour, which oils interpersonal wheels
at work and thus facilitates the achievement of workplace objectives. The
different aspects of RP that is preserving, creating team, mutual
empowerment and self-achieving are analyzed and depicted through examples. 

The fourth chapter describes feminine and masculine styles of humour in the
workplace. Women's humour is cooperative, inclusive, supportive,
integrated, spontaneous, self-healing, however, men's humour is exclusive,
challenging, segmented, pre-formulated, self-aggrandizing. It explores the
ways people use humour to construct different kinds of gender identity in
the workplace and shows how humour serves as a legitimizing strategy,
allowing people to make comments and express ideas that might be less
acceptable if not packaged using a socially acceptable and humorous key. 

The fifth chapter considers the relevance of gendered discourse norms in
managing disagreement, conflict and problematic encounters in the
workplace. In the present workplace corpus, three strategies of
disagreement were identified, such as conflict avoidance, negotiation and
resolution by fiat. The first two strategies are considered to be feminine,
but the third one rather a masculine strategy. The present research also
found that in this community of practice refusals are often expressed very
directly and explicitly in a conventionally masculine way between members
of the production team, but in a much more circumspect and more feminine
style when non-team members are involved. It is rather team membership than
gender, which determines how such speech acts are constructed, negotiated
and interpreted. 

The sixth chapter discusses story telling at work, which is a
multifunctional aspect, because narratives contribute to identity
construction at work while serving other functions as well. A narrative
provides adaptable discursive resource for constructing oneself as a hero
or a clown, a leader or a gullible incompetent, depending on the context
and the audience. Earlier researchers have demonstrated that women and men
tell rather different kinds of stories: women's stories focus more on
people and relationships, while men prefer to talk about activities and
adventures. However, the present study showed that workplace narratives
provide gendered resources not only in terms of constructing professional,
heroic and normatively masculine identities, as opposed to amateur,
self-deprecating and normatively feminine social identities.  

The last chapter serves as a conclusion of the book. It concludes that on
the basis of the results of the research discussed in the previous chapters
both women and men make use of masculine and feminine discourse strategies
and styles according to the demands of the type of interaction, the people
they are interacting with, the immediate discourse context and the norms of
their workplace culture. The chapter calls attention to the benefits of
having a sense of humour, because it is crucial to job success, people with
a sense of humour do better at their jobs and humour is a valuable resource
for integrating conflicting aspects of a person's social identity at work.
Previous language and gender research suggested that men thrive on
competition, contestation and challenge while women prefer cooperation,
smooth talk, negotiation and peaceful interaction; however, the present
study proved that effective employees, both female and male, draw on both
masculine and feminine discursive resources and gendered norms to achieve
their transactional and relational objectives in different workplace
contexts. New Zealand organizations are asking 'what do we need to do
differently so that our environment is more welcoming and enables women,
and others, to fully participate?' is the question to which this book has
suggested several possible answers. 


For anyone - not only linguists - engaged in gendered talk and the study of
this topic at the workplace, it would be hard to deny the importance of 
Holmes' excellent book. It is based on a large database carried out over a
long period of seven years and the data is thoroughly analyzed, referred to
and applied. The abundance of examples has a double merit in the book,
because on the one hand, it helps in better understanding the topic and on
the other hand, it makes the book more interesting to read. Besides the
above-mentioned advantages, the examples give and insight into New Zealand
colorful culture, as well, which makes it more worth reading it. Moreover,
the book examines the topic of gendered talk in detail from several
different aspects to make it even more thorough and interesting.

Nevertheless, it would be interesting to compare the results with similar
studies carried out in other countries in the world to see the similarities
and differences and find out if these issues are embedded in culture and
if, yes to what extent. 

Furthermore, it would also be of interest to read about the impact of the
results at these companies in question and at other companies, as well. In
what way have the outcomes changed workplace discourse?

In short, Holmes' book is a worthwhile read and welcome addition to our
body of knowledge on gendered talk at work. The book is of manageable size
and scope and quite accessible to non-experts in the field of expertise. At
the same time, it is clearly worded, interesting, useful and opens new
avenues for future research and study. 


Tünde Bajzát is an assistant lecturer at the University of Miskolc,
Hungary, teaching English as a foreign language. She is doing her Ph.D. in
Applied Linguistics at the University of Pécs, Hungary. Her main research
interests are language use at the workplace, intercultural communication,
foreign language teaching, learning and acquisition.

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