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Mid Sweden University Department of Humanities English Studies
This essay examines male and female utterance length and amount of talk in the British
National Corpus and at a Swedish political meeting. The purpose is to find out whether
there are any measurable differences between men and women in utterance length and
From the BNC, three categories were chosen for analysis, the public meetings
genre and the informal home
genre. The political meeting that was
analysed was taped in Härnösand, Sweden, in February 2004.
The essay discusses different feminist theories related to amount of talk and uses
these theories to explain differences in utterance length and amount of talk.
The results from the investigations show that men and women differ in their amount
of talk in the least formal and the most formal settings. Men tend to speak more in
formal settings and women in informal settings. Many different explanations can be
found to explain this but the two dominant ones are that men and women differ in their
amount of talk because of the subordination of women and the dominance of men in our
society or that men and women simply use different speech styles and that the male
speech style is more suitable for a formal setting while the female speech style is more
1.2.1 WHAT IS GENDER? 5
1.2.2 MALE AND FEMALE LANGUAGE 6
1.2.3 POTENTIAL EXPLANATIONS FOR LINGUISTIC DIFFERENCES 7 1.3 MALE AND FEMALE UTTERANCE LENGTH
1.3.1 EARLIER RESEARCH 10 1.4 MATERIAL AND METHODS 12
1.4.1 THE BRITISH NATIONAL CORPUS (BNC) 13
1.4.2 THE MEETING 14
2.1 RESULTS FROM THE BNC 15
2.1.1 PUBLIC MEETINGS 15
2.1.2 MEETINGS 16
2.1.3 INFORMAL CONVERSATIONS 16 2.2 RESULTS FROM THE MEETING 17
”Nothing is so unnatural as a talkative man or a quiet woman” (Spender 1980:41)
In order to make sense of our reality and to define our own identity, we tend to
categorise people around us into social groupings. We either belong to or do not belong
to groupings such as families, communities, teams, classes, and so on. One of the most
fundamental divisions that we make is that of men and women, which has enormous
repercussions in every aspect of our lives. We all intuitively know what makes a woman
different from a man, but does this mean that the gender division is a natural one? It can
easily be shown that this division has advantages for one group and disadvantages for
the other, that men are considered to be superior to women in many aspects (e.g.
Spender 1980). This is probably not a state of affairs based on a majority decision (there
are actually slightly more women than men in the world today); it has to do with
something else, some qualities that we attribute to men which make them more worthy
of control and superiority, or conversely, that women are believed to posses qualities
which make them inferior and less worthy of being in control (e.g. Coates 1988). For
centuries, the division of power between men and women was not seen as a problem.
However, through the rise of feminism, things have changed dramatically. Over the past
four decades, the positions of men and women in every aspect of our society have been
When analysing gender roles in society, many different approaches can be taken. We
can look at the division of labour in our homes, investigate attitudes towards women in
commercials, calculate the male female ratio among our politicians, or look at how
gender is manifested in our use of language. This last approach is what this essay will
deal with. The ultimate aim is to investigate whether the study of our use of language
can be of interest in gender research and if differences in our use of language can be
explained with reference to gender. More specifically the essay will study one area
where gender might be manifested: in utterance length and floor space1 claimed by
1 Floor space is the time that somebody speaks, or “holds the floor”.
Contrary to popular belief, much research to date has shown that it is actually men who
tend to produce more speech in mixed-sex conversations (e.g. Spender 1980). I aim to
investigate this aspect in a corpus and in a real-life situation and also try to analyse how
different contexts affect men and women’s conversational behaviour as regards to floor
space. In order to do that, I will present earlier relevant gender research in language
before the results of my investigations are presented and analysed.
Gender research in language has become one of the largest branches of modern
sociolinguistics. It has followed the development of feminist research in general over
the years and has been conducted mainly by feminists. The short background theory
which is presented below will put the essay in context and give an insight into the area
1.2.1 What Is Gender?
Often, the main issues in gender research are less discussed than the terminology
surrounding them. To be able to investigate gender differences, many researchers seem
to believe that the term ‘gender’ itself has to be defined in detail so that no
Simplified, one could say that the difference between men and women, or male and
female, can be defined with reference to biological differences, our sexes, or with
reference to differences that are not biological, our genders. However, such a definition
is too vague to be acceptable in research, and there is currently much debate in feminist
research about whether the categories sex and gender are functional or not, and where to
draw the line between them. Cameron (1995:15) suggests that gender is not a simple
self-evident category, but rather an unstable construct. Coates (1993:4) argues that
gender should be looked upon not only as a fixed category, but also as a continuum. The
term might be defined differently by different researchers, and some therefore prefer to
use only the strictly biological term sex
when describing and defining differences
between male and female language. However, to be able to analyse differences between
men and women, most researchers agree that the term gender
has to be used.
1.2.2 Male and Female Language
Another issue which is often debated in gender research is whether male and female
languages really exist. According to some researchers there are biological differences
that make women use, for example, a higher pitch, but there are also other features that
make men and women constitute different linguistic groups.
Lakoff (1975) first coined the term women’s language
which she feels is
characterised by, for example, politeness, the use of certain “empty” adjectives, the use
of hedges and hypercorrect grammar. She argues that there are different conversational
styles with different characteristics, and although not all women or men use one style
only, some characteristics are typically female or male (1975:74). Although her
conclusions are not based on empirical evidence, she was the first to suggest that
women and men had remarkably different styles, and her definitions of the
characteristics of women’s language have been the basis for much subsequent empirical
research (Coates & Cameron 1988:75).
Before feminists started conducting gender research, no one questioned the fact that
male language was considered the norm and female language a deviation. Recently
however, researchers have concentrated more on finding differences between male and
female language than on finding deviations in the language of women only. Coates
argues that “studies have demonstrated significant differences in male and female usage
of such features as interruptions, questions, polite forms, prosodic features, all of which
are part of communicative competence” and she also notes that “the fact that women
and men differ in terms of their communicative behaviour is now [an] established
sociolinguistic fact” (1988:65). Tannen (1991) and Coates (1993) even use the term
to refer to the variants of language used by men and women. However, to
leave old traditions and abandon well-known patterns of thought is hard. Spender states
English speakers believe–and linguists appear to be no exception–that men’s speech is
forceful, efficient, blunt, authoritative, serious, effective, sparing and masterful; they
believe that women’s speech is weak, trivial, ineffectual, tentative, hesitant, hyperpolite,
euphemistic and is often marked by gossip and gibberish. (1980:33)
It seems that our prejudices about male and female language rather than research results
often control our ideas about features connected to gender in language use.
To sum up, it seems that researchers have had no problem in accepting and
supporting the fact that there are two different forms of language, one male and one
female. Research over the years has shown considerable differences in male and female
1.2.3 Potential Explanations for Linguistic Differences
There are two major approaches that offer different explanations for the presence of
different “genderlects” (Coates 1993:13). One is the dominance
approach, which states
that the difference in style is a result of the subordination of women in society (Coates
1988:65). Women simply learn to speak a language suitable for people with lower
status, a language that will support the dominant males and their greater linguistic rights
(Spender 1980:32). The differences could also be a reflection of the power relations
between the genders. Often, women’s language is labelled as powerless, and a number
of pieces of “evidence” of this have been presented. However, Tannen argues that a
linguistic strategy that is connected to women’s language is often seen as powerless
simply because it is used by women. It “reflects the view of women’s behaviour through
the lens of men’s” (1991:225). Just as professions that are traditionally associated with
males lose status when they are taken over by women too, there are probably no
conversational habits that are permanently regarded as high-status habits. Tannen’s
theory means that a linguistic strategy does not itself give power to its user, it is the
other way around. The dominance approach often labels men’s language as ‘strong’ and
women’s language as ‘weak’ (Coates 1988:69).
The other approach is the difference
approach, which emerged as a protest and
alternative to the dominance approach and its “androcentric” view. It claims that men
and women simply use different languages because they are
in fact different. For
example, men use more swear words because they are more aggressive by nature, and
women use more questions and hedges because they are more caring and want to
maintain social connections (Tannen 1991). The difference approach states that both
variants are just as ‘strong’ only different (Coates 1988).
Different social structures- different purposes
Another potential reason for linguistic differences between men and women is the way
we construct our gender identities. Earlier gender researchers believed that gender
differences in language usage occurred because of biological differences between men
and women. In our time, researchers have put forward the idea that the differences
emerge because of the different linguistic environments boys and girls grow up in
(Coates & Cameron 1988:166, Tannen 1991:43). If this idea is accepted as plausible,
then another question arises. Why are boys and girls exposed to different linguistic
training? Tannen (1991:43) argues that we are brought up to function in different social
structures. Boys learn the hierarchical order, how to gain status through every aspect of
their behaviour, including their linguistic behaviour. They fight with both fists and
words, and establish their connections through competition. Girls on the other hand
establish their connections through intimacy; they learn to use language to cooperate
rather than to compete. Thus, according to Tannen, we learn to use our language for
Public or private–the importance of context
Coates argues that “male speakers in our culture are socialised into public discourse,
while female speakers are socialised into private discourse” (1988:98). Areas that are
traditionally regarded as private domains, such as the home and the family, are often
associated with women, while public domains, such as work, economy and political
arenas, are associated with men. Throughout history, women have often worked in the
home and have been left out of the public sphere.
The split between public and private could also be used as part of the explanation of
men’s and women’s different linguistic behaviour. Researchers claim that different
variants of language are used in private and public settings (e.g. Coates 1988). If this is
true, it might be the case that there are gender-based differences between our use of
language in the different areas. Coates argues that women are “especially restricted”
when they want to talk in public, especially if they talk in front of “mixed-sex or male
adult audiences” (1988:96). Since women are associated with private and not public
settings, their participation in the public sphere is not always accepted.
Not only talk
In dominance theory, it is claimed that dominance will affect our linguistic behaviour.
As Swann (1988) points out, it is hard, if not impossible, to analyse linguistic
dominance, in isolation, without taking into consideration the non-linguistic ways in
which dominance is exercised. It is not enough to take into account the physical setting
of a conversation. For example, someone in a superior position, often a man, can
exercise dominance through simply looking away and not paying attention to another
speaker. A woman is rarely in a position to dominate and cannot exercise dominance in
the same way. Swann states that “any analysis of ‘male dominance’ of talk should,
therefore, take account of a range of different conversational features, of nonverbal
behaviour and, ideally, of contextual factors such as seating arrangements, any activities
that accompany the talk, etc“(1988:127). Of course, to analyse every aspect of a
conversational situation is almost impossible and requires more equipment and
1.3 Male and Female Utterance Length
Moving onto gender differences in utterance length in particular, it may be argued that
counting words in an utterance does not prove anything. It is the functions of utterances
that are important. However, the amount of turns we take and the time we are allowed,
or that we allow ourselves to speak, is an important aspect to study. Whatever the
reasons for talking and whatever the meaning of the utterance, the time we are allowed
to talk reflects the time we are allowed to be the centre of attention. This also makes the
length of our utterances and the amount of turns we take into a gender issue. If it can be
shown that men or women are allowed more time in the spotlight in a certain context,
this tells us about how women and men are valued differently, that men or women are
seen as more important and more entitled to present their ideas and opinions (e.g.
Tannen 1991). If one gender on average is allowed more floor space, then the reasons
for this favouring have to be investigated.
1.3.1 Earlier Research
Kramarae (1981) stated in the early 80s that no work had been published to suggest that
women spoke more than men; however, much evidence of the opposite had been
presented. In the studies she mentions, women talked less often and did not hold the
floor as long as men. Coates (1988) presented similar results a few years later; that is,
that men tend to dominate conversation and use more floor space. She brings up several
research findings in support of this theory and claims that women do speak less in
mixed-sex conversations (1988:192). Tannen simply states that “men talk more than
women” (1991:75), while Spender argues that “there has not been one study which
provides evidence that women talk more than men, and there have been numerous
studies which indicate that men talk more than women” (1980:41). Thus, most
researchers in the field agree that men in general dominate mixed-sex conversations and
that they both talk more often and take longer turns in certain contexts than women, or
The question is whether “women’s language” is a consequence of being female
or of being subordinate or some mixture of the two (Coates 1988:78). As Swann points
out, men often hold more powerful social positions than women do (1988:125). Tannen
suggests that the reason why men occupy more space in the public world is because
they are more confident in “using talk to claim attention” (1991:88). The question
asked by many researchers is: Would women talk as much as men if they held an equal
amount of powerful positions? (e.g. Coates 1988).
Gender and status
Clearly, gender is not the only variable to take into account when dealing with language
and power. Coates mentions “the role taken by participants in interaction, the objectives
of interaction [and] participants’ relative status on a number of dimensions” as examples
of other important variables (1988:91). However, it has been argued that gender
overrides all other categories (Woods 1988).
Woods examines whether status and gender play a part in the distribution of floor
space, that is, if they determine the amount of talk we produce in conversation
(1988:141-157). Woods contests the belief that “quantitative findings on male
dominance in conversations can be explained to a significant extent by the fact that
males on average hold higher-status positions than do women” (1988:141). The results
of her study show that gender was in fact a much more important variable than
occupational status in apportioning the floor (1988:156) Even when a woman held a
higher occupational position than a man, the man dominated their conversation and the
Prejudices and stereotypes
As mentioned above, the area of gender research is one where prejudices play a large
part. According to previous research men unmistakably talk more than women, yet
Spender claims that “a firmly held conviction of our society is that women talk a lot”
(1980:41). Tannen points to the fact that women are believed to talk too much and that
people even perceive that women talk more than men when in fact it is the other way
around (1991:75-77). Swann writes that “the stereotype of the over-talkative woman
stands out in stark contrast to most research studies of interactions between women and
men, which argue that, by and large, it is men who tend to dominate talk” (1988:123)
The stereotype of the talkative, gossiping woman and the strong, silent man are
presented in commercials, proverbs and jokes. Even though most people in their
everyday life must run into men speaking proportionally more than women, the belief
that women speak more than men is widespread and persistent (Spender 1980:42).
Why is there such a difference between the perception of how long we talk and our
actual amount of talk? The preconception about women being the talkative sex is not a
new one but one which has been around for quite some time (Coates 1993:33). Spender
points out that it is a mystery why people seem to have no problem accepting the myth
about the over-talkative woman without any statistical evidence that women talk more
than men, but they do not accept that it is men who talk more even when presented with
systematic evidence (1980:x). There are several parallels to this in research about male
and female language. For example, when tag questions were investigated it was
believed that they contained “the key to hesitance and tentativeness” and therefore that
women used them to a larger extent (Spender 1980:9). However, when it was proven
that men used more tags than women, it was not suggested that men were hesitant and
tentative, only that tags had to have some other function too. Women and men are being
judged differently for the same behaviour. A woman is not seen as talkative in
comparison to a man, but in comparison to the ideal for a woman, the silent
It seems we all have a “disposition to find in favour of males” (Spender 1980:90). It
is common sense to most people that women are more talkative than men (Cameron
1995:xiii) and these perceived differences between male and female utterance length are
“part of folk knowledge” according to Coates. She claims that “we all grow up to
believe that women talk more than men, that women ‘gossip’, that men swear more than
women, that women are more polite, and so on”(Coates 1993:107). Gender research
contests all of this, but people’s “common sense” is an immense obstacle to meet.
1.4 Material and Methods
I have based my reasoning on earlier research in the area of gender research in language
and performed two studies. Firstly, I have investigated utterance length in some of the
different genres presented in Apologising in British English
Deutschmann has collected material from the BNC and placed the conversations in
different genres, depending on their level of formality. The first genre is meetings,
which consists of conversations at “business meetings of various kinds”. The second
genre, public meetings,
consists of more formal conversations taken from “legal
proceedings, political debates and public enquiries”. The last genre is informal
conversations at home1
, conversations recorded in “private informal settings (in the
home or in the car, for example)” (Deutschmann 2003:159-161). The first two
categories were chosen because this essay will deal primarily with public speech. Also,
I will compare these genres with one genre which contains private speech to be able to
look at how context affects utterance length and amount of talk.
Secondly, I investigated gender differences in the length of utterances produced
during public local council meetings in Härnösand, Sweden.
The two investigations are naturally very different, although they both deal with
public speaking. One of them focuses on corpus material from Britain, the other on a
real-life meeting in Sweden. However, since the intention is to investigate a general
tendency in the western world rather than a specific British or Swedish cultural
phenomenon, I believe the two investigations might both contribute to a discussion on
gender issues in language. Since I did not have the opportunity to actually attend a
political meeting in England, the only way I could do a case study on public speaking
was to investigate a Swedish situation. The public meetings genre in the BNC includes
political meetings and the Swedish meeting could therefore be seen as belonging to the
1.4.1 The British National Corpus (BNC)
A corpus is a collection of texts, sampled to maximally represent a certain language or a
variety of a language. Today, the term corpus
often carries the implicit meaning of
“machine-readable”, that is, the material can be reached through a computer. The corpus
that is being used in this essay, the British National Corpus, is one of the world’s largest
corpora. It is a finite-sized corpus, which means that it contains a fixed number of words
and that it has not been added to since it was released in 1995. The BNC contains 100
million words taken from both written and spoken texts from a wide range of areas to be
maximally representative of modern British English. I will focus on the spoken part of
the corpus, which makes up about 10 per cent of the texts. The conversations in this part
of the corpus are taped by the participants themselves, which have been selected to
represent the speakers of the British language in a “demographically balanced way”
(http://www.natcorpox.ac.uk). Therefore, speakers of both genders and from all social
classes, ages, and regions are represented.
There are 863 transcribed conversations in the BNC, and this essay will use 324 of
these. I have chosen to analyse three of the genres presented by Deutschmann (2003),
and for each of the three chosen genres an average utterance length for men and women
will be calculated and analysed. The facts that can be obtained from the taped
conversations in the BNC are (i) gender of the speaker, (ii) how many words they used
in the conversation, and (iii) how many utterances they made. Thus, it is possible to
calculate how many words a person used as an average per utterance.
The average utterance length will be calculated for each of the participants of the
conversations, and the sums will be added and divided by the number of participants.
The average number of words and the average number of utterances used by each
participant will also be presented. Note that the average utterance length is not
calculated from the average amount of words and average amount of utterances for all
participants but from the utterance length calculated for each person.
1 Hereafter referred to as informal conversations.
1.4.2 The Meeting
The public local council meeting I chose to investigate was held in February 2004 by
the Social Democratic Party in Härnösand and was open for all members. I chose to
record the occasions when the floor was open to all speakers only, since this was the
time when participants themselves chose to take the floor. The duration of each
utterance was measured and the gender of the speaker was noted. Present at the meeting
were 40 men and 20 women. I recorded 87.4 minutes of talk and counted the time, in
minutes, that each speaker used. In order to minimise the effect of the “observer’s
paradox”1 (e.g. Coates 1993:5), I attended several meetings, firstly without the tape
recorder and then with it, so that the informants became accustomed to my presence.
Also, I positioned myself where I would not disturb the meeting in any way when the
1 The observer’s paradox is that the presence of a researcher or, for example, a tape recorder will affect the behaviour of the participants.
The results from the BNC will be presented first, followed by the results from the
2.1 Results from the BNC
In this section, one category at a time will be presented, from the most formal category
to the least formal category starting with the public meetings genre.
2.1.1 Public Meetings
The following table shows the results from the public meetings genre, which consists of
conversations taken from, for example, political meetings. As mentioned above, this is
the category where the level of formality is the highest.
1 Public meetings
The average utterance length for men is 88 words per utterance and for women 76.8.
Since there were more than three times as many men than women represented in the
material, the average utterance length for all participants is almost the same as that of
the men. This category is, as can be seen, where one finds the greatest difference in
The next category is the meetings genre; a category which is slightly less formal than
the previous one. The conversations are taken from business meetings.
Table 2 Meetings
In this less formal genre, the table shows that there is a very slight difference in the
average utterance length, that the average utterance length for a man is 14.7 and for a
woman 14.4. This is the category where the smallest difference is found. As with the
public meetings, this category contains more male participants and the average utterance
length for all participants is therefore very similar to the men’s utterance length.
2.1.3 Informal Conversations
Let us now turn to the informal conversations; the only category where conversations
have been recorded in a private setting.
Table 3 Informal conversations
This, the least formal category, is the only one where women’s average utterance length
is higher than men’s, 8.8 versus 7.8 words per utterance. The proportional difference in
utterance length here is almost as big as the difference in the public meetings genre.
Unlike the other two categories, this category has more female participants. Still,
since the men made more utterances, the average utterance length for both genders is
closer to the men’s utterance length than to women’s.
2.2 Results from the Meeting
The last table shows the results from the Swedish political meeting, where the level of
formality can be compared to that of the public meetings genre presented above.
At the meeting, 87.4 minutes of talk was taped. During that time, men talked for 78.1
minutes and women for 9.3 minutes. This means that men used 89 % of the time and
women 11 %. Since there were twice as many men as women at the meeting, and
assuming that there are no differences between men and women, the numbers should
have been 66-33 % rather than 89-11 %. These results correspond well to the results of
other researchers. Women, considering their number, should have talked for a third of
the time, instead they only used a tenth of the time allowed for talk.
My results show that floor space was divided unequally in selected genres from the
BNC. In the most formal category, the public meetings genre, the average utterance
length for men was 88 words per utterance and for women 76.8 words per utterance,
and in the least formal, the informal conversations genre, women used 8.8 words per
utterance compared to 7.8 for men. In the meetings genre, the difference between the
two genders was very small, 14.7 and 14.4 words per utterance. The most obvious
difference in utterance length was found at the Swedish political meeting, where men
Context seems to play a part in determining who will speak the most. If the amount
of talk for men and women in these investigations is put on a scale from most formal to
least formal, it will be clear that there is a connection between the level of formality and
There are really three questions raised by these results and the results of previous
• Why do men speak more than women in the public sphere? • Why do women speak more than men in the private sphere? • Why is there a significant difference in our perception of the amount of talk and
the actual amount of talk of men and women?
Why do men speak more than women in the public sphere?
It seems that the results fit well into the difference theory, which claims that we use
language differently because men and women are different and have different purposes.
If men use language to compete for status, and women use it to nourish relationships, it
may seem sensible for a man to take the floor and present his own theories to have a
position in the competition in the public sphere. For a woman, taking the floor might
mean risking personal relationships or the affection of others (if her ideas are not
popular), and since building relationships is said to be women’s top priority, they will
Also, from another point of view, the figures from the investigation can be used to
strengthen the argument that men and women use language for different purposes. In the
informal conversations genre, the average utterance length for both genders was 8.2
words per utterance, and in the public meetings genre it was 85.8. Admittedly, it is only
natural that a public utterance should last longer than a private, due to the purpose of the
utterance, but still, men speak more when it is clearly a matter of monologue where one
person puts forward his or her thoughts. In dialogues, on the other hand, where
cooperation is of greater importance, women talk more.
At the Swedish meeting, as well as in the public meetings genre, the results found
can be explained in terms of a difference in the roles we play. I often noticed that the
most intensive and aggressive discussions between participants at the meeting were
between men, not between a man and a woman or two women. The theory presented
here suggests that this is because men do not care as much for personal relationships,
they find it easier to “fight for their right”. The position of a woman in these groups is
not the same as that of a man. In our society, the term and the concept politician
carries the connotation of male, which means that a woman logically cannot be a “real”
politician as long as she uses a female language style. The women at the Swedish
meeting have to choose if they want to act as women or as politicians, and judging from
the recording, they choose not to compete for status in the same way as the men present,
and therefore, they speak less. The men, on the other hand, have to play their parts as
men and use the language of the male world. They are just as restricted to their gender
Furthermore, the difference theory claims that men are experts at the language of the
public sphere and women at the language of the private sphere. The results from my
investigations support this. They show that men do speak more in public settings and
women more in the private one. In the category “in between”, the informal meetings,
there is hardly any difference in the amount of talk. It has been shown in gender
research over the years that when the level of formality is higher, men will speak more
(see for example Tannen 1980; Swann 1988; Walsh 2001). A common explanation to
this phenomenon is that men simply hold higher positions in society, and that they
therefore are given more time in the spotlight of the public world. Status and not gender
is seen as the reason. However, in the county of Härnösand, women hold the top
political position in the Social Democratic Party. One of them was also the chairperson
of the meeting I recorded. My results match those of Woods (1988); they suggest that
gender overrides status. Even though the participants with the highest official status at
the Swedish meeting were women, men still used proportionally more floor space. It
could be that the reason why men spoke more is because they have more knowledge in
the area. However, since the top politicians present at the meeting were women, it
seems highly unlikely that they had less knowledge than the men that took the floor.
Although the women at the Swedish meeting must be well socialised into the public
discourse–otherwise they would hardly hold the positions that they do–it seems they are
still more bound by their gender role than their occupational role.
So why does gender override status? The dominance theory concludes that being a
man automatically gives you a higher status than all the women in the world. Men
dominate the world; it has nothing to do with competence or skill; it is simply one of the
pillars of our society (e.g. Spender 1980). Men are more valuable than women,
something that is reflected everywhere around us, even on our paychecks. The results
from the Swedish meeting is an example of the fact that politics is traditionally a man’s
world, and it is hard for women to get the same status as a man because people are not
used to valuing a female politician as high as a male one.
Why do women speak more than men in the private sphere?
According to the analysis of the conversations in the informal conversations genre,
women speak more than men in that setting. Does this mean that women have a higher
status than men in the home? Or is this a result of the fact that it is more important to
maintain relationships than to gain status in the home? Men have traditionally been
regarded as the heads of families and perhaps this lingers on. After all, abuse of women
is a huge problem in large parts of the world. Therefore, it is more plausible to believe
that there are different rules in the home and in the public sphere than that women have
higher status than men in the home. As we have seen, men are given higher status
simply for being men, and if we all already believe that men automatically are one step
ahead of women, then there is no need to compete in the home, where the main
relationship often is between a man and a woman. Since men do not have to compete
for status there, and women are responsible for maintaining relationships, it is only
natural that women should talk more to start conversations and to keep conversations
Women are supposedly the experts in the speech of the private sphere, something
which has led to ridicule of that type of speech. Gossip
words associated with speech in the private sphere, speech controlled by women. As we
have seen female language and female speech styles are often seen as negative and less
valuable than features of language connected with men. This is in part the answer to my
Why is there such a difference between the perception of how long we talk and our
actual amount of talk?
Prejudices and our expectations about men and women play a huge part in our
perception of male and female talk. Traditionally, a real
woman is not supposed to take
the floor from a man; she is not supposed to believe that she has the same right to speak
as men. Many women would rather choose to act as a woman than as someone with a
higher status than a man (e.g Woods 1988). As shown in the work of many researchers,
we are all full of prejudices about the speech of men and women. Again, a real
does not talk as much as a man. And if she does, she will have to face the consequences
of being unfeminine. Men and women are judged differently for the same behaviour.
There are numerous research results (see for example Tannen 1991; Coates & Cameron
1988; Spender 1980) that show that women and men are in fact punished if they do not
use gender-appropriate behaviour. As mentioned above, women who talk “too much”
are made fun of and ridiculed, referred to as gossiping or nagging, while men who do
not compete with their speech are seen as weak and feminine (which for a man is
Non-verbal behaviour affects our length of utterances and how many turns we take.
The reaction of the people we are talking to of course influences if we will stand up and
talk again and how long we will choose to talk, and their reactions largely depend on
what their expectations upon the speaker are. I believe that this area of research holds
the answer to many of the questions that have arisen in this essay.
The function of utterances
Many quantitative investigations have a problem with the function of utterances.
Though I feel that my investigations are justified because they prove that floor space is
divided unequally between men and women, they do not say anything about the
function of the utterances made by men and women. To be able to analyse and not only
speculate on why men speak more in the public sphere and women speak more in the
private sphere, we have to look at what is being said. How are women kept outside a
conversation at a public meeting for example, and how is a conversation in the home
The same problem was apparent at the Swedish meeting. I decided early on to limit
this essay to a mere quantitative investigation, otherwise it would have been much too
extensive. However, since I was present at the actual meeting in this case, I noticed
many interesting things, for example ways in which men kept the floor, interrupted
women, or exercised control by not listening. If I had not been there as a linguist, I am
not sure I would have noticed these things. There are, as mentioned before, a number of
non-linguistic ways in which dominance can be exercised. It has been shown that men
use a number of different devices to maintain dominance in a conversation, and these
sometimes very subtle ways of controlling are hard to isolate and analyse (e.g Spender
1980). To be able to do an analysis of all this, one would need much more technical
equipment and more time to analyse the material, but it is the only way to get the
complete picture of why and how men speak more than women or women speak more
Do men own the floor?
It cannot be proven that women are subordinated simply because they talk less in some
settings. They do speak more sometimes, something which is rarely mentioned in
gender research. Perhaps feminists are wrong when they claim that men own the floor.
As with all research, there is a basic assumption underlying feminist research as well.
Here, the assumption is often that men dominate women. If that is your basis of
research, then it is quite possible that you may find evidence of this if you choose to
look only where this can be found. But looking at the whole picture, the more informal
settings, the home, it becomes clear that the quantitative differences between the speech
of men and women are not as big as many researchers claim. The important thing is to
the differences are found and why
they are there. The importance of context
and the function of utterances in different contexts have to be analysed before men can
Male as norm
It is much easier to gather information about public speech than private speech. Perhaps
this is yet another proof of the fact that we live in a male-oriented world. It is easy to
find information about the area which men dominate, and public speaking is even seen
as an art1. Naturally, it is easier to tape conversations that are public than those that are
private, since we know when a public conversation is going to take place and can plan
1 Just consider all the rhetorical handbooks available.
to tape it, and this influences the outcome of the analysis of private speech. I only had
one genre to look at from the private sphere in this essay, informal conversations. The
material from the public sphere was much larger and therefore easier to make
Women are often told that they have to learn to speak a language appropriate for the
public arena if they want to gain access to the public sphere. Research in this linguistic
area tends to focus on women’s language and its characteristics, but if a female
language exists, then logically there must also be a male language. The problem is that
the male language is the default, unmarked form of language and it is never measured
against female language as female language is measured against the norm, male
language (e.g. Coates 1988). Because men are the positive value in our society, women
are minus male and their style will be seen as negative (e.g. Spender 1980). Therefore,
in studying utterance length it is easy to assume that men are better at public speaking
and that that is the reason why they obtain more floor space. There are even classes held
for women who want to learn to speak more “affirmatively”, that is, more like a man.
We are all assumed to want to be successful and being successful today means being a
man with a high official status. That is why it is rarely suggested that men should learn
The aim of this essay was to find out if there are differences between the amount of talk
produced by men and women and if context affects utterance length. As it turned out,
there were differences in the amount of talk, which could be attributed largely to
context. Analysis of two linguistic aspects where gender is manifested, utterance length
and amount of talk, can give us many valuable insights, even if they are only small
pieces of a larger puzzle. Language is often said to reflect society, and if it is obvious
that men are considered to be linguistically superior to women (e.g. Spender 1980), then
this might reflect what we believe about men and women in other areas in society as
well . Perhaps this state of affairs is
based on a majority decision, since most of us seem
to accept our roles in society. It is often said that a woman’s place is in the home, and it
seems that this is the only place women are allowed, and allow themselves, to talk more
than men. However, we often associate success in life with power in our society today,
and the only place where you can acquire visible power is on the public arena, where
When talking to people around me, I have found that most of them believe that we
live in an equal society today. They do not think that women are oppressed in our part
of the world, and they think that things have gotten much better since the women’s
rights movement gave us all a chance to vote. But as long as women are seen as the
deviation from the norm, even in the micro-cosmos of linguistics, there is still much
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國立台中女子高級中學九十六學年度教師甄選英文科試題 Although there is archaeological evidence of a human presence on Taiwan as early as fifteen thousand years ago, the island’s three hundred and forty thousand or so aborigines are believed to be descended from groups that arrived in different waves beginning about six thousand years ago. Large-scale Han Chinese i 1 did
Signs and Symptoms of Schizophrenia Delusions (talking with people who do not exist) Incoherence Lack of or inappropriate display of emotions Inability to concentrate Disorganized thinking or behavior Inability to read social cues Excessive fatigue Emotional withdrawal Extreme moodiness Odd behavior Schizophrenia usually appears during adolescence or ear