Welcome to week five!


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This week - An exploration of the close relationship between language and gender.

Do gender and sex differences affect the way we engage in conversation?

Our authors examine some of the different approaches sociolinguists have taken to the study of language and gender in all its complexity. All agree that there are patterns that can be used as the basis for comparison, but exceptions will always exist.

This week's questions:

Women talk more than men: Fact or Myth?

Language barriers

Sex differences

Nonverbal behavior

The like virus

Conversation and social change

You will find below premisses, findings, and facts on the isssues we are about to delve into.

First: What is sociolinguistics?

"Sociolinguistics is concerned with language in social and cultural context, especially how people with different social identities (e.g. gender, age, race, ethnicity, class) speak and how their speech changes in different situations. Some of the issues addressed are how features of dialects (ways of pronouncing words, choice of words, patterns of words) cluster together to form personal styles of speech; why people from different communities or cultures can misunderstand what is meant, said and done based on the different ways they use language."


According to Joshua Fishman, sociolinguistics can be defined as: "Who speaks what language to whom and when?" (https://www.ucl.ac.uk/selcs/)

Second: Gender and Sex - What do we mean?

Sex: a biological condition, i.e. defined as a set of physical characteristics.

Gender: a social construct (within the fields of cultural and genderstudies, and the social sciences).

"General usage of the term gender began in the late 1960s and 1970s,

increasingly appearing in the professional literature of the social sciences.

The term helps in distinguishing those aspects of life that were more easily

attributed or understood to be of social rather than biological origin."


An interesting "Premise: Women and men live in different worlds".

According to Kennedy, "Segregation starts early! Boys and girls grow up largely in one-sex groups."


• Tend to play in large groups that are hierarchically structured

• Their group has a leader

• Status is negotiated via orders, or telling jokes/stories

• Games have winners and losers

• Boast about skills, size, ability


• Tend to play in small groups or in pairs

• The center of a girl’s social life is a best friend

• Within the group, intimacy is the key

• Differentiation is measured not by status, but by relative


• Many of their activities do not have winners and losers (e.g.

in hopscotch or jump rope, everyone gets a turn).

• Girls are not expected to boast (in fact they are encouraged

to be humble), or give orders (they would be bossy)

Girls do not focus on status in an obvious way. They just want

to be liked.

"Fights over pickles!" (Sheldon 1990: Gendered talk in prescool

disputes). Mother-children play (Goodwin)


Problem talk and gender

  • "For a woman: [it is] a bid for an expression of understanding"
  • "For a man: [it is] a request to solve the problem"


Private language/Public language and gender

  • "For women, the language of conversation is for rapport: a way to establish connections and negotiate relationships.
  • For men, it is a way to negotiate and maintain status

in a hierarchical order."


Mother-Daughter relationhips: from anger to affection, and back!

Why this anger-to-affection pattern, Deborah Tannen asks?

Because "There is a special intensity to the mother-daughter relationship because talk -- particularly talk about personal topics -- plays a larger and more complex role in girls' and women's social lives than in boys' and men's" (3)

In a culture where we often do online what we no longer do in person, is the notion of "people thinking together in conversation" forever lost?

Margaret Wheatley on "Conversation as a compelling tool for change".

"I believe we can change the world if we start listening to one another again. Simple, honest, human conversation. Not mediation, negotiation, problem-sloving, debate, public meetings. Simple, thruthful conversation where we each have a chance to speak, we each feel heard, and we each listen well."

"Human conversation is the most ancient and easy way to cultivate the conditions for change -- personal change, community and organizational change, planetary change" (2002, p. 3).

Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future.

The art of conversation: listening to Denis Diderot, an 18th-century French Enlightenment philosopher.

By someone's account "Diderot's conversation was “enlivened by absolute sincerity, subtle without obscurity, varied in its forms, dazzling in its flights of imagination, fertile in ideas and in its capacity to inspire ideas in others. One let oneself drift along with it for hours at a time, as if one were gliding down a fresh and limpid river, whose banks were adorned with rich estates and beautiful houses.”


"Strength of mind is exercise, not rest" (Alexander Pope)

Read with interest and pleasure! "See" you in class!

Enjoy the readings and enjoy the week!