The Representation of Gender-Specific Conversational Behaviour in Informal Talk

A Pragmatic Analysis of the American TV-Series "Sex and the City"

Examination Thesis, 2009

109 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Pragmatics and Interactional Sociolinguistics as Approaches to the Analysis of Informal Talk
2.1. Informal Talk as a Social Activity
2.2. Pragmatics
2.3. Interactional Sociolinguistics

3. Definition of the Terms Sex and Gender
3.1. The Individualist Approach to Gender
3.2. The Interactional Approach to Gender

4. Feminist Approaches to the Explanation of Gender-Related Differences in Language Use and Conversational Behaviour
4.1. Feminist Linguistics and Its Drawbacks
4.2. The ‘Sex-Difference’ Perspectives
4.2.1. The ‘Deficit’ Approach − Women’s Linguistic Deficiency
4.2.2. The ‘Dominance’ Approach − Power and Subordination
4.2.3. The ‘Difference’ Approach − Socialisation and Subcultures
4.3. ‘Doing Gender’ in Communities of Practice

5. Features of Gender-Specific Language Use and Conversational Behaviour
5.1. Features of Gender-Specific Lexical Choice
5.1.1. Specific Adjectives
5.1.2. Swear Words and Vulgar Language
5.2. Features of Gender-Specific Conversational Behaviour
5.2.1. Women’s Cooperative and Men’s Competitive Speech Styles
5.2.2. Interruptions
5.2.3. Questions
5.2.4. Tag Questions
5.2.5. Hedges
5.2.6. Minimal responses
5.3. Conclusion

6. A Pragmatic Analysis of Sex and the City
6.1. Sex and the City − A Provocative American TV-series
6.2. Gender-Specific Lexical Choice in Sex and the City
6.2.1. Specific Adjectives
6.2.2. Swear Words and Vulgar Language
6.3. Gender-Specific Conversational Behaviour in Sex and the City
6.3.1. The Women’s Conversational Styles
6.3.2. Interruptions
6.3.3. Questions
6.3.4. Tag Questions
6.3.5. Hedges
6.3.6. Minimal Responses

7. Conclusion

8. Bibliography

9. Appendix

1. Introduction

In view of the fact that all Western communities have been created as democratic and pluralistic societies a widespread phenomenon apparently still exits, i.e. traditional beliefs about women’s and men’s social roles and stereotypes about specifically female and male speech behaviour still seem to be prevalent in people’s minds. Stereotypes are defined as “a set of beliefs about the characteristics presumed to be typical of members of a group.”[1] These stereotypical beliefs are reflected in the facts that, for instance, women are often regarded as gossipers constantly talking about apparently irrelevant issues and as being very emotional and self-disclosing, while they themselves often feel that men do not really talk to them and are incapable of understanding them. In addition, they are believed to use less taboo language and to be more cooperative as well as polite in social interactions, because they supposedly express a higher degree of involvement and intimacy towards their conversational partners and give more positive feedback. On the other hand, it is often assumed that men behave more task-oriented, competitively, bluntly, and that they are more direct in face-to-face interactions, more interested in the maintenance of status and independency, and apparently tend to use more swear words.[2] But even though in our modern society women’s upward social mobility and social status has enormously increased during the last centuries, these stereotypes about gender-related linguistic differences have remained stable over the last twenty years.[3] They sometimes even result in the more dramatic and fiercely disputable assumptions that women and men allegedly do not speak the same language, as it is claimed, for instance, in pseudo-scientific bestsellers and sharply criticised “pop psychology advice books”[4] like Deborah Tannen’s (1990) You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation or John Gray’s (1992) Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex, in which Gray more drastically assumes that women and men behave as if they came from different planets.

The research of language and gender is a very controversial, contradictory, and complex field of study, which has aroused the interest of scholars from various different areas of research, for instance anthropology, psychology, sociology, literature studies, and sociolinguistics, of course. In accordance with their different theoretical approaches, many feminist researchers like Robin Lakoff (1975), Pamela Fishman (1978, 1983), and Deborah Tannen (1990) have claimed that there are sex differences in conversational behaviour and that these disparities often result in the discrimination of women and in the breakdown of cross-sex communication and relationships. However, the approaches and studies in feminist linguistics have to be assessed with great caution and from a very critical point of view since they mostly base their assumptions and conclusions on stereotypes.

For this reason, my aim in this paper is to critically review the existing approaches to sex- and gender-related differences in conversational behaviour before I will examine one of the most influential American TV-series called Sex and the City in order to discover how gender-specific language use and conversational behaviour are represented in this very modern, but heavily debated TV show. I will analyse the communicative behaviour of the four characters Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha with reference to gender-related features in order to show how these protagonists are characterised by their language. Although I am aware of the fact that scripted conversations in a TV-series such as Sex and the City are, to a certain degree exaggerated, based upon stereotypes and therefore not entirely comparable to naturally occurring conversations, they nevertheless do reflect reality in some way since scriptwriters usually attempt to create dialogues that are supposed to appear as natural as possible. The incentive to investigate Sex and the City resulted from the fact that the female protagonists predominately perform their gender identity and deal with every-day problems of typical women in the 21st century so that their language provides a useful and fascinating material to be investigated in relation to gender as well as stereotypes.

My analysis of the women’s conversational behaviour will include qualitative research methods using two linguistic approaches to spoken interaction: pragmatics and interactional sociolinguistics, which will be introduced in chapter 2 along with a detailed definition of informal talk, since both approaches are particularly used to analyse this type of discourse, which takes place in informal settings such as dinners or other simple get-togethers of friends like those of the four women in Sex and the City. I will use these approaches because the methods taken from pragmatics can be applied to examine the functions of particular linguistic features, while interactional sociolinguistics allows for the inclusion of the social context of the character’s interaction in the interpretation as well. Chapter 3 will provide the definition of the term gender in contrast to the term sex, and I will indicate some aspects of the controversial discussion about the appropriate use of these terms. In chapter 4, I will give a critical overview of the most important theoretical approaches to the research on gender and language from a feminist and thus strongly biased viewpoint. At first, the three different frameworks from the ‘sex difference’ perspective, which are the ‘deficit’, ‘dominance’, and the ‘difference’ framework, will be introduced. These frameworks reflect the different perceptions on gender differences while they investigate the same linguistic features, especially of “women’s language”[5] and speech styles, but with a slightly different interpretation. Finally, the more modern ‘doing gender’ approach to differences in conversational behaviour will be discussed in more detail.

Afterwards, Chapter 5 will present selected features of gender-specific language use, which will include the use of specific adjectives as well as swear words and vulgar language, and characteristics of gender-related conversational behaviour, which will focus on women’s and men’s specific speech styles as well as on interruptions, questions, tag questions, hedges, and minimal responses.

In chapter 6, I will investigate these linguistic features and their communicative functions in a pragmatic analysis of Sex and the City. On the basis of selected scenes from the sixth season, I will demonstrate how the four women apply forms of allegedly female and male conversational behaviour discovered in feminist sociolinguistic studies. The linguistic features in the selection of scripted material are used to analyse the women’s conversational behaviour by means of qualitative methods from pragmatics and interactional sociolinguistics in order to compare and contrast them with the findings and interpretations of feminist linguists. I aim to show that, on the one hand, Carrie and Charlotte tend to use a lot of stereotypically female features of language use and conversational behaviour while, on the other hand, Miranda and Samantha rather tend to use linguistic strategies that are supposed to be typically male, according to feminist theory. Due to their presentation as independent and self-confident Manhattan single women and female friends, it will be interesting to discover the respective linguistic features and conversational strategies Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha make use of and how their confident appearance and compassionate character as friends varies depending on the linguistic forms in combination with the situational context. It is definitely not my aim to generalise about typically female conversational interaction. Instead, I intend to show that women (at least in Sex and the City) do communicate in a particular gender-related conversation style, but also tend to apply both types of conversational behaviour − typically female as well as typically male features based on criteria established by feminist linguists.

2. Pragmatics and Interactional Sociolinguistics as Approaches to the Analysis of Informal Talk

2.1. Informal Talk as a Social Activity

For the purpose of clarifying the scope of analysis in this paper, I want to highlight that the pragmatic analysis of the TV-series Sex and the City only involves informal talk, which includes casual conversations between the four female friends Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha. In contrast to formal discourse, casual conversations are not mainly directed at the exchange of facts, albeit pieces of information are always included in every kind of verbal interaction. But above all, casual conversations are social activities in which relationships, especially friendship as in Sex and the City, are shaped and negotiated.

Informal talk often only occurs when people “talk simply for the sake of talking itself”[6] and meet in order to chat with each other about a variety of topics that are regarded as relevant to discuss. For the most part, it takes place spontaneously when the interactants are most relaxed and not always aware of the fact that they construct a social world and interact on the basis of their social identities and relationships. Even though casual conversations sometimes seem to contain trivial issues about the interactants’ life and experiences, they are not aimless or even unstructured. People might not be aware of the fact that they ‘have a chat’ for certain purposes. But in fact, they try to fulfil specific goals since they aim at creating and enacting their own social identity or role and establish, maintain, and negotiate interpersonal relationships, for instance by showing familiarity and affection or even by challenging and questioning different ideas when they argue about their opinions and experiences. As Eggins and Slade (1997) note, “casual conversation is, in fact, a highly structured, functionally motivated, semantic activity”[7] with which people try to understand and organise daily, social life. In this respect, people make meaning of the world and the social life while they negotiate different meanings in social situations, for instance, their feelings, opinions, and perceptions of reality, but either their social relationships. Of course, the level of formality is lower and the use of colloquial expressions is more frequent than in formal discourse. In addition, linguistic means to express politeness are applied less frequently. Since the speakers are socially equal in their rank as friends or family members, they tend to be more direct to each other than interactants in formal settings, in which the social positions or power relations of the conversational partners often differ, for example, between managers of a company and their employees.[8]

Especially the social variable of gender plays an important role in social interactions since people incline to orientate themselves towards being rather masculine or feminine. In this way, they create and communicate their own gender identity, especially by using language. It is often assumed that “it seems to be typical of all-women groups that they discuss people and feelings” on account of their social roles as women or mothers, “while men are more likely to discuss things”[9] in informal talk. Even though this assumption is definitely a stereotype, it is evident for the four main characters in Sex and the City since the show portrays Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha as women constantly concerned with female-male relationships in their speech community. This one-sidedness of women’s discussion topics, however, can be seriously doubted with regard to real-life conversations between females.

Since all kinds of human interaction and informal conversations, in particular, are embedded in a diversity of situations, the social and situational context plays a crucial role in a linguistic analysis of the women’s gender-specific speech behaviour in Sex and the City and thus requires the application of methods taken from pragmatics as well as interactional sociolinguistics.

2.2. Pragmatics and the Theory of Politeness

Pragmatics describes a significant and broad linguistic approach to the analysis of informal talk as a form of spoken interaction, which is rooted in both linguistics and philosophy. Based on the philosopher J. L. Austin and his speech act theory, pragmatics is predominately concerned with the “study of language usage”[10], i.e. how language is used to perform a vast variety of speech acts ranging from requests and refusals to advices and recommendations, and how it is used to convey a particular meaning by a rich diversity of linguistic features. Pragmatics, accordingly, attempts to analyse and explain the relationship between words and grammatical forms and their meaning and function in consideration of the situational context and thus aims to infer the potential influence or rather the illocutionary force an utterance exerts on the hearer.[11] Jenny Thomas, hence, defines pragmatics as a linguistic field of research investigating “meaning in interaction” with a focus on “speaker meaning”, which is what the speaker aims to express by an utterance, and on “utterance interpretation”, which describes the meaning the addressee attempts to decipher.[12] Moreover, Crystal enunciates the following definition:

Pragmatics is “a term traditionally used to label one of the three major divisions of SEMIOTICS (along with SEMANTICS and SYNTACTICS). In modern LINGUISTICS, it has come to be applied to the study of LANGUAGE from the point of view of the users, especially of the choices they make, the constraints they encounter in using language in social interaction, and the effects their use of language has on the other participants in an act of communication.”[13]

As already indicated above, the situational context is taken into account in a pragmatic analysis. It describes a great variety of fundamental criteria as well as social and psychological features of individuals that predominately shape talk-in-interaction such as the interactants’ identities and social roles, the time and place of an utterance within different turns during conversations as well as “beliefs, knowledge and intentions of the participants in that speech event.”[14] Therefore, the pragmatic analysis of Sex and the City will account for the situational context[15], i.e. the specific situation in which the interaction between the four protagonists occurs, as well as for the interpersonal context, i.e. the knowledge about their personalities Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, and Samantha have jointly gained.[16]

Apart from the situational and interpersonal context, the politeness as one of the significant social principles accounted for in pragmatic studies will find application in the linguistic analysis of Sex and the City, too. Politeness is an important issue in the pragmatic field of study, and its abstract idea is based on the concept of ‘face’ initially established by the sociologist Erving Goffman and finally integrated into the theory of politeness by Brown and Levinson.[17] Their theory claims that every competent speaker of a language, a Model Person, has ‘face’ − a public self-image he wants to maintain in communication with other people or, to cite Goffman, “the positive social value a person effectively claims for himself by the line others assume he has taken during a particular contact.”[18] Every person interacting with other people in human communication has face wants, i.e. two specific kinds of desires he seeks to satisfy and wants to be perceived by his conversational partners as well. In this respect, Brown and Levinson distinguish between negative face and positive face. While the concept of negative face describes a person’s desire not to be obliged to do something in order to keep his or her own actions unimpeded and to preserve his or her freedom of action, the notion of positive face represents a person’s desire to be approved of and accepted by others in order to satisfy his or her need for membership and connection.[19]

However, a hearer’s as well as a speaker’s face can be threatened in most of the speech acts which “by nature run contrary to the face wants of the addressee and/or of the speaker.”[20] These speech acts are called face-threatening acts (FTA) and occur in speech situations in which the speaker threatens the hearer’s positive face and respectively his need to be appreciated and accepted, for instance by insulting, criticizing, or disapproving him, or in which the speaker harms the hearer’s negative face and respectively his need for autonomy and freedom of action, for instance by requesting a favour or even by suggesting or advising. But not only can the hearer’s face be harmed in specific speech acts, even the speaker’s positive face can be threatened, e.g. by apologizing and accepting compliments, as can be his negative face, e.g. by accepting an offer or expressing thanks. Some face-threatening acts can even hurt both the positive and the negative face at the same time, for example complaints, interruptions, and strong expressions of emotions.[21] Since every individual, however, is interested in preserving its own face as well as the others’ face, politeness strategies are applied in order to mitigate potential face threats. Politeness strategies, thus, serve as a method to weaken face-threatening speech acts and simultaneously function as face-saving acts. As a result, speakers can communicate their implicated messages without taking the risk of being impolite and offending their conversational partner by using certain politeness strategies.

Thus the analysis of gender-specific language use and conversational behaviour in Sex and the City will refer to the concept of politeness and face as well when the use of linguistic features such as interruptions, questions, tag questions, hedges, and minimal responses will be investigated.

2.3. Interactional Sociolinguistics

Interactional sociolinguistics has been established as an approach to spoken interaction with sociological backgrounds which does not only focus on talk-in-interaction, but also accounts for the influence of social variables, such as ethnic background, age, and gender, on the success of verbal as well as non-verbal communication and thus “takes into account the pragmatic and sociolinguistics aspects of interaction.”[22] Interactional sociolinguistics was originally established by John Gumperz and is based on Dell Hymes’ ethnography of communication and Goffman’s interaction order. It assumes that conversations are influenced by their social, cultural, and situational context since the communicated meaning of language always depends on the social context. Interlocutors, who are members of particular social groups at the same time, interpret this meaning on the basis of “contextualisation cues”, which are linguistic features individually used by every cultural group to communicate how the conveyed message is to be interpreted correctly.[23] Consequently, the analysis of talk-in-interaction has to include social variables like gender and the situation as well in order to “bridge the linguistic and the social”[24] aspects of conversations. Interactional sociolinguistics, thus, does not only focus on the data and avoids neglecting the interactants’ social backgrounds, but also accounts for the fact that language is interconnected with various aspects of social life. For this reason, the analysis of gender-specific conversational behaviour in the TV-series Sex and the City can be approached with both concepts of pragmatics and interactional sociolinguistics because occurring linguistic patterns and their pragmatic functions can be detected while the social context is included in the evaluation as well so that the relationship between grammar and social interaction is taken into account. As a result, it is possible to draw conclusions about the correlations between the speakers’ gender, the situational context, and the linguistic expressions and means the interactants use. After all, these approaches to spoken interaction deal with the description and interpretation of the seemingly most commonplace activity of how people talk to each other in specific contexts, for even the most basic and simplest features of talk-in-interaction have specific social purposes and meanings which the speakers’ themselves often do not fully recognize, as I have already shown in chapter 2.1.

3. Definition of the Terms Sex and Gender

In the course of the second feminism wave in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the term gender had become one of the key concepts in sociology, anthropology, sociolinguistics, and many other academic disciplines after these research fields had been criticised for being oblivious to women’s lives and achievements in history and science. Since then many theoretical and controversial discussions about what sex is and what gender is have taken place in the sociological and feminist field of research. These terms have been introduced in order to prevent prejudiced assumptions about women and their unequal status in society as well as in order to avoid conclusions about a person’s behaviour on the basis of his or her sex category, which can be either male or female in the majority of cases.[25] It, however, seems that there is no definite agreement among scientists on how the terms sex and gender are to be used appropriately. As Wharton notices, “[s]ome reject the term ‘sex’ altogether and refer only to ‘gender’. Others use the terms almost interchangeably, while still others employ both concepts and recognize a clear distinction between them.”[26]

3.1. The Individualist Approach to Gender

Whereas the term sex generally “refers to a biological distinction”[27], i.e. the biological differences between men and women in terms of their physical structure, hormones, and physiology, the term gender is used to describe “socially constructed categories based on sex”[28] or “an achieved status: that which is constructed through psychological, cultural, and social means.”[29] The individualist (or essentialist) approach describes gender as the characteristics of women and men which are socially and culturally established and encompass the social expectations to a specific gender role which are generally regarded as typical and appropriate for being either ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ in a certain culture. According to the individualist approach, these gender roles are acquired during socialisation when children learn to behave and act as either girls or boys while they interact with their guardians, friends, and family members. In this regard, gender is conceptualized as a relatively fixed attribute which individuals have achieved through socialisation and which determines their own identity, their behaviour in terms of what they do or say, and how they identify their fellow-beings. Even though people have more than one identity, gender identity is probably one of the most important identities a person orients to.[30]

This individualist concept of gender is applied in the feminist ‘sex difference’ approach which examines the linguistic and conversational differences between women and men, but has received a lot of critique because of its tendency to generalize and over-simplify, because it applies conclusions about the use of language by selected men and women to all men and women.[31] After all, this framework assumes greater differences between rather than among both females and males and that these disparities do not seem to vary across situations.[32]

3.2. The Interactional Approach to Gender

In contrast to the individualist view of gender, which regards gender as an individual’s characteristic acquired during socialisation and thus emphasises the stereotypical differences between women and men, a new understanding of gender has been established by feminist linguists . The interactional (or constructionist) approach called doing gender describes the term as “something one continually does”[33] and not as something one has. A detailed description of this modern approach to gender differences in language will be given in chapter 4.3.

4. Feminist Approaches to the Explanation of Gender-Related Differences in Language Use and Conversational Behaviour

4.1. Feminist Linguistics and Its Drawbacks

Feminist linguistics is a particular field of study which, however, differs fundamentally from other linguistic areas of research within sociolinguistics since feminist ideas about language and gender are not value-free and often draw their conclusions on the basis of generalizations and the researcher’s own attitudes and intuitions on account of lacking empirical evidence for the explanation of gender differences. Especially the first attempts to describe gender-specific differences in language were often related to “folk linguistics”, which are “beliefs about language that are simply accepted as common sense”[34] within a society. Therefore, the assumed gender differences in language use and conversational behaviour can be traced back to stereotypes rather than to actually existing differences so that feminist sociologists and linguists have often been criticised for not being scientific enough.[35]

As opposed to researchers of other linguistic fields of research, feminist linguists take up a socially critical position and are motivated by political goals directed against the patriarchal structure of society which, as feminists argue, accords men privileges and advantages in all areas of social and political life. As Ruth Wodak points out, “feminist scholarship in every discipline is characterized by its criticism of science and its criticism of the androcentric view within ‘traditional science’.”[36] Due to their basic political motivation to change society for the sake of an equal treatment of women and men, feminist linguists demand a reassessment of women’s specific speech style so that their way of speaking is not considered to be inferior to men anymore.[37] But even though Robin Lakoff and other linguists claim to be feminist and advocate equality between the sexes, they can be criticised that they themselves contribute to the perpetuation of ingrained prejudices about typically female and male social and conversational behaviour because they accept and even highlight these supposed linguistic and conversational differences in their more or less scientific contributions.

For these reasons, linguistic studies carried out by feminist researchers have to be analysed and evaluated with a high degree of criticism because the main problem remains the question whether or not women do really talk differently in comparison to men. In case they really do their specific conversational behaviour should be fully appreciated instead of seen as a disadvantage.[38]

Since the beginning of the feminist research into the relationship between language and gender in the mid-1970s feminist (and on the whole female) sociolinguists have focused their attention on two different aspects. Following their political motivation to change language use and the unequal position of women in society, they have taken a close look at “how gender is represented in the language (the form of language)” and “how men and women use language (the function of language).”[39] The main focus in this paper, however, is not placed on the way in which gender is embodied in sexist language, but on the specific ways of how particularly women use language as part of their conversational behaviour in contrast to men according to feminist language theory.

In contrast to the research on sexist language, the perspective on the function of language within feminist linguistics intends to explore gender-specific language use in terms of pronunciation, intonation, and word choice as well as in terms of typically female and male conversational behaviour on the interactional level. The focus of research was initially on gender differences in grammar and phonology with special reference to “women’s language”, which was regarded as different and non-normative as opposed to neutral or “men’s language”, as well as on gender-specific speech behaviour in cross-sex conversations, i.e. between women and men. Afterwards, the interest in linguistic gender differences shifted towards specific conversational strategies applied by women and men in single-sex talks.[40] The focus in this paper, however, will be placed on feminist theoretical approaches to the explanation of gender-specific conversational behaviour within the three different frameworks, which are the ‘deficit’, the ‘dominance’, and the ‘difference’ framework and the more modern ‘doing gender’ approach.

The research on gender-specific conversation styles is probably “the area where the debate among feminists themselves has been most heated.”[41] The distinct approaches investigate almost the same linguistic features particularly used by women, but differ in their explanations of gender differences. Their interpretations and explications of the alleged differences, however, are often very contradictory and their studies clearly lack definite and convincing answers to the question of gender-related linguistic differences. The serious drawbacks of the feminist sex-difference perspectives consist of their erroneous assumption that a speaker’s sex is an “independent variable” that creates and explains linguistic differences and thus mistakenly regard language “as a direct reflection of one’s sex and gender identity.”[42] Nevertheless, the following subchapters will be concerned with a brief overview of the feminist approaches to gender differences in language use and speech behaviour as well as with a critical evaluation of the arguments adduced by their advocates.

4.2. The ‘Sex-Difference’ Perspectives

4.2.1. The ‘Deficit’ Approach − Women’s Linguistic Deficiency

The feminist ‘deficit’ framework was the first feminist approach to the study of language and gender. It assumes that the linguistic variations between women and men are the result of women’s lack of power and assertiveness. Robin Lakoff was the first feminist linguist who described the features of women’s use of language and conversational behaviour in terms of their lexical choices and the syntactical formation of their utterances in her article “Women’s Language” (1973) and later work Language and Woman’s Place (1975), which has been celebrated, among advocates of the controversial field of feminism, as “the first ever work of feminist linguistics.”[43] The publication of her paper provoked a heated discussion about women’s and men’s language and, finally, influenced further research in the following years. Fifty years after the first attempts to describe women’s language, it was published as a backlash against Otto Jesperson’s “The Woman”, in which he unscientifically examined female language use in exotic languages, as well as against the patriarchal organisation of society and its representation in sexist language and gender-related speech behaviour. Robin Lakoff’s approach to women’s and men’s speech styles, however, was considered to be the apparently most advanced at that time since she was the first linguist who investigated women’s language in American English. Similarly to Jesperson’s research, previous work on this subject had concentrated on sex-specific differences in exotic languages.[44]

Apart from her discussion of sexist language, Lakoff also described women’s typical use of language. She argues that women’s language and conversational behaviour is deficient and not as adequate as men’s way of speaking because they lack the ability to express themselves forcefully and decisively. This deficiency, however, is by no means a natural fact, but a result of women’s socialisation. Since girls are taught to ‘speak like a lady’, which means that they have to be less dominant and forceful in conversations, they lack the appropriate linguistic competence to convey their ideas and attitudes convincingly. However, their education to speak in a way which is considered to be socially respectable for women debars them from being fully accepted as a human being because social behavioural norms hinder them from expressing themselves as forcefully as would be necessary to be acknowledged. Women are therefore exposed to a harmful dilemma: if a woman does not abide by the social rules and avoids talking as she is expected to, she is mocked and denunciated as unfeminine. If she, however, speaks in a feminine way, Lakoff believes that she is not taken seriously and judged to be incapable of reasoning and discussing issues in an objective way. According to Lakoff, this confusing situation leads to the fact that women are discriminated.[45]

Although Lakoff highly criticised Jesperson’s study of women’s language, she also equates “women’s language” with an extraordinary form of language while she relates “men’s language” to neutral or normal language. In other words, she claims that “women’s language” is not regarded as a socially acknowledged language and is marked as non-neutral and deviant from males’ language, which she considers to be normative. Therefore, Lakoff presents women as being incapable of using language appropriately. But since she highlights the peculiarities of typically female language and neglects to investigate “men’s language” (even though it is questionable that a male language exists at all), her approach is absolutely not value-free and unscientific. As a consequence, Lakoff and other feminists have met with considerable criticism since they only focus on women’s language as an abnormal variety and thus also contribute to the perpetuation of stereotypes. Furthermore, she argues on the basis of her own intuitions and experiences of other people because, as she even herself admits, “[she does not] have precise statistical evidence”[46] for her assumptions. It is not clear whether Lakoff created the sentences used as examples for women’s language, or whether they were, in fact, uttered by women in real situations. The first case, however, is more likely because the speech act theory at that time used to analyse fabricated sentences.[47]

Nonetheless, her book motivated a lot of researchers from the various fields of study to empirically investigate the genuine characteristics of “women’s language”, but convincing evidence for Lakoff’s assumptions has, in fact, never been found. Instead, more recent studies have provided a lot of counterevidence. For instance, several studies have proven that men use at least as much tag questions as women or even more.[48] But a detailed analysis of the linguistic elements characteristic for women’s speech will be given in chapter 5.

4.2.2. The Feminist ‘Dominance’ Approach − Power and Subordination

The feminist ‘dominance’ approach to gender and language, assumes that sex differences in conversational behaviour result from the fact that men exert power and control over women in male-female interaction. Therefore, the focus shifted from a description of the separate features of “women’s language”, for instance in terms of word choice, to the interactional aspects of gender-specific speech behaviour, but still without treating gender as a flexible product of social interactions. Proponents of this framework like Barrie Thorne and Nancy Henley (1975), Dale Spender (1980), and Pamela Fishman (1978, 1983) are convinced that men abuse their allegedly greater power, which is said to result from their higher social status and assumed superiority to women, because they interrupt women more often and determine the topics in a conversation. The gender-specific differences in conversational styles are regarded as a reflection of the “androcentric” and hierarchical social organisation, in which social inequality between women and men has been created on the basis of the unequal social roles both sexes occupy as well as on rules and norms that are “man-made”[49], to quote the radical feminist Dale Spender. In addition to social institutions such as politics and education or the inequitable division of labour into male paid work and female non-paid house work, language is deemed as one significant dimension in which these unequal power relations are being mirrored. The ‘dominance’ approach assumes that women use a specific speech style because of their subordination to men. Females are expected and forced to speak in a more subordinate way while males are privileged to dominate conversations, for instance, in terms of topic control, floor apportionment, and amount of talk. Women’s conversational behaviour “is [apparently] low in conversationally assertive strategies” so that they “are less likely to get floor time, less likely to be heard seriously, and less likely to control the topic.”[50] Thus, the ‘dominance’ approach erroneously portrays women as victims and outsiders, and men as domineering and suppressing villains.

As Weatherall notes, “the dominance approach to gender differences is limited in so far as the effects of power cannot wholly explain why women in some situations appear to use a different speech style from men.”[51] Further criticism can also be expressed with reference to women’s representation in this approach. Their conversational behaviour is contemp-tuously presented as subordinate because it assumes that a woman is mainly responsible for the emotional aspect of communication in the same way as they are obligated to do the housework, according to Fishman.[52]

4.2.3. The Feminist ‘Difference’ Approach − Socialisation and Subcultures

The ‘difference’ approach to the explanation of gender variation in language use and conversational behaviour (also called the sub-cultural or two-cultures approach[53] ) supports the highly disputable assumption that a “woman’s language” and speech style as described by Lakoff and Fishman really exists. However, advocates of this framework disapprove of Lakoff’s negative depiction of women’s gender-specific conversational style by suggesting “that it is not, in fact, inherently dysfunctional and should be valued as something positive and authentic: different, not inferior.”[54] In this sense, gender-specific differences are regarded as different but yet as equal so that women’s apparently different conversational behaviour has to be evaluated as a strong, communicative skill.

Daniel N. Maltz and Ruth A. Borker (1982) and Deborah Tannen (1990) as major proponents of the ‘difference’ approach contend that women and men behave differently in conversations on account of their socialisation into different subcultures approximately at the age of 5 to 15 since they acquire distinctive gender roles in communication within same-sex peer groups. Based on Gumperz’s theory of interethnic communication, Maltz and Borker came to the controversial assertion that women and men employ different speech styles: on the one hand, women are apparently more oriented to affiliation and support because, as girls, they used to play in a very cooperative way. This is reflected in girls’ “collaboration-oriented”[55] talk, which is, for example, characterised by their use of predominately less straightforwardly expressed directives such as Let’s play…, We could…, or We’re gonna… involving every participant in the group.[56] Men, on the other hand, are thought to be focused on competition and independency in their organisation of play activities because, as boys, they used to organise their games in a hierarchy with different roles distributed among them. Their typically “competition-oriented”[57] talk consists of more direct commands such as Gimme… or I want…[58] and is mainly aimed at taking a leading position in the group.[59]

On account of their different conversational behaviour, women and men are believed to communicate across cultural borders like people from different ethnic backgrounds. This absolutely questionable hypothesis is used by Maltz and Borker[60] and by Deborah Tannen[61] as evidence for the frequent misunderstandings and as a reason for the recurrent break-downs of cross-sex communication.

However, the theory of the two different subcultures also does not convincingly explain the apparent gender differences. The proposed arguments and conclusions still remain debatable even though this approach demands a revaluation of women’s communicative competence. First of all, it has been proven that the socialisation of girls and boys mainly takes place in mixed-sex peer groups, especially in their free time outside of school. Consequently, children develop their conversational behaviour in joint rather than separate activities.[62] Unlike members of different cultural groups, they grow up in close contact with each other so that they should be aware of the communication behaviour of the other sex. Even Goodwin, who conducted several psychological studies on the management of games in same-sex peer groups, acknowledged that girls are, in fact, able to display a spirit of rivalry in their games.[63]

Furthermore, the process of language acquisition occurs at an earlier stage than at the time when children begin to establish a social network of friends and peers by the age of 5 at least.[64] Finally, the ‘difference’ approach still highlights the seemingly insurmountable gender differences and thus contributes to the maintenance of “the commonsense, conservative idea that men and women are essentially different.”[65] However, if both sexes are treated as inherently different, it is not astonishing that differences are actually found although they do not really exist.

Due to their underlying individualist concept of gender the ‘deficit’, ‘dominance’, and ‘difference’ approaches were critically challenged in the 1990s. A new, more modern approach which does not ignore the “intra-gender differences”[66], i.e. among women and among men, has finally been conceptualised and will be addressed in the following subchapter.

4.3. ‘Doing Gender’ in Communities of Practice

In recent years, feminist linguists have changed from the biased and over-simplifying ‘sex difference’ perspective to a new, more illuminating understanding of gendered linguistic behaviour. The concept of ‘doing gender’ assumes that individuals perform gender by certain activities and ways of behaviour, for instance by their clothing or hair-styling and, of course, their language. Judith Butler was the first feminist, who theorised about the performance of gender[67], while Harvey Sacks has introduced the phrase ‘doing’ into this interactional concept in order to emphasise that gender is constructed during social interactions.[68] Men and women use certain strategies to display their gender in social interactions while they orient to prevailing normative attitudes of what is considered to be typically feminine or masculine. Gender is therefore regarded as “an inherently communicative process”[69] in which individuals express and convey their gender − either masculinity or femininity − to their interactants and in which gender “is being continually produced and reproduced.”[70]

Unlike in the individualist concept, the focus is placed on the interaction between human beings, but not on the individual itself. Although it is the person who “does” gender, the context of the social interaction plays an important role as well, because people only become gendered persons while they interact with their fellow beings in so-called “communities of practice.” The concept of the “communities of practice” has been integrated into language theory by Eckert and McConnell-Ginet. They define them “as an aggregate of people who come together around mutual engagement in some common endeavour. Ways of doing things, ways of talking, beliefs, values, power relations − in short, practice − emerge in the course of their joint activity around that endeavour.”[71] In this sense, gender is negotiated in the context of these “communities of practice”. The group of the four female friends in Sex and the City constitutes such a community since they regularly meet to have a chat about their private lives in order to find emotional support and make sense of their experiences by exchanging feelings and opinions.

Since gender is understood as a process within interaction rather than a fixed state or an individual’s trait, this approach is more interactional than individualist.[72] As West and Zimmerman (1987) state, “gender is not a set of traits, nor a variable, nor a role, but the product of social doings of some sort” and “constituted through interaction”[73], especially through communication as the most important aspect of social interaction.

This approach can be traced back to Goffman’s notion of gender display. Goffman argues that a person’s gender is depicted in social interaction by the way he or she acts. His or her actions and ways of behaviour are then interpreted on the basis of socially stipulated conventions and categorized as rather masculine or feminine by the interactants. But even though people hold an “essential nature” which they express by specific signs in their behaviour, gender displays are not causally determined by our sex. They are rather “interactional portrayals of what we would like to convey about sexual natures, using conventionalized gestures.”[74] In other words, a woman does not act like a woman according to culturally specific, social norms because she is also biologically speaking a woman. She chooses to act and behave in a way which is regarded as conventionally female, but does not need to act like that because, in Goffman’s view, gender expressions are “optional performances.”[75] In this regard, gendered persons express their gender voluntarily, i.e. they can communicate their gender more in some social situations than in others since their gender display is not necessarily and directly attributable to their biological sex. West and Zimmerman, however, argue that even though people choose to display and express their gender more or less, they are still perceived as male or female regardless of the fact that they do not aim at conveying their gender so explicitly.[76] This is a result of the fact that gender-specific ways of behaviour are mistakenly considered to be directly connected with the biological sex. People are, therefore, always classified as either male or female in social interactions although they do not intend to be perceived as a gendered person. Their gender-specific behaviour is often judged by their sex so that stereotypes about women and men are being perpetuated.

The ‘doing gender’ approach can be appreciated as a great achievement because it does not conceptualise gender as an inalterable attribute acquired through socialization, but as something that people produce in specific situations while they interact with their fellow beings. As a result, the attention shifted to a broader perception of how variation takes place among women and among men instead of between the sexes, since there is not only one type of masculinity or femininity, but several kinds of “masculinit ies and femininit ies[77], which society, however, judges differently because “some forms of masculinity and femininity are more socially valued than others.”[78] Bearing this in mind, it is possible to account for numerous and diverse ways of expressing gender so that it is sometimes even valid to refer to a rather masculine woman or a feminine man.

I agree with Amy S. Wharton who states that “(…) one [framework] alone is insufficient for understanding a topic as complex as gender.”[79] On the one hand, gender is produced and reproduced in the context of social interactions when gendered beings display and communicate their orientation to a specific gender; on the other hand, these gender-specific ways of behaviour have been acquired during childhood when human beings are taught to act and behave like a boy or a girl. Gender roles are acquired during socialisation and conventionalised gender-specific manners are internalised more or less by each person. Therefore, some ways of behaviour might have become part of his or her personality, which, however, does not mean that human beings always act and behave as gendered persons. They choose to display their gender more in specific contexts while they do not consciously orient to a gender-specific way of behaviour in other situations. The gender of a person is not the only social variable which constructs his or her identity. An individualist approach to gender takes the risk to reduce the perception of human beings in that people are only judged by their gender. This, however, is an absolutely close-minded and limited approach to the research of language and gender. It is hence important to apply an approach which includes the diversity of social situations and contexts and the interplay of other social variables such as age, class, ethnicity, or socio-economic status in relation to gender.[80] Since women and men do not form separate social groups, in which all women and all men have the same interests and characteristics, it is of vital importance to take the correlation of gender and other categories into account.

Even though the ‘doing gender’ approach provides a far more modern perspective on language and gender, feminists, however, criticise that “contrasting how speakers ‘do’ one of masculinity or femininity [still] involves the production of theories based on gender dualism.”[81] As a consequence, the perception of typically female and typically male ways of behaviour will nonetheless remain to be perceived and judged.

5. Features of Gender-Specific Language Use and Conversational Behaviour

In the following chapter I will give a critical overview of the features of women’s stereotypical language use and conversational behaviour in contrast to that of men, which have been investigated by numerous feminist linguists. I have chosen to focus on these characteristics, because they have been discussed in every feminist approach to gender differences, but their significance with respect to gender has been interpreted differently in each of these approaches. I will therefore devote them an extra chapter in order to avoid repetition. However, “it is important to note that in the English language no speech forms are used exclusively by members of one sex and not the other; men and women both use the same linguistic forms.”[82]

At first, I will present feminist descriptions of gender-specific lexical choice in terms of the use of adjectives as well as with regard to the use of swear words and vulgar language. In chapter 5.2., I will review gender-related features of typically female and male conversational behaviour and speech style. Thereupon I will critically evaluate the usage of interruptions, questions and tag questions, hedges, and minimal responses as apparent indicators for conversational behaviour representative of women, according to feminist theory.

5.1. Features of Gender-Specific Lexical Choice

5.1.1. Specific Adjectives

Lakoff argues that women tend to use more colour terminology with their various distinctions, such as beige, ecru, aquamarine, lavender, or terracotta, and continues to claim that men would less likely use these specific items, unless he is a homosexual, a creative artist, or deliberately acts like a woman in an amusing and contemptuous way.[83]

The use of different adjectives is another example for lexical differences between both sexes. Lakoff distinguishes between adjectives for expressing delight and appreciation and neutral and typically female adjectives. While women do use neutral expressions like great, terrific, cool, and neat, they also apply typically female or “empty” adjectives, such as adorable, charming, sweet, and lovely, or cute and fabulous, which a man, however, would never use in order to show his admiration or support, according to Lakoff. She argues that these female linguistic peculiarities are often regarded as evidence for the fact that women obviously focus on unimportant issues like colour discrimination and are more emotional than rational and objective in expressing their opinions and feelings. Lakoff, however, admits that British upper-class men as well as male academics also use these particularly feminine adjectives. But, of course, they might be ridiculed by men from lower social classes and different professional backgrounds, as Lakoff unconvincingly argues.[84]

5.1.2. Swear Words and Vulgar Language

In addition, feminist linguists often claim that women’s and men’s lexical choices differ in terms of their usage of swear words and vulgar language. Lakoff observed that females apparently use fewer ‘strong’ expletives or swear words like shit, damn, or the more modern fuck(ing), and argues that they do not venture to express their emotions too vigorously on account of their socialisation into subordinate beings. Since society forbids women to show strong, negative feelings, they allegedly prefer to employ ‘weaker’ expletives like Oh dear! or Oh, my goodness!.[85] Although Lakoff admits that in the late 1970s “many self-respecting women [were] becoming able to use sentences [containing a strong swear word like shit ] publicly without flinching”, there is certainly much counter-evidence for her ‘folklinguistic’ assumptions because some women also use ‘strong’ expletives as well as taboo language as will be shown in the analysis of Sex and the City.

5.2. Features of Gender-Specific Conversational Behaviour

5.2.1. Women’s Cooperative and Men’s Competitive Speech Styles

In addition to Robin Lakoff and others, Pamela Fishman as an advocate of the ‘dominance’ approach is also regarded as a classical writer among feminists. In her book Interaction: The Work Women Do (1978) she analyses women’s and men’s conversational style on the basis of naturally occurring conversations between couples and comes to the provocative and polemic conclusion that women do the “interactional shitwork”[86] in female-male interaction. She argues that women use a more emotional, personal, and cooperative speech style, whereas men’s conversational behaviour is characterised as domineering, far more objective, and oblivious to women’s contributions and concerns in a conversation. But in contrast to Lakoff, Fishman interprets women’s conversational practice as “a creative and skilful strategy [they] use in order to have some kind of control in conversation with men”[87] rather than as evidence for their inability to speak in a more powerful way as it is erroneously claimed in the ‘deficiency’ approach.

Deborah Tannen’s assumptions resemble those of Pamela Fishman. As a key proponent of the ‘difference’ approach, she suggests that women’s way of talking can be explained as “rapport-talk”, whereas men usually show a conversational behaviour which can be referred to as “report-talk”.[88] Women’s rapport-talk is characterised by the expression of a high degree of emotional “connection”[89] with their conversational partners. Women are apparently more concerned with orienting towards the support and maintenance of social relationships by emphasising a feeling of involvement and solidarity, for instance by referring to same emotions felt and identical experiences gained. Therefore, they allegedly show a preference for talking about private and intimate topics. Men, by contrast, tend to focus on the discussion of rather impersonal topics and aim their attention on maintaining and emphasising their independence, status, and hierarchy, which is achieved through a more objective report-talk.[90]

According to Jane Pilkington, the purpose of informal conversations or rather gossip in same-sex groups does not vary as Deborah Tannen claims. She challenges Tannen’s fiercely disputable assumptions by arguing that both women and men seek mutual support. Yet they differ in the linguistic strategies they apply in order to establish close social relationships. While women are believed to prefer positive politeness strategies in order to redress the intrusive effect on their conversational partner’s positive faces, i.e. their emotions and need to be approved of, and to “emphasize group membership and solidarity”[91], men apparently seem to communicate in a “far more aggressive”[92] manner underlining competition. Pilkington claims that women’s conversational behaviour in same-sex groups consists of a lot of positive feedback and only indirect disagreement.[93] However, male conversational behaviour apparently involves less feedback to each others’ contributions and “frequent, direct, and repeated expression of disagreement or hostility.”[94] In her analyses she discovered that men express contradictory beliefs and disagreement by straightforwardly questioning and negating the attitudes of other speakers, by just stating the complete opposite of the previous speaker’s statement, or by harsh criticism directly addressed at the speaker, which increases the force of the critique, according to Pilkington. By challenging each other’s ideas, men supposedly make no use of any strategies to tone down the impolite impact of their disagreement. Pilkington surprisingly admits that men, nevertheless, enjoy their conversations and are not offended by their directness towards each other as women would rather be.[95]

Women’s apparently more cooperative and men’s more competitive conversational behaviour are particularly reflected in the organisation of their talks. Feminists like Coates argue that women’s talk is managed on the basis of a particularly “collaborative floor”[96] since they tend to build on their utterances cooperatively and give everybody a chance to contribute for the sake of a mutual agreement. Conversations organised in a collaborative floor are mainly oriented towards negotiating and maintaining relationships. Therefore, they predominantly pursue an interpersonal goal instead of being solely focused on the exchange of information.[97] As opposed to the “single floor”, the rule of one-speaker-at-a-time is not always strictly followed since the floor is open to anyone in the group and every speaker is invited to contribute. As Coates points out, “while the single floor prioritizes the individual speaker and the individual speaker’s turn, the collaborative floor prioritizes the group and symbolizes connection between speakers.”[98] According to her, a significant feature of the cooperative conversational behaviour of female friends is the fact that utterances are often “jointly constructed”[99] by adding words or even whole phrases to the end of a previous speaker’s statement. This is seen as an indicator for a high degree of attentiveness and strong connection so that the collaborative floor becomes an effective means for exercising friendship, for instance.

However, the distinction between women’s and men’s preferred conversational behaviour into typically female “rapport-talk” and typically male “report-talk”, which are seemingly incompatible, is very generalising, reductionist, and not acceptable as a whole. Similarly to women, who also talk about general and less personal topics, men gossip and converse about private matters involving emotions and experiences as well. In tape-recorded conversations between males, Deborah Cameron discovered that the participants exchange ideas and attitudes about absent people “with a strong focus in critically examining these individuals’ appearance, dress, social behaviour and sexual mores”[100], even though in this case the topic was a very special one: the young men condescendingly talked about homosexuals and simultaneously “constructed” their “heterosexual masculinity”. Likewise women’s apparently typical talk described by feminists, men’s talk can, indeed, be very cooperative as well, especially when it is oriented at establishing and confirming a common group or gender identity.[101]

On the other hand, women might also be concerned with maintaining a certain status among their conversational partners since their careful consideration of others’ feelings and concerns, as women’s social behaviour has been frequently described by feminists, can be seen as a strategy to preserve their acknowledged status. If they neglect the others’ needs in a conversation and are exclusively concerned about themselves, they might lose status and appreciation. As Cameron convincingly points out, “it is gender-stereotyping that causes us to miss or minimize the status-seeking element in women friends’ talk, and the connection-making dimension of men’s.”[102]

5.2.2. Interruptions

In discussions organised on a collaborative floor the occurrence of overlapping speech is not uncommon because the speakers “share the floor”[103] and intend to negotiate their opinions and experiences. Overlapping speech and interruptions, however, define two different cases. Overlaps are not considered to violate the other person’s right to speak because they occur mostly unintentionally when the interactants speak simultaneously at the end of one partner’s utterance. Interruptions, however, “represent a major violation of the basic turn-taking-rule”[104] and lead to the loss of the conversational floor with the utterance remaining unfinished.[105]

Proponents of the ‘dominance’ framework claim that men interrupt women more often, and women, in contrast, allow men more frequently to interrupt them. These interruptions are interpreted as a clear expression of power and domination over the allegedly oppressed social group of females. Don Zimmerman and Candace West (1975) investigated interruptions in 30 taped mixed-sex and same-sex conversations and concluded that, while there were hardly any interruptions in conversations between women only and between men only, 96 per cent of all interruptions in cross-sex communication were conducted exclusively by men.[106] They define interruptions as a strategy to gain the conversational floor by inhibiting the other person from finishing his or her sentence and thus as an instrument adopted by men in order to oppress and debar women from talking. But West and Zimmerman obviously neglect to consider the various pragmatic purposes of interruptions because they may also “have a co-operative conversational function and be part of a speech style showing interest and enthusiasm”[107], for example interruptive questions which are used to gain more information about the content of the speakers talk in order to better understand some aspects. This supportive strategy, however, is supposed to be used by women more often than by men, as also doubtfully demonstrated by Pamela Fishman.

As for the analysis of Sex and the City, it can be expected that interruptions as well as simple overlaps hardly occur in favour of an undisturbed conversational flow the audience should be able to follow. However, if interruptions do really occur, they are part of the scripted talk for a specific purpose so that it would be interesting to find out whether the four women do interrupt themselves and for what purpose.

5.2.3. Questions

In feminist linguistics, the frequent use of questions and tag questions is supposed to be an apparent characteristic of women’s conversational behaviour. In general, questions are mostly used to request information. But, in fact, they vary in their numerous additional pragmatic functions. On the basis of transcribed conversations between couples Fishman alleges that women tend to ask questions three times more than men suggesting that women are apparently more concerned with the interactional aspects, i.e. with involving their conversational partners and keeping the conversation going.[108] In contrast, men are believed to express statements more often and thus emphasise the importance of their utterances more strongly and convincingly. Maltz and Borker even extend this assumption by proposing that men only use questions in order to seek information while women draw on them for interactional purposes.[109] But in contrast to Lakoff, Fishman as well as Maltz and Borker consider questions not as a sign of inferiority and a lack of assertiveness, but as a powerful, interactional means to require the addressee to reply so that the conversation can be kept flowing continuously and topics can be introduced and developed. In this respect, questions are regarded as an effective linguistic means stimulating other participants to talk or tell a story and are thus considered to be “stronger than statements.”[110] However, questions are not only used for the continuation of a conversation and the development of a topic since they have various functions depending on the context in which they are produced. They can, for example, serve as a linguistic means in order to mitigate the illocutionary force of an utterance, refrain from appearing too much like an expert, make sure of the interactants’ opinions, express a wide variety of emotions such as surprise, interest, and desperation, or to end a discussion with an open, rhetorical question.[111]

According to Günthner, questions can also achieve exactly the opposite effect by their tendency to be face-threatening for the addressee and thus to be “non-cooperative” and even “aggressive”, for instance when they are uttered within the context of a complaint[112] like in the following example:

(1) Did you burn the potatoes?

This perspective, however, is not taken into account by Fishman because she reduces questions to only one significant function of maintaining an efficient interaction.


[1] Aries, Elizabeth (1996), Men and Women in Interaction: Reconsidering the Differences, New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, p. 163.

[2] Aries 1996: 164.

[3] Aries 1996: 166.

[4] Speer Susann A. (2005), Gender Talk: Feminism, Discourse and Conversation Analysis, London, New York: Routledge, p. 44.

[5] This term is used in the feminist literature on gender and language, especially by Robin Lakoff. It is, however, highly problematic to refer to a ‘women’s language’ due to its stereotypical nature.

[6] Eggins, Suzanne; Slade, Diane (1997), Analyzing Casual Conversation, London: Cassell, p. 6.

[7] Eggins and Slade 1997: 6.

[8] Eggins and Slade 1997: 6-21.

[9] Coates, Jennifer (1998), “Gossip Revisited: Language in All-Female Groups”, in: Coates, Jennifer (ed.), Language and Gender: A Reader, Malden, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, p. 229.

[10] Levinson, Stephen C. (1983), Pragmatics, Cambridge: CUP, p. 5.

[11] Cameron, Deborah (2001), Working with Spoken Discourse, London: Sage, 70.

[12] Thomas in Cameron 2001: 68.

[13] Crystal, David (2003), A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, 5th ed., Malden, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, p. 364. [capitals in original]

[14] Levinson 1983: 5.

[15] A short description of the situational context for each conversation analysed from Sex and the City is given in the appendix.

[16] Cutting, Joan (2008), Pragmatics and Discourse: A Resource Book for Students, 2nd ed., London, New York: Routledge, p. 5-6.

[17] Brown, Penelope; Levinson, Stephen (1987), Politeness: Some Universals in Language Usage, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 61f.

[18] Goffman, Erving (1967), Interaction Ritual: Essays in Face-to-Face Behaviour, Chicago: Aldine, p. 5.

[19] Yule, George (1996), Pragmatics, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 61-62.

[20] Brown; Levinson 1987: 65.

[21] Brown; Levinson 1987: 65-67.

[22] Cutting 2008: 32.

[23] Cameron 2001: 106-109.

[24] Bubel, Claudia (2006), The Linguistic Construction of Character Relations in TV Drama: Doing Friendship in Sex and the City, Dissertation at the University of Saarland, URL: (01-09-2009), p. 75.

[25] Wharton, Amy S. (2005), The Sociology of Gender: An Introduction to Theory and Research, Malden, Oxford, Carlton: Blackwell Publishing, p. 4.

[26] Wharton 2005: 18.

[27] Coates, Jennifer (1993), Women, Men and Language, 2nd ed., London: Longman, p. 3.

[28] Coates 1993: 3-4.

[29] West, Candace; Zimmerman, Don H. (1987), “Doing Gender”, Gender and Society, Vol. 1, No. 2, p. 125.

[30] Wharton 2005: 9.

[31] Speer 2005: 21.

[32] Wharton 2005: 23.

[33] McElhinny, Bonnie (2003), “Theorizing Gender in Sociolinguistics and Linguistic Anthropology”, in: Holmes, Janet; Meyerhoff, Miriam (eds.), The Handbook of Language and Gender, Malden, Oxford, Carlton: Blackwell Publishing, p. 27.

[34] Cameron, Deborah (1992), Feminism and Linguistic Theory, 2nd ed., London: MacMillan Press, p. 42.

[35] Romaine, Suzanne (1999), Communicating Gender, Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, p. xiii.

[36] Wodak 1997: 7.

[37] Cameron 1992: 45.

[38] Cameron 1992: 45.

[39] Speer 2005: 9.

[40] Coates, Jennifer (ed.) (1998), Language and Gender: A Reader, Oxford, Malden: Blackwell Publishing, p. 2-3.

[41] Cameron, Deborah (ed.) (1999), The Feminist Critique of Language − A Reader, 2nd ed., London, New York: Routledge, p. 14.

[42] Speer 2005: 46.

[43] Cameron 1999: 216.

[44] Weatherall, Ann (2002), Gender, Language and Discourse, East Sussex, New York: Routledge: 57.

[45] Lakoff in Cameron 1999: 242-244.

[46] Lakoff in Cameron 1999: 250.

[47] Ayaß, Ruth (2008), Kommunikation und Geschlecht: Eine Einführung, Stuttgart: Kohlhammer, p. 24.

[48] Speer 2005: 37.

[49] Spender in Speer 2005: 36.

[50] Eggins and Slade 1997: 36.

[51] Weatherall 2002: 67.

[52] Cameron 1992: 72.

[53] Coates 1998: 413.

[54] Cameron 1992: 72.

[55] Maltz and Borker in Coates 1998: 158.

[56] Goodwin in Coates 1998: 124.

[57] Maltz and Borker in Coates 1998: 158.

[58] Goodwin in Coates 1998: 124.

[59] For a more detailed explanation of women’s and men’s typical conversational behaviour from a feminist perspective see chapter 4.2.1.

[60] Maltz, Daniel N.; Borker, Ruth, A. (1982/1998), “A Cultural Approach to Male-Female Miscommunica-tion”, in: Coates, Jennifer (ed.), Language and Gender: A Reader, Malden, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, p. 420-421.

[61] Tannen, Deborah (1990), You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, London: Virago Press, p. 13.

[62] Weatherall 2002: 71.

[63] Ayaß 2008: 91.

[64] Goodwin in Ayaß 2008: 92.

[65] Speer 2005: 44.

[66] McIlvenny, Paul (ed.) (2002), Talking Gender and Sexuality, Amsterdam, Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing, p. 1.

[67] Speer 2005: 60-61.

[68] Ayaß 2008: 15.

[69] Romaine 1999: 2.

[70] Wharton 2005: 7.

[71] Eckert and McConnell-Ginet in Wodak 1997: 9.

[72] Wharton 2005: 8.

[73] West and Zimmerman 1987: 129.

[74] West and Zimmerman 1987: 130.

[75] West and Zimmerman 1987: 130.

[76] West and Zimmerman 1987: 130.

[77] Wharton 2005: 5.

[78] Wharton 2005: 5.

[79] Wharton 2005: 8.

[80] Wodak, Ruth (1997), Gender and Discourse, London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage Publications, p. 2.

[81] Stokoe, Elizabeth; Smithson, Janet (2001), “Making Gender Relevant: Conversation Analysis and Gender Categories in Interaction”, Discourse & Society, 12, p. 219.

[82] Aries 1996: 102.

[83] Lakoff in Cameron 1999: 244.

[84] Lakoff in Cameron 1999: 244-248.

[85] Lakoff in Cameron 1999: 245

[86] Fishman in Coates 1998: 237.

[87] Cameron 1992: 71.

[88] Tannen, Deborah (1997), “Women and Men Talking: An Interactional Sociolinguistic Approach”, in: Walsh, Mary Roth (ed.), Women, Men, and Gender: Ongoing Debates, New Haven, London: Yale University Press, p. 87.

[89] Tannen in Walsh 1997: 88.

[90] Tannen in Walsh 1997: 87-88.

[91] Pilkington, Jane (1998), “ ‘Don’t try and make out that I’m nice!’ The Different Strategies Women and Men Use When Gossiping”, in: Coates, Jennifer (ed.), Language and Gender: A Reader, Malden, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, p. 266.

[92] Pilkington in Coates 1998: 254.

[93] Pilkington in Coates 1998: 266.

[94] Pilkington in Coates 1998: 263.

[95] Pilkington in Coates 1998: 264-265.

[96] Coates 1996: 134.

[97] Coates 1996: 134.

[98] Coates, Jennifer (1997), “Women’s Friendship, Women’s Talk”, in: Wodak, Ruth (ed.), Gender and Discourse, London, Thousand Oaks, New Delhi: Sage Publications, p. 253.

[99] Coates 1996: 118.

[100] Cameron, Deborah (1998), “Performing Gender Identity: Young Men’s Talk and the Construction of Heterosexual Masculinity”, in: Coates Jennifer (ed.), Language and Gender: A Reader, Malden, Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, p. 273.

[101] Cameron in Coates 1998: 276-277.

[102] Cameron in Coates 1998: 280.

[103] Coates in Wodak 1997: 253.

[104] Beattie 1983: 110.

[105] From a conversation analysis’ view, conversations are built upon a turn-taking system and involve the mutual establishment of conversational floors. Turn-taking is a process which is enacted between conversational partners on the basis of rules and linguistic as well as paralinguistic signs. Surprisingly, “conversations unfold in real time and yet parties (…) synchronize their turn − usually highly coherent and consistent with respect to topic − in a matter of milliseconds” (Beattie 1983: 77). As a result, this system enables speakers to participate in a conversation by taking turns and gaining the conversational floor.

[106] Ayaß 2008: 75.

[107] Weatherall 2002: 68.

[108] Ayaß 2008: 67.

[109] Ayaß 2008: 72.

[110] Coates 1993: 122.

[111] Coates 1996: 176; 186.

[112] Günthner in Ayaß 2008: 73.

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The Representation of Gender-Specific Conversational Behaviour in Informal Talk
A Pragmatic Analysis of the American TV-Series "Sex and the City"
University of Rostock  (Institut für Anglistik/Amerikanistik)
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Representation, Gender-Specific, Conversational, Behaviour, Informal, Talk, Pragmatic, Analysis, American, TV-Series, City
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Juliane Behm (Author), 2009, The Representation of Gender-Specific Conversational Behaviour in Informal Talk, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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