Reviewed by Carolin Patzelt, University of Bochum
This volume examines the language of men and women in different types of everyday conversation. The analysis of gender as a sociolinguistic factor is not new, of course. However, the present study does not set out to identify typical male or female communicative devices but rather explores when, why, and by whom such devices are used, and whether they really hew to the traditional stereotypes of ‘male’ and ‘female’. The author does not depart from traditional stereotypes that define certain communicative characteristics as ‘typical of men’s (women’s) talk’. Instead, she uses a constructionist framework to explain why speakers frequently adopt linguistic devices usually associated with the opposite sex. Both the adoption of a constructionist framework and the analysis of different types of conversation enable the author to draw more refined conclusions on when, why, and by whom alleged ‘male’ or ‘female’ communicative devices are used.
Following a general introduction (Ch. 1), Ch. 2 provides an overview of earlier studies of gender and discourse in chronological order. Starting from Robin Lakoff’s ground-breaking Language and woman’s place (New York: Harper & Row, 1975), the author proceeds to the theory of distinctness, which begins with the assumption that men and women live in ‘different worlds’. This is the theory most traditional studies of gender and discourse draw on when discussing ‘typical’ male and female uses of question tags, hedges, and short answers, for instance. Finally, the constructionist model is discussed as the most recent and differentiated theoretical framework. It criticizes the distinctness model for being based on oversimplified stereotypes and suggests that additional factors (e.g. the individual communicative situation, social class, age, and sexual orientation) must be taken into consideration to classify the use of certain communicative devices.
Chs. 3–5 examine the linguistic behavior of men and women in different communicative situations. In Ch. 3, the author analyzes the transmission of historias de queja (complaints) in conversations among friends. She concludes that the expression of solidarity is not a general characteristic of women’s talk, but is a question of group identity and the topic of discussion. Ch. 4 examines the use of humor among men and women. While it is shown that women use types of humor usually attributed to men and vice versa, the author identifies different functions of humor: while men use it merely for amusement, women regard it as a sign of solidarity. Finally, Ch. 5 analyzes some typical conversations among factory workers during breaks, before Ch. 6 reviews the most significant conclusions in a detailed and convincing way. Unfortunately, the book lacks the appendix listed in the table of contents.
This book provides new insights into the relation between gender and discourse, and is strongly recommended to anyone interested in sociolinguistics and discourse analysis.